Fusion cooking mixes flavors, cultures
By Scott Jones
WHEN CHEF Norman Van Aken delivered
a speech on American cuisine at a food conference in late 1988, he had no idea he would
galvanize a culinary movement.
Recognizing the rich palette of Floridian
and Caribbean in;uences from which he
used to create menus for his Key West restaurant, the rising star was simply trying to articulate what was going on in his head. “I had
written my piece as a means to help me understand where I was going with my cooking. A
handful of other chefs and I found there was a
combined power in what I called ‘fusion cooking,’ a term borrowed from the jazz vernacular,” re;ects Van Aken. ;e American food
lexicon had a new entry.
Yet several years before this hip moniker
made its way to the food scene, forward-thinking chefs such as Wolfgang Puck in Los
Angeles and Jean-Georges Vongerichten in
New York City were already pushing traditional boundaries and understanding the correlation between French cooking techniques
and Asian flavors. Down in Texas, Dean
66 ;e Costco Connection MAY 2013
The Costco Connection
Costco warehouses carry a variety of
foods and spices to create fusion dishes
in your own kitchen.
Fearing and Robert Del Grande were doing
the same, but drawing on the ;avors of bordering Mexico.
“Obviously, the early pioneers of fusion
cuisine were enormously successful,” says
Costco member and Top Chef Season 9 ;nal-ist Edward Lee. “Unfortunately, a lot of copycats followed, and eventually the word
became more of a cliché describing any two
cuisines arti;cially clumped together.” Lee
believes the word “inclusion” better describes
today’s multicultural cooking, which is less of
a novelty mash-up and more like a ;avorful
intersection. “I feel like this is what my friends
and I are doing. We’re not limiting ourselves
to any ingredient or border. For us, it’s all
about creating incredibly diverse, layered and
tantalizing food with meaning,” explains the
chef-owner of restaurant 610 Magnolia in
Andrew Zimmern, host of the popular
Travel Channel series Bizarre Foods with
Andrew Zimmern, feels that the exciting,
“inclusionary” foods being created by Los
Angeles chefs Ricardo Zarate of Picca and
Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ, for example, represent
the ethnic diversity found in cities and restaurant kitchens across the country. “I see what
some of these young guys are doing, and it’s so
impressive. Zarate creates these amazing
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hybrid dishes fusing Japanese ;avors with his
Peruvian heritage, which, frankly, also represent the ethnic makeup of his sta;,” he says.
As for Kogi BBQ, Zimmern reckons the entire
notion of fusion was turned on its head when
Choi ;lled a Mexican taco with barbecued
Korean short ribs. “He’s created a culinary
super trend,” Zimmern says.
But this modern realm of creative cooking
is not exclusive to the pros. According to Lee,
there are easy ways for home cooks to tap into
the same vibe. ;e key, he says, is to keep it
simple as you gradually build your con;dence.
“Take curry powder, for instance,” he explains.
“You don’t need to buy a cookbook to use it.
Add it to your favorite vinaigrette, stir it into
ketchup, dust it over French fries or use it as
part of a dry rub. Bang! You have fusion.”
He says the same about fish sauce,
another of his favorite ingredients. “It’s super
versatile, and just a couple of drops add this
incredible depth of ;avor to everything from
soups to barbecue sauce to almost any condi-
ment. ;ese are such everyday ways to add
another layer of ;avor without getting too
complex. You’ll be surprised how quickly
your comfort level grows.” C
Scott Jones (
JonesIsHungry.com) is a food,
wine and travel writer.