A Chefs lifelong pursuit is the development of a unique style based on accumulated knowledge via experience, travel and education. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, it has to start with a firm foundation in Classical cooking. This has been lost by a full generation of cooks. Its 2021, time to reset the clock….back to basics! Today’s thread is a discussion of “Fusion Cuisine”, the history, the high 90’s and today.
Fusion food is a general term for the combination of various forms of cookery and comes in several forms. Even though fusion food is often the invention by chefs, fusion cuisine can occur naturally within the different cuisines of a region or sub-region. These can include larger regions, such as East Asian cuisine, European cuisine, and Southwestern American cuisine, as well as more specific and lauded ethnic cuisines such as Chinese cuisine, Japanese cuisine, Korean cuisine, French cuisine, Italian cuisine, and New Mexican cuisine.
Wolfgang Puck is attributed as one of the pioneers of fusion cuisine, with some dispute. However, his restaurant Chinois on Main was named after the term attributed to Richard Wing, who in the 1960s combined French and Chinese cooking at the former Imperial Dynasty restaurant in Hanford, California. This is the same period that saw the spread of this concept globally, and it never really went away, in fact it was always here. By that I mean, as soon as man started investigating what was beyond his borders, he would discover new foods and concepts. So you might say, fusion started a way long time ago….
The first country to attempt to circumnavigate Africa was Portugal, which had, since the early 15th century, begun to explore northern Africa under Henry the Navigator. Emboldened by these early successes and eyeing a lucrative monopoly on a possible sea route to the Indies, the Portuguese first rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 on an expedition led by Bartolomeu Dias. Just nine years later in 1497, on the orders of Manuel I of Portugal, four vessels under the command of navigator Vasco da Gama continued beyond to the eastern coast of Africa to Malindi and sailed across the Indian Ocean to Calicut, on the Malabar Coast in Kerala in South India — the capital of the local Zamorin rulers. The wealth of the Indies was now open for the Europeans to explore; the Portuguese Empire was the earliest European seaborne empire to grow from the spice trade.
You might say things got a little weird in the late 90’s, early 2000’s, however they would get weirder before long. Some things just don’t fuse well, as in the above image. I’ve never tried this, nor do I feel compelled too. The flavours and textures just don’t work. But leave it up to cooks and kooks to push the envelope a little to far. Another of my blog posts that discusses this topic can be found here.
As I mentioned, fusion cuisine or confusion is still with us today. In the right hands it is marvelous, in the wrong hands it is confusing! And it’s everywhere today! Personally, I avoid it in terms of a dining experience, unless I see that it is grounded in classical style with subtle nuances of International flavour. Otherwise, in my opinion it’s garbage. I find a lot of restaurants try to push the envelope to far, and end up bastardizing what is, or could be good food. My personal style is somewhat fusion based, however I’m careful to preserve the cultural identity, and respect classical procedures. It’s also important to respect were you are geographically, always sourcing and using local ingredients, respecting the cultural diversity and perhaps adapting a style that compliments.
I’m sorry, but this doesn’t work for me…lol. Anyway, happy cooking and have a wonderful Sunday! Cheers!