Meeting Goa’s Miso Man

Prachet Sancheti, the culinary brain behind Brown Koji Boy, soaks up his share of Goa’s limelight with funky ferments and no-waste cooking.

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Prachet Sancheti recently started his Goa-based culinary business, Brown Koji Boy, a fermentation-focused operation that produces small-batch flavour bombs fashioned out of Japanese techniques and Indian comfort food. Photo by: Julian Manning

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“Hmmm, try this one, it’s naughty,” says Prachet Sancheti, rummaging through a fridge full of fermented concoctions. Names like Spiced Chickpea Miso, Chana Dal Shoyu Koji, and Maa Ki Dal Black Rice Miso are stamped across the jar labels, each a unique union of venerated Japanese techniques with homegrown Indian accents. The 27-year-old fermenter offers me a spoon coated with a carmine-red paste. I haven’t tried Prachet’s cooking since he started turning heads with his koji business six months ago, and I’ve come to Goa expressly to remedy that; greeted with a funky hit of umami, then a peppy punch of heat, I savour cookery that capers in and out of the realms of Japanese and Indian flavours, a toothsome gastronomical game of hopscotch. 

Prachet, known professionally as Brown Koji Boy, studies my face until he’s satisfied that my enthusiasm isn’t manufactured. “That one’s a blackberry chilli miso, I got the chillis from the garden at home,” he elaborates. Small batch releases, like this one, are generally reserved for his regular customers and as samples for chefshis steady product list for pan-India delivery is available on his websitebut gradually more and more people are stopping by his test kitchen in North Goa to see if they can grab ‘off menu’ specials. The space is as neat as a monk’s hermitage, and while he does sell his trove of tamaris and amazakes, kombuchas, soy sauces, and misos from his satellite kitchen, this is his sanctum to go into culinary scientist mode: complete with formulas dancing across a glass eraseboard. 

As he walks me through his operation, he pulls a tray of Goan red rice out of his incubator, which he massages into a series of swells to help better transform the spores of the cultured grain into koji. Known as Aspergillus oryzae, this prebiotic fungus forms the wholesome base for the majority of his products, flavour bombs designed to give a healthy dose of depth and nuance to dishes. These artisan creations, which often utilise domestic produce like Manipuri purple rice and mushrooms in kombuchas and shio kojis, are making waves by word of mouth along this neck of the Konkan coastrippling across the metro-hubs of the subcontinent. And I’ve come to taste the tide, travelling with the cook as he goes about his routine in a region replete with chefs that relish experimenting with fare that breaks the mould.

 

Meeting Goa's Miso Man

1) Koji is mixed in the incubator to help it cool down; 2) Rice is furrowed for better circulation; 3) ‘Koji-cake’ shows the growth of the Aspergillus oryzae on the korgut variety of ukade tandul rice (the variety shown in the other images is the jaya variety); 4) Koji is ground to make miso paste; 5) Paste is mixed with salt before being balled up and thrown into the bucket to avoid air pockets; 6) Red pepper miso, the end product, can be paired with a paneer steak, also accompanied by BKB’s tomato tamari puree and vegan mushroom oyster sauce. Photos by: Julian Manning

 

Forca Fermentation 

As the season amps up in sunny Goa, Prachet frequents restaurants that he finds inspiring for collaborations, like South Goa’s Cavatina by Avinash Martins. After we tuck into a scrumptious spread, including Red Amaranthus Spanikopita, Crab Xec Xec, and delectable smoked duckall home runs from the contemporary Goan kitchenPrachet sits with Chef Martin as he samples several ferments. Soon the chef mutters the word ‘steak’ in a prandial revelation, and before we know it a plateful of sizzling tenderloin is being heartily paired with a paneer miso.

The rosy-hued paste lends a melty, blue cheese-esque quality to the meat, that rich creamy tang balanced with an assertive bite without the heady hit on the nose. Lo and behold, the strips of steak disappear rather fast, gobbed and gobbled up with the miso. After a few more in-house trials the Spiced Chickpea Miso and Chana Dal & Jalapeño Chickpea Miso make the cut for the rotating menu, complimenting the Peez (Kanji) with Smoked Mackarel and Mushroom (Shitake, Woodear, Button, White & Black Fungus) and Cancona Chili Koji, respectively.

