In spite of the technical sounding nature of the word, fusion cooking is actually a reasonably simple idea whose origins go back far longer than one might believe. However, as it has become a more popular style than ever, a little refreshing course in what it is - and is not - might be useful in helping you decide the next new restaurant that you check out.
Fusion cooking is the combination of a traditional concept or method with a specific style of preparation or flavor. Typically, this combination happens in one of two ways. More commonly, it takes traditional menu items, such as steak and chicken, seafood, pasta and sandwiches, and offers them in new presentations. Asian fusion cooking relies heavily on such ingredients as soy sauce, wasabi and ginger, and Latin fusion menus typically will include peppers, mole sauce and spiced rubs, especially on meats. Additionally, they will substitute in a side dish that one might more readily associate with a particular ethnicity. Instead of a baked potato or vegetable of the day, one might find a seaweed salad or side of rice and beans.
The secondary form of fusion cooking relies more heavily on specific ingredients and prepares them in traditional methods of cooking. This tends to be found in locations where there is a particular food item they are known for. A Caribbean island, for instance, may have a specialized fusion style that includes fresh seafood and island fruits and spices. However, the majority of fusion cooking is not about bringing people to the food, but rather finding ways to bring food to the people.
Although Asian fusion is responsible for bringing the concept of fusion dining to the mainstream in the 1970's and 1980's, today it is Latin fusion that has moved to the forefront. As it has become easier for people to obtain the ingredients that are native to their homeland, chefs are opening restaurants that better reflect the flavors they grew up with. But does that mean any restaurant featuring food with Latin sounding names is a fusion restaurant?
Remember that fusion means bringing together. There are hundreds of exceptional restaurants across the country that focus on truly authentic ethnic cuisine, and proudly so. This may be perfectly acceptable for the more adventurous diners in a group, but it is certainly something to take into consideration when selecting a location for a large group of people, or a family with picky children. Think of it this way: a Latin fusion menu allows you to sample new flavors and explore new cuisine without having to jump into the deep end of the dining room.
Jack Terry is a freelance writer who has been covering the food and beverage industry for more than 20 years. http://www.osorioslatinfusion.com