One of the more popular trends on television these days involves shows that introduce people to exotic styles of cooking and dining from around the world. While some of these seem to be focused on the more typical and pedestrian menu items that make up a culture's cuisine, others tend to focus on the truly bizarre and "out there", such as eating live octopi or cheese riddled with maggots. Needless to say, such dining choices do not tend to encourage many people to explore a different society's dining styles. Instead, what is helping to introduce people to new and exotic foods is the rise of fusion cuisine.
Fusion cuisine refers to the practice of combining two distinct elements of cooking into a new style of food preparation. This can be in a number of ways without any hard or fast rules on how it is done. For instance, chefs in Key West, Florida have created a fusion style known as New Island Cuisine, which combines the traditional methods of food preparation as first taught by French chefs with the flavors of the tropics using native spices, fruits and the fresh seafood so abundant in the area. A far more common style of fusion cuisine can be found in some of the food in Appleton, Wisconsin, thanks to the number of new restaurants that have been opening in recent years.
This style of fusion cooking can best be described as ethnic fusion. It is when a chef or restaurant owner pairs the style of cooking that they grew up with - Latin American, Chinese, and even Ethiopian - with menu items that are more typically associated with dining out at casual fine dining restaurants throughout North America. For instance, a restaurant that specializes in Latin fusion cuisine would offer chicken, steak, seafood and pasta, but would prepare the dishes using a traditional mole sauce or other spices native to their home country, and pair the dish with side dishes like rice and beans instead of potatoes.
Fusion cuisine first got its start in the 1970's on the West Coast and for a generation or so could only be found in major cities. However, over the last decade and a half the restaurant owners and chefs have had the same dream as millions of people before them, which was to move out of the crowded cities and into the suburbs. Having done so, they brought their style of cooking with them, and now fusion restaurants can be found in towns and small cities across the country.
Although some purists may argue that fusion cuisine is not a pure expression of a culture's traditional style of cooking, it is a great way for people to experience flavors they may not be familiar with in a setting that cannot be found in other casual fine dining restaurants.
Jack Terry is a freelance writer who has been covering the food and beverage industry for more than 20 years. http://www.osorioslatinfusion.com