Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Case For & Against Fusion Cuisine

There is a rampant illness afflicting a lot of local chefs these days, and the cure is nowhere in sight. The illness is Fusionitis, and it has spread through the DC-area restaurants like wildfire over the past few years. Look at the description of some of the more recent restaurants in town and I will bet that a good number of them are described as having some form of fusion cuisine. Masa 14, Oya, and Zengo all have the Latin Asian cuisine down pat. Mie N Yu combines both the Far East and Middle East. Jin has both Asian and Caribbean influences in the menu.

Is this trend the way of the future for restaurant cuisine or do chefs in this area just have multiple personality disorder?

I have wondered why so many chefs feel the need to have more than one cuisine influence their menu. What is the appeal of this nouveau style of cooking?

Is it really about going beyond the borders and creating something outside of the box or is it about garnering a crowd and ensuring mass appeal? These chefs may gain initial popularity with the in crowd, but they will lose those die-hard traditionalists who believe in the authenticity of food. These are people who believe in what is tried and true, what has been perfected and passed down from generation to generation not just in recipe or ingredients but also in technique. They wrinkle their noses at the thought of empanadas filled with hoisin-marinated pork. My abuela in Chile never made them like that! I know of at least one person who is not a fan. A colleague of mine summed it up: "Sometimes, when I want to have Chinese, I just want to have Chinese!". Well said, Doc! However, in this economy and in such a competitive market, many restaurants are willing to sacrifice traditional, authentic cuisine. After all, if you have “latin” and “asian” as your specialties, you are doubling your potential covers.

Or could it be that this is just an inevitability, seeing that food & cuisine is so easily influenced by the world around us? After all, the U.S. just elected its first mixed-race president (Caucasian and African), so why can't food be a mix of cultures as well? A lot of progressive chefs and fans of fusion cuisine believe in this very thought, that while they have the utmost respect for traditional cooking, they are also open to new ideas and inspiration from around the world. Innovation in cuisine does not mean disregarding the classics; for many, it means paying homage to them.

So, is fusion cuisine about being trendy? Maybe a little. But is it about disrespecting traditional cooking? Absolutely not. Then again, ask me a little later and one of my other personalities might just have a different answer!


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