Potter and fermentation enthusiast Jeremy Ogusky would love to broaden your mind when it comes to leavened foods and Passover. On Monday, March 30, Jeremy will be teaming with Geoff Lukas, former chef de cuisine at Sofra Bakery, for a fermentation-themed Passover seder. I had a chance to chat with Jeremy about his thoughts on fermentation and Passover, and how his background in public health informs his current pursuits.
Why is this night different from all other nights?
I think our upcoming Passover seder event is an opportunity to explain the connection between fermentation and emancipation and independence. Passover is the opportunity to explore social justice and liberation. It’s my favorite holiday, especially as a potter and fermenter, because it has a lot to do with liberation and new ways of thinking about chametz (leavened foods).
Leavening is sour. With the language used in Judaism, it “sours” our souls with false pride. It’s unclean. In ancient days we would use sourdough starters. It would sit and leaven and ferment. It’s a very slow food, unclean in many ways. It’s about the idea of clean and unclean; I have a public health background, and public health is about keeping clean. But now we’ve gone overboard with our anti-bacterial soaps. Now we’re too clean. Fermentation is alive with cultured bacteria, and it transforms food. This is about using good bacteria to transform our food and bodies. Now our bodies are way too sterile. Eating live food, like sauerkraut, allows us to flip the story—unclean but finding benefits. This fermentation-themed seder will rethink the downsides of sourness.
That’s confusing. Isn’t Passover about not fermenting things?
We are going to ferment a little bit to represent foods at the seder. Matzah will come in the form of fermented wheat berry crisps with pickled squash relish, Maror is a salad of pickled greens. Charoset is braised duck with lacto-apple charoset and schmaltzy potatoes. Our chef, Geoff Lukas, who was the former chef de cuisine at Sofra Bakery, just got back from traveling in South India. He’s always done projects, and I’m doing the concept of this meal.
How does your past work in public health inform your potting career?
It absolutely informs it in the two ways I approach ceramics and business: I’m an entrepreneur, and I like collaborations. I’ve worked with chefs and with barbers. How have I worked with barbers as a potter? I worked with a barber who does old-fashioned, traditional straight-razor shaves; wet shaves, like a spa for men. He needed vessels for making hot lather, and I designed and threw them for him. It’s been great, and I never knew there was a need for it.
But I love it when people come to me. That entrepreneurial spirit is something I learned in public health. As a Peace Corps volunteer, the job description doesn’t cover all that it encompasses. You need to find ways to make it work. In community health education, you teach people about living fermented foods.
Is eating fermented cabbage safe for, say, pregnant women?
My first answer is to consult a physician. I have a friend who is a family health physician in New Hampshire and who is really big into the clinical aspects of fermented food. But fermented vegetables are incredibly safe. Kimchee, pickles, sauerkraut—lactic acid is created. It’s very healthy; it eats “bad” microbes.
Dried, cured meats are risky. A clinician would tell a pregnant woman to stay away from dried, cured meats and raw milks. Vegetables are much safer. We’ve been living in harmony with microbes for thousands of years. Like I said before, we’re now in a stage of over-cleanliness.