Fu­sion Gas­tron­omy

The age of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and the evo­lu­tion of the global diner.

Exquisite Taste - - Up Close & Personal -

The term Fu­sion Gas­tron­omy can be some­thing of a mis­nomer es­pe­cially when it’s used by restau­rants who just slap a few in­gre­di­ents to­gether, add a price pre­mium and mar­ket their of­fer­ings as trendy fu­sion din­ing. Fu­sion Gas­tron­omy is a rel­a­tively modern term and used prop­erly it de­scribes the thought­ful com­bi­na­tion of of­ten widely dif­fer­ing eth­nic or re­gional in­gre­di­ents, styles, or tech­niques to craft new in­ter­pre­ta­tions or even in­vent wholly new dishes.

The birth of con­tem­po­rary fu­sion cui­sine is widely at­trib­uted to Aus­trian chef Wolf­gang Puck who, after serv­ing time in some of France’s most fa­mous kitchens, in­clud­ing Maxim’s in Paris, the Hotel de Paris in Monaco and the three Miche­lin-starred L'Ous­tau de Bau­manière in Provence,

packed his bags and headed first to La Tour in In­di­anapo­lis in 1972 and then on to Los An­ge­les in 1975, where much to the de­light of the lo­cal busi­nesses and Hol­ly­wood elite he helmed and later be­came part owner of the fa­mous Ma Mai­son Restau­rant.

Puck rapidly de­vel­oped an un­ri­valled pas­sion and be­lief in the global po­ten­tial for Cal­i­for­nia cui­sine, a state that was a melt­ing pot of mi­grant and Amer­i­can cul­tures as well as a renowned cen­tre of free ex­pres­sion and cre­ativ­ity. His first restau­rant in what would be­come a world-wide culi­nary em­pire was Spago, fol­lowed in 1983 by Chi­nois on Main in Santa Mon­ica.

Chi­nois was with­out doubt the re­sult and con­tin­u­ing fo­cal point of Puck’s early culi­nary ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and of­fered din­ers a fresh and imag­i­na­tive mix of Asian, French and Cal­i­for­nian-based tastes and pre­sen­ta­tion. Boosted by his rep­u­ta­tion, dy­namic per­son­al­ity and the pop­u­lar­ity he gained at Ma Mai­son, the ex­pres­sive menu laid the ground­work for the ex­plo­sion of fu­sion din­ing, first in Amer­ica and then through­out the world.

De­vel­op­ing this con­cept fur­ther by draw­ing upon the multi-eth­nic en­vi­ron­ment and avail­able pro­duce, his third restau­rant, Postrio, opened in the Prescott Hotel, San Fran­cisco in 1989. Postrio was an in­stant suc­cess with its myr­iad of fu­sion dishes draw­ing crit­i­cal ac­claim and gar­ner­ing sub­stan­tial lo­cal and na­tional in­ter­est.

The 1980s was a decade per­haps un­like any other. In the East the Asian Tiger was awak­en­ing, whilst in the West it was a time of both anger and en­light­en­ment. Both in Europe and the USA the ar­rival of Asian mi­grants had gath­ered pace. In­di­ans, Pak­ista­nis, Kore­ans and Viet­namese, for ex­am­ple, brought with them not only their cul­tural di­ver­sity but a rich culi­nary her­itage, a blend fur­ther en­hanced by African, South Amer­i­can and Mid­dle Eastern mi­grants in sub­se­quent years.

But this was far from one-way traf­fic and in re­verse the bustling hubs of Asia were see­ing in­ter­na­tional chefs and lux­ury brands aplenty driven by the eco­nomic boom; add to this a splurge in mass travel and vastly im­proved food trans­porta­tion net­works and the pieces for the culi­nary ex­plo­sion we are cur­rently bask­ing in were all firmly in place.

By the time Puck re­lo­cated Spago to Bev­erly Hills in 1997 the F-word had well and truly spread and the con­cept of meld­ing mul­ti­ple tastes, tech­niques, cul­tures and in­gre­di­ents was wide­spread. Chefs the world over were push­ing bound­aries and de­vel­op­ing the seg­ment beyond recog­ni­tion – the Age of Ex­per­i­men­ta­tion was well un­der­way and with it a new type of gas­tronome, the global diner had been born, a diner not re­strained by con­ven­tion, but one open to new din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences and tastes with­out re­stric­tion.

With the ex­plo­sion of social me­dia, the global diner is ex­posed to the finest, the quirki­est and the most el­e­gant dishes, photographed, up­loaded and dis­cussed on blogs, boards and social me­dia by friends and strangers alike. This in turn in­flu­ences ex­pec­ta­tion and can pro­pel the lowli­est street seller to in­ter­net star­dom or in re­verse dam­age the rep­u­ta­tion of even the best chefs.

Un­ques­tion­ably we have en­tered a new age of gas­tro­nomic ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and seem­ingly con­stant culi­nary in­no­va­tion where chefs are not only con­cerned with taste and pre­sen­ta­tion but how it is photographed and dis­played in real time to po­ten­tial guests, the world at large and of course their peers.

In this edi­tion we ex­plore some of the re­gion’s most en­tic­ing fu­sion dishes and restau­rants on our own global jour­ney.

Sprout and nut salad from Wolf­gang Puck's ex­per­i­men­tal kitchen, Rouge, CA

Spago Is­tan­bul, Spicy Tuna Tartare in Sesame Cones

Wolf­gang Puck

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