Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fusion Confusion

Recently I was talking to a Chinese friend of mine, who professes to be a very good cook of Chinese cuisine - I’ve yet to confirm this claim so for the sake of argument I just go along with her on this matter. She suggested we cook together and create a fusion of Italian and Chinese food. I brushed off this notion because I’m a purest when it comes to my cooking and understanding of Italian food. I’m Vero in this matter if you will. Later that evening I was talking with Massimo and Antonio and getting a big laugh out of the whole idea. We were bouncing back and forth ideas for dishes combining the 2 countries cuisines, and even silly names for a restaurant based on such concept. Later as I was driving home from work still thinking about it I said to myself, why the heck not? It’s just so silly it just might work and be the start of something big. Honestly I don’t think it has a snowball in hell chance of taking off but I was bored so I kept thinking of dishes and combinations. The French have taken fusion cooking to levels that now most diners think that ginger enhanced scallops is real French. There is no French cuisine anymore it’s all about looking outside France for flavors and ideas. Not in Italy, Italians love their food almost to a point of worship. No way are you going to catch an Italian chef using sesame oil or fish sauce with his pasta. Pizza with black bean paste? Ha, not in my lifetime. We will never experience shark fin minestrone, and it’s probably a good thing too. For Italian cuisine has its own demons to slay.

20 years ago Italian food in this country was being explored in a very exciting way, regional dishes were being introduced and restaurants were opening that only focused on a particular region’s dishes. WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED? It seems somewhere somehow all that became a thing of the past. Say Italian food now and you’re more than likely to get a comment like "oh don’t you just love penne with chicken Alfredo sauce?" Pizza chains taking their pasta dishes to Rome and fooling an Italian crowd in a restaurant that the food isn’t a local delicacy(yeah like that’s going to happen). Italian restaurants here claming they do dishes from all regions of Italy, and do them well no less. Fast food places inventing new Italian food words. Or how about shrimp in Alfredo sauce? Did I mention putting chicken with pasta? “You’re an Italian restaurant, how come you don’t have a Caesar salad?” People, for Caesar’s sake, the Caesar salad was invented by an Italian immigrant who owned a restaurant in Tijuana Mexico. His name was Caesar by the way. It is NOT an Italian salad named after the emperor Caesar. But hey lets put chicken on it ‘cause that’s what the Italians would do. Where does it stop? When do people wake up (particularly the Italian people) and say I’m mad and I’m not going to take it anymore?

Now mind you I’m very aware that it was Italian immigrants who started restaurants here in the States that first started to bastardize their own cuisine; just like the Chinese, Indians and pretty much every other ethnic group. They put Caesar’s salad on their menus, and started to offer sides of pasta with fish on the same plate. Made cream sauces and called them Alfredo – who is this guy anyway? Don’t even get me started on spaghetti and meatballs.

So America’s perception of Italian food can be in a large part blamed on the Italians themselves. It makes one wonder why has it come to this? One reason is that Italian food is still the most ordered food in this country, and I think that statistic includes pizza. Ah pizza, god's food, a simple dish easy to make and deliver. Can I have mine with Canadian bacon and pineapple please? It’s a wonder that Italy doesn’t declare war on all of us here.

Fusion... confusion... Sushi with cream cheese, pot stickers with wild fennel, nachos with amatriciana sauce, wasabi mashed potatoes, wasabi butter with calamari, texmex, mextex, can I get that with chicken? Now don’t get me wrong I’m all for creativity and innovation, just please show respect for the countries’ cuisine that your spanking. At least take the time to truly understand the countries’ food and culture before you shred it apart, because if you take that time and effort you might just find appreciation for that food and seek to enjoy it for what it is. P.S. I thought it was olive groves, not gardens?

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