The ability to blend the foods, preparation methods and unique styles of different cultures and cuisines into harmonious dishes that make sense is often the result of food evolution not fusion. Fusion is the term currently used and is often thought of or is referred to as a food revolution. There are countless similarities between cultures that lend themselves well to localized cuisines and indigenous ingredients. I am always amazed at the creative development of great foods that just make good sense, almost always leading me to think, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
Fusion is not new; it’s been around for centuries. We just recently put a name on it. I personally like Latin foods because their initial fusion development was heavily influenced by conquering countries. When conquerors came to these new lands they brought with them their cultures and foods. In addition there were immigrants who were either forced to work or sought work in these regions. When all these cultures collided, fusion was inevitable. Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, Italian, French, and Japanese settlers brought with them their own cooking styles but often needed to find acceptable indigenous substitutes for their traditional ingredients. Over time the newly introduced cultural influences blended in and became part of the national cuisines and Latin fusion had begun.
When I develop dishes for our ever changing menus, I look for compatible flavor profiles and textures that complement and add a component that elevates the dish. I am in the South where we use a lot of brined, pickled, and smoked foods that lend themselves well to Latin and Asian ingredients. Our House Smoked Sorghum Glazed Brisket Taco with Collard Greens Kim Chi is amazing; it combines salty, sweet, sour, and pungent and is really savory at the same time.
I also like to use sauces to add interesting notes to what might otherwise be a very one dimensional flavor profile. Green Tomato Salsa Verde and Jicama Slaw with Espresso Rubbed Charred Tuna or Pork have Southern, Southwestern, and Italian elements all working in harmony. Our tempura-battered poblano with local pimento goat cheese and Vidalia onion jam is a play on chili rellenos and is a natural blending of three cultures.
As a chef, straying beyond the traditional offerings to seek a higher level of food knowledge or culinary gratification has never been so obtainable. To say anything goes is an understatement; there is nothing to hold chefs back other than their own imaginations. As our own American food culture continues to evolve we will find that the millennials crave culinary excitement. Millennials are a soon to be demographic powerhouse. Most have grown up eating much differently from all who have come before them. Mexican, Cuban, Brazilian Chilean, Japanese are not new concepts. Korean tacos or Mexican chimalies (Chinese LA food tacos) are now everyday experiences. Evolving as a chef or organization and pushing the boundaries of food development is crucial to ongoing success. Nobody wants to eat at their father’s restaurant; it’s boring stuff.