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Fusion Food Faux Pax?
Sat Apr 17, 2010 10:19

Fusion Faux-Pas

Just over a decade ago the term Fusion started to be used readily in culinary circles. At this juncture Californian chefs used the word when referring to a marriage between Asian and Western ingredients. That definition, however, has expanded vastly sometimes to the point where people feel that "anything goes" in the kitchen.

Let's begin by re-defining Fusion in slightly more concrete terms as it's contemporarily used. Fusion now can mean:

- blending foods from different regions or countries together. It is not simply East-meets-West, but East-meets-the Southern Farmer’s market, West meets the North, Mexico-meets-Montere … well, you get the idea.

- using techniques or treatments from different regions or countries on a local food or in a recipe. Anyone interested in Italian dim sum?

- blending aromatics or textures from diverse sources (the list for this one is enormous)

And we’re just touching the surface here. When you dive into ocean of Fusion cooking, the sea becomes a very big place, and there’s a storm brewing. Some mariners traversing these waters feel that applying Fusion may be a misnomer, and others find themselves terribly disallusioned with the whole movement. Why?

History is one answer. From an anthropological perspective, fusion cooking isn’t anything new. It’s been happening since the time travelling merchants took to the road with spices and dry goods. Each time they met a new group of people, more experimentation occurred. When pasta first came into popular usage, for example, there was no such thing as tomato sauce yet, so our spaghetti is actually a fusion food even though we think of it as Italian. The first time we see tomatoes and pasta together in a published recipe was the early 1800s. Up to that point common toppings were olive oil and herbs. So why make a big deal of it now? The main answer to that question is profitability. “Gourmet” cooking products and utensils remains a steadily growing industry.

Fusion on the Home Front

The historical element aside, some people have issues with the Fusion movement for different reasons. In some cases fusion food can become much too busy. With television shows introducing the idea of Fusion to viewers, there's the temptation, particularly to a novice cook to blend too many different flavors, techniques, and aromatics together. This could result in a dish that has no true profile of its own, no sense of history, and one that's likely very time intensive to prepare. Additionally, for everyday folk, the "busy" fusion is very difficult to recreate with consistency.

There’s also the question of home chefs having to buy all the ingredients that Fusion cooking requires. Nearly every culture or region has specific spices and ingredients that they consider essential. Some of those components overlap with other cultural cusine, some do not. For example, rice vinegar creates a completely different taste than white or balsamic, so now instead of one handy, all-purpose item, you’re out buying three (some of which aren’t budget friendly). Hopefully you’ve got plenty of pantry space!

The Power of Tradition:

A second issue that comes up with Fusion cooking is what people feel is a loss of identity in cultural venues. Borrowing randomly from various culinary traditions makes some people nervous. Just as America became a melting pot, the fear is that beloved food traditions could be lost in the mix. To give you an example - Southern Fried Chicken is a classic dish that even some of the best chefs in the world struggle to replicate. While it might be tempting to add Asian seasoning to the chicken coating for a different flavor, and even offer a dipping sauce on the side - what most people love about Southern Fried Chicken would be lost in this dish. Yes, you might have a tasty bit of chicken, but you may not get repeat business.

Tired of Trends (Fusion in Restaurants):

This brings us to a third complaint about Fusion Cooking – and that’s simply “trendiness”. There have been numerous trends in the culinary world that emerged in recent years ranging from Haute Cuisine to Local Sustainable menus. With each of those trends the price of having a meal out seems to go up. Additionally, the next thing you know there are 2, 3, 5 restaurants all doing the same thing. This is a proverbial recipe for disaster in the restaurant world. Your menu needs to stand apart from other local eateries. And while Fusion Food certainly gives you a lot of options in your recipes, it can still confuse the customer.

That problem has lead to Fusion cusines sometimes being called Fusion Confusion! Some experts feel that fusion may lead to combining ingredients that shouldn’t EVER be put together when a classic approach would do quite nicely. We see this particularly with new budding chefs wanting to break out with something splashy and end up with nothing more than a mess. In part this occurs because on the professional level customers are very picky and have very diverse pallets. That makes finding a successful fusion all the more difficult.

Additionally there are some classically trained chefs who complain that Fusion gets used to hide poor cooking skills, or reduce the integrity of the original recipes somehow. The young chef tackles the latest trend hoping for something fantastic, and it may or may not work. No matter what, however, it seems in culinary circles Fusion cooking is akin to self publishing in certain sectors.

One of the ways to avoid some of these criticisms in Fusion Food is by paying attention to what’s really important:

Taste and aftertaste
Visual appeal

That cooking fundamental will never change. So if you’re going to use fusion as an adjective to describe your food, listen to the critics and avoid the mistakes, deficiencies and disappointments that some other cooks have endured the hard way.

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