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Dec 6, 201808:05 AM
Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

Fusion

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Readers, I write today about a time when a strange passion gripped our polity. In the decade we called “the '80s,” there was a fervor for combining the ingredients, techniques and cuisines of myriad cultures into an amalgam that went by the name “fusion.” 

In practice this usually meant a French-trained chef had been to Thaliand or Viet Nam or Japan and, understandably, had experienced an epiphany. Nouvelle cuisine was gasping its last and for a while it appeared we’d truly entered a new era in food.  

“Fusion” was not a dirty word, then. It stood for the idea that you could take the rigorous techniques taught in Continental (read: French) kitchens and simply add new ingredients to achieve novel flavors. Then it became “let’s put mango on that.” 

That is not to say that combining cuisines is inherently bad, or even something new. Here is an article that explores the history of fusion cuisine, which as you might imagine pre-dates the 1990s. Facile though that piece may be, the point is apt: adapting cuisines to new ingredients, flavors and/or techniques is not revolutionary.  

You’d be very hard-pressed to find any world cuisine that doesn’t incorporate flavors and ingredients from elsewhere. The most obvious example to us is Italy, which didn’t have the tomato until some years after C. Columbus returned from the New World. Today, we’d no more think of marinara sauce as anything but Italian than we’d think Carne Asada wasn’t “authentically” Mexican. These are examples of how great world cuisines have adapted and mutated over time. These are examples of how people who know good food know how to incorporate new things into their repertoire. 

Perhaps what’s new is that with the incredible inter-connectivity of our world there are more and more of us who are exposed to new tastes. And some people who no doubt mean well have decided to combine things that were better left separate. This is why in 1996 I ate lobster poached in a broth strongly flavored with vanilla. 

I should not say “ate,” because in truth it was more like “tried a bite and then focused my entire being on forgetting the experience.” I would like to tell you that I have gotten over my picayune taste prejudice and learned to love vanilla in savory contexts, but that would be a nasty filthy lie because vanilla does not belong in savory dishes. 

Then again, sometimes the unexpected pays off. My first thought after recovering from the memory of vanilla and lobster was a dish chef Phillip Lopez had on the menu at his restaurant Root in which scallops were infused with tobacco smoke. It was delicious. 

The thing about combining the flavors and ingredients and techniques of different places is that to do it well requires the same things it takes to cook really well: practice, imagination and taste. We’re lucky in that in New Orleans we have a lot of cooks who tick all three of those boxes. 

I have a lot of restaurant websites in my “bookmarks” folder and I’ve spent 20 minutes trying to find one that I’d classify as “fine dining” that doesn’t include some sort of “fusion” element in its menu. I was actually going to list some examples, but I got about as far as Bayona and realized I’d be writing for days if I was going to try to give you a representative sample. Instead, I thought I’d end with a request.

Two things motivated me to write on this topic in the first place and only one of them was to express my continuing displeasure with the concept of vanilla used in savory dishes. The other was to request that you share an example of a fusion food – either good or bad – with me either in a comment or by email. I would very much appreciate the input, because this is a topic that has gripped me for some reason and I’d like to be validated. 

My thanks in advance. 

 

 

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Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

about

Robert D. Peyton was born at Ochsner Hospital and, apart from four years in Tennessee for college and three years in Baton Rouge for law school, has lived in New Orleans his entire life. He is a strong believer in the importance of food to our local culture and in the importance of our local food culture, generally. He has practiced law since 1994, and began writing about food on his website, www.appetites.us, in 1999. He mainly wrote about partying that year, obviously.

In 2006, New Orleans Magazine named Appetites the best food blog in New Orleans. The choice was made relatively easy due to the fact that Appetites was, at the time, the only food blog in New Orleans.

He began writing the Restaurant Insider column for New Orleans Magazine in 2007 and has been published in St. Charles Avenue, Louisiana Life and New Orleans Homes and Lifestyles magazines. He is the only person he knows personally who has been interviewed in GQ magazine, albeit for calling Alan Richman a nasty name. He is not proud of that, incidentally. (Yes, he is.)

Robert’s maternal grandmother is responsible for his love of good food, and he has never since had fried chicken or homemade biscuits as good as hers. He developed his curiosity about restaurant cooking in part from the venerable PBS cooking show "Great Chefs" and has an extensive collection of cookbooks, many of which do not require coloring, and some of which have not been defaced.

Robert lives in Mid-City with his wife Eve and their three children, and is fond of receiving comments and emails. Please humor him.

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