Meeting Goa's Miso Man

Sublime’s Open-Faced Vegan Bolognese Lasagna featuring Brown Koji Boy’s smoked tomato tamari. Photo by: Julian Manning

Sublime, a restaurant that’s been serving up fresh, innovative dishes in Goa since 2002, is an ideal spot to taste some of Brown Koji Boy’s products outside the realm of miso. Try the Korean Beef Taco for a crisp, piquant crunch of his kimchimade entirely with Indian ingredients, including the ‘goanchang’ (a Goan version of gochujang, the Korean spice paste)or dig into the open-faced vegan bolognese lasagna for a taste of his smoked tomato tamari that punches up the umami quotient for a ‘meatier’ undertone, well-balanced by the in-house coconut puree. The tomato tamari also features on the menu at Miguel’sa classy Deco-styled purveyor of cocktails and petiscos in Panjim’s Fontainhas neighbourhoodadding savoury nuances to the Tártare (which has veg and non-veg variations), an almost amuse gueule-sized ring that’s a take on a caprese-cum-beef tartar. 

Along with supplying a host of other operations in Goawho often use his creations in their specials, like Petisco’s Prawn Head Bisque heightened with his Sweet Chickpea MisoPrachet’s products have increasingly featured in ramen pop-ups across India. Two examples that do so with elan are Bangalore’s Naru Noodle Bar, pairing his Spiced Aged Chickpea Miso in a ramen accompanied by Croatian truffles, and The Hopeless Ramentic in Delhi, a satellite kitchen that offers biweekly specials, including a Katsu Mazemen with his Pumpkin & Habanero Miso. After all, the Japanophile first entered Goa’s culinary scene by way of Roboto, an al fresco izakaya in Calangute, where he was a consultant for developing the menu alongside, then, Head Chefs Maia Laifungbam and Sanchit Behl.

 

Meeting Goa's Miso Man

Miguel’s Tátare, made up of tomato variations, ricotta, with beef and cured egg yolk as non-veg add-ons, uses Brown Koji Boy’s smoked tomato tamari. Photo by: Julian Manning

 

Waste Not, Want Not

Prachet’s fermentation scope also focuses on food waste, a key role of his tenure at Roboto. Instead of tossing out perfectly fine scrap produce he began to turn it into flavoursome culinary accents, from a NOMA-inspired Egg White Garam to a No-Waste Pumpkin Miso. It’s a philosophy perhaps best exemplified by his decision to hold onto the kitchen’s parmesan rinds and ferment them into a shio koji used to amp up their kimchi sando: an appetising alchemy of sustainability on the palate and in the pantry, out of which half the end-product goes back to the restaurant and the rest goes to his customer-base of home cooks. 

At Miguel’s he’d collect their leftover lemons, limes, and oranges from the bar and make a citrus miso, which they used in a pasta dish, and at Elaaa new restaurant focusing on ‘earth-based food’, by Chef Sandeep Sreedharanwould-be discarded mushroom stems find themselves made into a mushroom garum. This approach also led him to collaborate with Goa Brewing Company to make a test batch of Koji Pale Ale, a butter-y, oat-y beer with caramel notes and hint of fermentation funk slightly akin to the aftertaste of sake, made from the brewer’s recycled mash. He’s also in possession of one of their spent oak casks, which will soon host a no-waste shoyu, and he used another to make a barrel-aged apple and cinnamon kombucha for a Halloween cocktail pop-up party by Samsara Gin.

 

Meeting Goa's Miso Man

Brown Koji Boy’s no-waste endeavors start with test kitchen experiments (right) and end results like his experimental koji pale ale (left) with GBC. Photo by: Julian Manning

 

A Masterless Man 

Prachet feels the success of his endeavour lies in the freedom to supply and work with as many chefs and home cooks as possible. This gives him the room to continue to experiment with new flavours and grow as a cook, making him a sort of wandering culinary ronin, a masterless man who only serves products he is proud of and can maintain quality control over. He admits this structure creates a double edged-sword in terms of logistics, but is quick to counter that it allows him to interact with the local culinary community to adequately feel their pulse. 

