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Fusion Cuisine

FUSION CUISINE

FUSION CUISINE. Fusion cuisine is the deliberate combination of elements from two or more spatially or temporally distinct cuisines. Transcending conventional geographical and historical boundaries, it is a unique form of cuisine particular to today's postmodern world. The precise origin of the term "fusion cuisine" is uncertain although "culinary globalization," "new world cuisine," "new American cuisine," and "new Australian cuisine," all other names for fusion cuisine, have their roots in the 1970s in the emergence in France of nouvelle cuisine, which combined elements of French and, primarily, Japanese cooking (Sokolov, 1992). As nouvelle cuisine spread to other nations, it combined with elements of the foods of the host country. As Adam Gopnik has observed, while the Enlightenment of new cooking took place in France, the Revolution occurred elsewhere. Indeed, fusion cuisine has emanated primarily from the United States and Australia, but has spread to other parts of the world as well. Fusion cuisine may have taken off in the United States and Australia, because of those countries' short history relative to the rest of the world, their unique immigration histories, their lack of a cuisine that is clearly recognized by other parts of the world, and, most importantly, their lack of a culinary tradition.

As fusion cuisine evolves, many more ethnic and regional cuisines beyond French are being combined to form new hybrids. Exemplars of fusion cuisine include Pacific Rim cooking predominant in Australia and New Zealand, and Norman Van Aken's New World Cuisine (combining Latin, Caribbean, Asian, and American elements) found in the United States. An example of a specific fusion dish that combines classic Chinese recipes with French techniques and Mexican ingredients is Susanna Foo's pan-seared sweetbreads with veal dumplings made with ancho chili and served with Sichuan pickled relish and crispy shallots.

Fusion cuisine is distinct from historical combinations of cuisines, such as those that occurred in the sixteenth century when foodstuffs from the New and Old worlds mixed. It is also different from Creole cooking, which combines elements of French, African, Acadian, and Native American cooking. Geographers have described the long history of foodstuffs crossing geographical borders and the ways in which food is socially constructed through various processes (Cook and Crang, 1996; Bell and Valentine, 1997). Earlier forms of cuisine that combined elements from different regions or ethnic groups were reactive, rather than proactive, as is today's fusion cuisine. These cuisines emerged slowly from the everyday cooking practices that occurred within individual households and local communities. In contrast, fusion cuisine has developed rapidly and has found its way into everyday kitchens and restaurants as a direct consequence of the concerted and conscious activities of cultural intermediaries in the form of professional cooks, celebrity chefs, and cookbook authors. Fusion cuisine is an innovative and experimental process that demands from its practitioners the constant creation or re-creation of elements into novel food forms.

The social and cultural conditions that have contributed to the development of fusion cuisine, as well as most forms of contemporary cuisines, include increasing processes of globalization, increasing cultural flows through media and travel, the rise of a consumer culture, the modern food system, the expansion of the cookbook industry, the increased prominence of chefs throughout the world, the growth of the food and restaurant industry, and a greater concern with healthy lifestyles. Images constantly bombard the world, increase consumer knowledge, and escalate demand. Further, advances in technology have made foodstuffs from around the world available to all at any time. Boundaries are eliminated through the Internet, television, and the convenience and affordability of travel. Further, as consumers become increasingly concerned with living healthier lifestyles, the idea of mixing the healthiest elements from a variety of cuisines becomes appealing. For example, steaming and grilling may replace frying as a method of cooking, while herbs and spices are used in place of butter. The combination of these cultural and economic elements increases the likelihood that many culinary forms and combinations will exist.

Fusion cuisine, like fusion music and religion, appeals to multiculturalism, diversity, and novelty; it is also quite easy to market. It is an expression of the contemporary world of images and actively promotes a blending and diversity of cultures. It is a global cuisine in the sense that its elements are representative of cultures from around the world. One of the most interesting developments associated with fusion cuisine is that no single culture, with the exception of the French, dominates. Fusion cuisine combines elements of what are traditionally referred to as ethnic or regional cuisines, and may provide an opportunity to mainstream various ethnic and regional cuisines as well as provide opportunities for immigrant and minority chefs. Additionally, because of the hegemony of French cooking that persists in the culinary world, combining elements of French cooking may elevate the status of various ethnic and regional cuisines in a way that might not be accomplished otherwise.

Fusion cuisine has been met with mixed reactions because it is characterized by its lack of rules, or perhaps more accurately, by the precept that the rules ought to change constantly. Fischler claimed that contemporary gastronomy might be better thought of as "gastro-anomy" increasingly characterized by its lack of normative structure. Critics argue that practitioners of fusion cuisine deconstruct French and other cuisines (which do have codified culinary traditions and are clearly understood as unique culinary languages), and reassemble them into "new culinary sentences" that are not grammatically correct. Another related and frequently echoed criticism of fusion cuisine is that it is a haphazard mixing of cultures that lacks a respect for tradition. Further, particular cuisines become more or less popular as part of the hybrid, depending upon what is "hot" at the moment and not necessarily upon what tastes good. Because of increasing processes of globalization and consumerism, it is unlikely that fusion cuisine is going away any time soon. There are limitless possible combinations yet to be created.

See also France: Tradition and Change in French Cuisine; Nouvelle Cuisine; United States: Ethnic Cuisines .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bell, David, and Gill Valentine. Consuming Geographies: We Are Where We Eat. London: Routledge, 1997.

Cook, Ian, and Philip Crang. "The World on a Plate: Culinary Culture, Displacement, and Geographical Knowledge. Journal of Material Culture 1 (1996): 131153.

Cwiertka, Katarzyna. "Culinary Globalization and Japan." Japan Echo 26 (June 1999): 5258.

Fischler, Claude. "Food Habits, Social Change, and the Nature/Culture Dilemma." Social Science Information 19 (1980): 937953.

Gopnik, Adam. "The Politics of Food: Is There a Crisis in French Cooking?" The New Yorker (28 April and 5 May 1997): 150161.

Heffernan, Greg. "Pacific Rim Fusion Cooking." Proceedings of the World Association of Cooks Societies, 28th World Congress, New Zealand Chefs Association Inc., Melbourne, Australia, 1998. Available at www.chef.co.nz/chefs/html/pacific_rim_cooking.html.

Rice, William. "Together at Last: Americans Embrace Fusion Dishes." Chicago Tribune, 14 January 1998. Available at www.freep.com/fun/food/qfuse14ew.htm.

Sokolov, Raymond. Why We Eat What We Eat: How the Encounter between the New World and the Old Changed the Way Everyone on the Planet Eats. New York: Summit, 1991.

Symons, Michael. "Eating into Thinking: Explorations in the Sociology of Cuisine." Ph.D. diss., Flinders University of South Australia, 1991.

Julie L. Locher

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