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Koji Whiz

“Koji” sounds like something out of a mad scientist’s lab. But the funky filamentous fungus, whose use dates back to the third century B.C., is just as likely to add some pizzazz to your dinner plate as it is to show up in a petri dish. A host of umami-loving chefs are using koji to ramp up flavors. LongBranch executive chef Adam Ditter grows his own for the extra-chewy, deeply flavorful chicken wings on his bar snacks menu. Ditter, who loves the peach and almond notes that koji adds to proteins, has cured cilantro stems in it and experimented with rubbing beef with a paste of koji, which can age a steak that normally takes 45 days in 48 hours. Cerulean’s Alan Sternberg has added shio-koji to black truffle ssäm sauce, while Asian street food guru Carlos Salazar of Rook unleashes the power of koji as a fermenting agent, pairing it with coffee to cure and deepen the flavor of brisket. Pizzology owner Neal Brown has been producing his own koji in the experimental phase of his Japanese farmhouse–themed Ukiyo, set to open this year. He plans to use it in his version of misozuke, tangy Japanese-style pickled vegetables. And soy it goes.

A graduate of IU’s Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing, Terry Kirts hails from a town in Illinois so small it didn’t have a restaurant until he was in the 8th grade. Since 2000, he’s more than made up for the dearth of eateries in his childhood, logging hundreds of meals as the dining critic for WHERE Indianapolis, Indianapolis Woman, and NUVO before joining Indianapolis Monthly as a contributing editor in 2007. A senior lecturer in creative writing at IUPUI, Terry has published his poetry and creative nonfiction in a number of literary journals and anthologies, including Gastronomica, Alimentum, and Home Again: Essays and Memoirs from Indiana, and he’s the author of the poetry collection To the Refrigerator Gods, published by Seven Kitchens Press in 2011.