• Furrmien's Dennis Yong is preserving food in imaginative ways. (Jeffrey Xu)Source: Jeffrey Xu
Furrmien’s Dennis Yong creatively repurposes fruit and vegetables that would otherwise end up in the bin – and makes them delicious.
Audrey Bourget

15 Mar 2021 - 12:48 PM  UPDATED 15 Mar 2021 - 3:06 PM

If you encounter Dennis Yong at a market in Melbourne, he’ll be dragging a trolley, “a grandma trolley”, he specifies, full of discounted fruit and vegetables.

He buys produce that’s blemished, very ripe or about to be thrown away, but still edible. Then he transforms it into miso, sauce, jam or kimchi. “What I’m doing is extending the shelf-life of produce. I give them a second chance by fermenting them,” he says.

Dennis Yong rescues unwanted produce – and turns it into something worth adding to your pantry.

Fermentation has been part of Yong’s life for as long as he can remember. “Growing up in an Asian family, we always have all these condiments around us like soy sauce, preserved vegetables and fish sauce,” he says.

Since coming to Australia from Malaysia four years ago, he has worked in the kitchens of some of Melbourne’s best restaurants like Sunda, Amaru and Tulum. He initially dreamed of opening a zero-waste restaurant like Silo in London, but had a change of heart last year: “I feel like time is running out and I need to do something about it now.” That’s why he launched Furrmien.

The first product to hit his web store in October was avocado kaya. After buying a big box of avocados on the brink of being too ripe, he used them to replace egg in the coconut jam. The result is a sweet and savoury spread, which also happens to be vegan.

Other market finds have led to him making rhubarb kimchi, pineapple and capsicum hot sauce, fermented mango chutney and rockmelon jam flavoured with preserved mandarin and strawberry gum.

By the time you read this, Furrmien's product range could be completely different as it depends on what Yong discovers at markets.

“To be sustainable, you can’t be consistent, you have to be: ‘this is what I have, so I have to work with it.' Sometimes, when I go to market, I feel depressed looking at things getting thrown away. I feel bad I can’t save enough produce. This year, I want to rescue double the amount I did last year.”

When he’s not shopping at markets, he works with other chefs and restaurants.

Leftover banana peels from Kariton Sorbetes' turon-gelato-making sessions are transformed into vinegar (which chef and Kariton Sorbetes owner John Rivera incorporate into this banana ketchup). Yong has even blitzed the banana peels and turned them into a mole-type marinade.

After being given cos lettuce leaves discarded by a restaurant, he turned them into a pesto.

Yong is also working with Congress’ sourdough scraps to make vinegar and miso for the restaurant.

The chef hopes to educate and inspire others, especially restaurants, to be more sustainable.

“I’m not trying to keep it all to myself," he says. In fact, the chef welcomes imitators: the more people copying his business model, "the better it is for us in a long run", says Yong. "This is good for the environment."

"Sometimes, when I go to market, I feel depressed looking at things getting thrown away. I feel bad I can’t save enough produce. This year, I want to rescue double the amount I did last year.”

If you’re new at fermentation, he recommends using vegetables you already have in your fridge and trying your hand at kimchi. Cauliflower stems, which often get discarded, are perfect for this. Cut them into thin slices for best results.

Fried rice and soup are also a good way to use vegetables that are past their prime. Or use them to make a hot sauce. “All you need is a jar and blender," he says.

“Sometimes, you taste something and it doesn’t work, but the next day you taste it and add a couple more things and now it works. If it doesn’t work, stop, have a break, and think about it again."


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