From the Ivory Tower Kitchen: Fusion Isn't An "F" Word

05/29/2015 02:05 pm ET | Updated May 29, 2016

The origin of what may be called classical cuisine is, well, French. However, our human ancestors have been eating for a very long time. And all through recorded history, it is reasonable to imagine that techniques and flavors have adapted, changed, and even evolved, as spiritedly as the human penchant for exploration and innovation. A common question which typically evokes a number of blithe responses is "Whoever was the first to eat an oyster"? Well, whoever it was, may have done so out of the need for survival or quite possibly even to create an ancient version of a fusion of barnacles, oysters, and perhaps whale skin and blubber. So, naturally, edible ingredients have been fused together since millennia, but when chefs today create fusion cuisine, they are essentially celebrating the fact that the world is a much smaller place and especially in the developed world where visitors and settlers from all over the globe have left indelible and even lasting culinary impressions. Consequently, it is inevitable that professional and amateur cooks alike are influenced by new flavors and techniques. When we enjoy a certain flavor profile, we either try to recreate it or we try to sneak (fuse) its nuance or assertion into other dishes. At least in the latter case, we are creating fusion cuisine.

Growing up in Mumbai, our meals always carried staple flavor profiles and yet, when my mother made say methi parantha, she used a South Indian's style of making chapatti to create what is traditionally a North Indian bread. It was comforting and intriguing at the same time compared with say a restaurant's version. The reason I was rarely bored with the food we were provided was because the repertoire, despite being simple, was frankly, large and diverse. And, depending on whether my father or mother made a dish, their individual preferences or ingredients created multiple versions of the same dish. Depending on the dish, one was more successful than the other. My daddy's tomato charu was unparalleled whereas my mummy's sabudhaan khichdi was untouchable. Yet, what might be considered traditional versions of either would have been different. My father and mother interpreted the classical versions to make it their own by resorting to their palates, techniques, and choice/availability of ingredients, while being sensitive to our preferences.

Frankly, contemporary restaurants serve primarily fusion cuisine. Some do it more successfully than others. And there are many reasons for that. The use of good ingredients, a good palate, a knowledge of how to combine flavors which both excite and bring comfort are just some of the pre-requisites to making delicious food. When Escoffier writes about how important the roux is to properly and nicely making a sauce followed by esteemed chef André Soltner de-emphasizing the roux, it shows that cuisine, as traditional and classical as it may have once seemed, is perpetually in a state of flux. There is a secondary "curry sauce" in Escoffier's Cooking Bible for heavens' sake! Every so often, fads come and some of them (remember foams?), hopefully, go. But, even the basics have to be re-interpreted, modernized, and even projected.

Fusion in and of itself isn't an "F" word. It's all mostly fusion anyway. Instead, we need to applaud food which is thoughtfully prepared and de-emphasize our chagrin for a label, which especially nowadays, really isn't distinguishable. At Cress, we proudly serve bold, thoughtfully sourced, globally inspired (fusion) cuisine.