Best-selling food author Sandor Ellix Katz has never tried fermented fish heads, an Alaska Native delicacy known colloquially as "stink heads" due to their odor, but that's only because he's never had the opportunity.
"I would be very excited if I did have the chance," Katz said Wednesday from Homer.
That enthusiasm comes naturally to Katz, a self-proclaimed "fermentation revivalist," who is in Alaska this month giving workshops about the process on which he has written two books.
Katz has been called "one of the unlikely rock stars of the American food scene" by The New York Times. His first book, "Wild Fermentation," was published in 2003, and in 2006 he published "The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved." His 2012 book "The Art of Fermentation," became a New York Times bestseller and was the winner of the 2013 James Beard Foundation Book Award for Reference and Scholarship.
"What I'm interested in is education, and you know, helping people realize that the fermentation is already part of their lives. It's not some alien force," Katz said.
For someone with no experience with the process, "broadly speaking, fermentation is the transformative action of micro-organisms," Katz said. "Almost everybody in every part of the world eats products of fermentation every day."
The metabolic process of fermentation occurs when sugars are broken down by a microorganisms, like yeast or bacteria, and converted in alcohol or acids. For example, the yeast in beer converts sugar into alcohol.
The process occurs naturally, but humans have "learned how to harness this force" over thousands of years to create food that is more digestible, and ultimately more delicious, Katz said.
Such foods include coffee, bread, cheese, cured meats, alcohol, yogurts -- and of course, sauerkraut, the food that introduced Katz to the world of fermentation, and has earned him the nickname "Sandorkraut."
A native of New York City, he's been living in rural Tennessee for two decades. He's traveled across the U.S. and abroad holding workshops, and now, he's in Alaska for the first time. "It's been amazing," Katz said of his trip so far.