WHEN RESPECTED chef Justin Cournoyer noticed that yeast extract was an ingredient in Doritos, he suspected Frito-Lay was onto something.
“There’s a reason big food companies are seasoning packaged foods with yeast: it makes food taste amazing,” says Cournoyer, who has since taken to deploying yeast as a flavour enhancer at his restaurant, Actinolite. “We started cooking with yeast and making our own yeast extract by fermenting active dry yeast with salt, koji and water. What we got was something that tastes like ultra-potent miso broth.”
This was not nutritional yeast—the bland yeast flakes commonly sold as a vegan cheese substitute at health food stores—but the same active yeast used to make bread rise and beer ferment.
The house-made yeast extract, used to season cabbage, oysters, butter and poultry on Cournoyer’s tasting menu, enlivens simple ingredients with complex umami flavour. Meanwhile, at Aloette, chef Patrick Kriss’s new French diner, Kriss also seasons table butter with active yeast, transforming it into a velvety spread reminiscent of foie gras.
“It’s a really straightforward recipe where we cook butter with regular wet baker’s yeast and add a touch of crème fraîche,” says Kriss. “But the yeast gives the butter a depth of nutty, caramel flavour.”
Upstairs at the award-winning Alo, Aloette’s ultra-sophisticated big sister, Kriss serves a sweet and savoury dessert of apples and yeast-filled caramel. “Yeast has a fermented quality that makes it an interesting ingredient to work with,” he says. “But ultimately, the only thing that matters is if it’s delicious. If it’s not, we’re going to throw it out the window and go back to a simple tomato.” — C M