Accompanying him on his daily deliveries, I watch him deliver small-batch kombucha to a baker in Margaothe selection comprising of Purple Rice, Cucumber, Ginger, and Clarified Watermelonand Paneer Jalepeno Miso to Chef Chinu Vaze, an online foodie personality, with whom he previously collaborated on his a DYI probiotic ketchup video. The rest of his day is spent meeting with a morel (gucci) mushroom grower and a Chikmagalur coffee supplier to discuss potential collaborations. 

His presence embodies the charm of a poi walla cycling down lanes to his regular patrons, helping to shake off some of the pretense that molecular gastronomy can perpetuate. The way Prachet explains it, “I’m all too happy to have my miso spread over a slice of toast or inside a sandwich,” and is equally proud to see them churned into avant garde ice-creams or used as the base of a ramen. “I just want to create interesting comfort food for a host of applications,” he expands. However, his social media does allow him the scope to flex his fermentation skills, offering insight into some of his experiments for interested cooks. Such a case in point would be his Carrot Xacutrie. A koji cured carrot rests in a xacuti-inspired spice mixthink cinnamon, black pepper, and cardamomfor three to seven days, till it transforms into a salami-esque texture and taste.

 

Meeting Goa's Miso Man

Sublime’s Korean B**f, Kimchi, and Pickled Cucumber Taco calls for Brown Koji Boy’s rendition of kimchi, made entirely with Indian ingredients. Photo by: Julian Manning

 

The Pandemic Pivot 

Although Brown Koji Boy’s rise in Goa’s formidable food scene has been rapid, Prachet’s previous experience in the F&B industry in Sri Lanka, a hydroponic farm in Israel, and a stage at Dirt Candy in N.Y.C. all mark years building his bones in the industry. He also studied at the esteemed University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy, a decision that saw him quit his fulltime job as a cricket analyst, travelling the world. 

There, he honed his skills and specialized fermentation, initially pursuing opportunities in some of Europe’s finest kitchens, including Copenhagen’s Amass. But then the pandemic hit, lurching him in a rush to find one of the last flights out of Europe, leaving the bulk of his immediate possessions and professional opportunities behind. His mad rush home was met with an ocean of idleness in isolation… that is until he started cooking again. 

During the first wave of COVID-19, his family was all too happy to inform anyone who called that while the pandemic had taken over everyone’s lives, Prachet had taken over their house. Mason jars lined the kitchen and buckets crammed the fridge, brimming with lacto-ferments, watana misos made out of Goan peas, and flavoured shoyus. He learnt DIY solutions to molecular cooking, a process that involved converting a styrofoam box into a dehydrator and a cooler into an incubator, complete with timed fans and lights. “I wasn’t really doing it for anyone or any reason other than to keep busy,” says the Prachet, “but the amount I started producing led me to pop-ups and night markets,” where he noticed a public interest reflected in his cooking.

After his initial stint at Roboto, he compiled his first online menu as Goa was hit by the second wave in August 2020. Everything he earned from that list went entirely to COVID-related donations. Altruism aside, the fermenter admits, “it was also good to see what flavours customers gravitated to.” After the peak calmed, many of the customers stayed on and chef collaborations proliferated. 

As a purveyor of slow, fermentation-based cooking, Prachet has used his time wisely to quickly become a presence that resonates with the region’s growing role as India’s culinary incubator. But the young entrepreneur thinks it would be premature to rest on his laurels, telling me he’s not interested in making a quick buck as a fad foodie figure, and that his longterm marketing plan is simple: taste talks. No matter how interesting or healthy his cooking might be, Prachet wants the flavour of his food to forge a lasting interest, and I get the sense his vision goes beyond making waves, he wants to be the wind that drives them.

 

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A D V E R T I S E M E N T

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A D V E R T I S E M E N T
  • Julian Manning can usually be found eating a crisp ghee roast with extra podi. The rare times his hands aren’t busy with food, they are wrapped around a mystery novel or the handlebars of a motorcycle. He is Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India.

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