By Amelia Sauter
Rochester native and entrepreneur Michael Brady founded BAO Food and Drink in 2009 with chef Michael Schwartz. Based in New York City with distribution throughout the state, BAO specializes in making fermented food products, including slaw, ketchup, hot sauce and a drink called kombucha.
Amelia Sauter: How do you make kombucha?
Bad Ass Organics: Kombucha is a combination of friendly bacteria and yeast fermented over a period of time in a sweet blend of black, green and brown tea. The culture eventually processes the sugar in the tea, which gives it a slight vinegary taste and infuses it with probiotics and antioxidants. We like to say that the fermentation process eats the sugar so our bodies don’t have to.
AS: Why kombucha?
BAO: The beverage market is desperately in need of more low-calorie, healthy alternatives that provide a natural energy boost and contain no high fructose corn syrup. Kombucha is an ideal solution. Fermented products are much healthier, taste good, help with metabolism and provide a number of benefits to our bodies.
AS: Is it true that kombucha is alive?
BAO: Absolutely. All fermented food products are alive. We should strive to have more raw, living foods in our diet because most everything that we eat has been killed. Our bodies, when we were put on this earth, we were meant to be fed with living foods.
AS: Do you have any good fermentation explosion stories?
BAO: BAO partner Michael Schwartz is the brewmaster, the brains behind the recipes and a magician when it comes to working with fermented products and creating flavors people enjoy. I’m sure he’s got some great stories. Let’s just say on more than a number of occasions I’ve found myself ankle deep in kombucha.
AS: At some stores, you have a keg of kombucha available where people can refill their own bottles or restaurants can serve it on tap. Is that right?
BAO: Yes, including GreenStar in Ithaca and the Wegmans in Pittsford. It’s a unique idea we’ve been slowly rolling out. Keg kombucha is fresh and delicious, and it offers a sustainable solution to bottle return.
AS: Where did the name BAO come from?
BAO: BAO (pronounced “bow”) stands for Bad Ass Organics. It takes a passionate person—a bad ass—to commit themselves to living a healthy lifestyle, whether that lifestyle is focused around food or exercise, or on treating our bodies right. Also, in Chinese, “bao” means “precious treasure,” which is what we believe all of us are and the food we put in our mouth should be.
AS: What would you tell someone who’s nervous about trying kombucha?
BAO: The same thing I’d say about trying any new product: Taste it, see if it works with your palate, but anticipate that it may be different from things you’ve experienced in the past. The first sip can be off-putting because most Americans seek out overly sweet flavors. We always encourage people to take a second sip. We’re hoping to convert people to a palate that can appreciate the different flavors, but admittedly it’s not for everyone.
AS: What’s next for BAO?
BAO: We are about to launch a new product: raw, fermented energy shots. We’re also expanding our line of hot sauces. Our long-term vision is for fermented food businesses to become the mainstream.
Amelia Sauter is the co-owner of Felicia’s Atomic Lounge and Cupcakery in Ithaca. She writes for several regional publication and blogs on drinkmywords.com.
This article originally appeared in our Spring 2012 issue.