A frame filled with abstract browns zooms out to reveal a mottled lunar landscape, then another, then another; small terraria in white buckets against a stainless-steel sky. Anonymous, latex-gloved hands unwrap the last like a Christmas present – pulling back a grey linen cloth, they reveal a heavy, spackle-glazed stoneware plate, which they lift carefully out of the bucket followed by a layer of cling film. Another unique world emerges beneath. The gloved hand, holding a stainless-steel spoon, reenters the frame, and begins to peel away the crust, unearthing a glossy, golden-brown mantle.
By this point (31 May 2018), noma had made many hundreds of kilos of peaso with a recipe that had been tweaked into a highly dependable production tool. Yet this post reveals the excitement still felt upon opening up a new batch: no matter how dialed-in the method and high-volume the production process, there is always a sense of relief when it works—and a chance that it won’t. The thrill here, however, is due to something more, warranting an Instagram post when any other batch of house standard peaso wouldn’t. This is not just any batch—it is the first to successfully ferment in their new home: a purpose-built facility that had not yet accumulated the rich microbiome of the previous restaurant’s fermentation lab. Would the same recipe still work in a new space?
Starting and ending with a close-up of its protagonist, the video implicitly grapples with using a visual medium to communicate a non-visual kind of aesthetic pleasure. For chefs and diners at noma, what matters is less what the miso looks like, than what it tastes like: its balance of being ‘aged beautifully—pleasantly sour, mildly salty, sweet and packed with umami’. The brown paste may not look beautiful by conventional visual standards; but in the way its mouldy surface is lovingly peeled back with a spoon, we get a sense of the care, labour, and value that is invested in it, even if, as mere viewers on Instagram, we cannot taste it ourselves.
Fela Kuti on the speakers in the background may be happenstance but is by no means irrelevant to this production of taste. The fermentation lab works at a different pace, and has a different atmosphere to the production kitchen, where common rock or electronic hits pace the staff who break down raw materials into portions for service. This mellifluous Afrobeat groove also adds a supporting dimension to the cosmopolitan portrait of these translated misos, which conjoin the labours of Japanese microbes, Danish plants, a Canadian and an American chef, and numerous interns from Taiwan and Malaysia. Fela Kuti adds the sounds of West Africa, hybridised with American jazz and funk. He offers a soundscape that is neither Nordic nor East Asian, that accentuates the necessarily global nature of the misos themselves.
Josh Evans and Jamie Lorimer September 2019