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Fusion Food- Profoundly Dishonest? - Discuss


Simon Majumdar
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Reading the thread about the use of Indian spices in French restaurants, I thought I would find out what the view is generally of fusion food with particular reference to Indian inspiration.

I am torn.  On the one hand I hate the notion of spices coming in and out of fashion.  For this reason I think the whole Pacific rim fusion debacle has been appalling.  It seems to primarily consist of putting a few chunks of mango under a slice of kangaroo or pouring coconut milk and galangal over some otherwise perfectly fine piece of fish.

This isn't taking inspiration from,  it is fooling around.  It is like putting a moustache on a Rembrandt because you spent a day at arts school.  These guys spend a few months travelling around the east after college and come back thinking they can sprinkle curry powder on whatever and it is all ok.

On the other hand I truly believe that a cuisine cannot stay still.  Like a shark it must move forward or drown.  Without Portugese influence, we would never have had a Vindaloo, withour Moghul influences the wonderful richness would not be possible.  But I would argue that these came about because of the migration of a population ( or because of imperialist expansion ) rather than because of a chef thinking that his dish would be better with corriander!

In London we have great examples at either end

1) We have the Red Fort.  Innordinately expensive but true to its roots while still trying new things.   It is ok to extemporise on a theme if you know the basics, so if you want to cut the ghee content of soften the spices, it is acceptable

2) We have the Cinnamon Club which is unashamedly fusion trying to offer dishes which will not offend a western taste.  It fails horribly and achieve none of the things it professes to do.  In the end it is no more successful than the latest Burger King Promotion that is offering Chicken Tikka Masala wraps.

Sorry for the rant, but I would love to know what everyone thinks

S

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I don't have a problem with fusion as a concept. All major cuisines today are fusion cuisines, on account of those population shifts and episodes of imperialist expansion (and also just plain exploration). Although I agree with the distinction as you've drawn it, I think the fundamental issue is one of speed. When cuisines evolve, there is a painstaking trial-and-error process that doesn't come into play when a lone chef starts experimenting.

There's also the question of skill. As in art or music, the average practicioner is better off sticking with the classic repertoire. Only the geniuses should be departing and trying to capture new ground. When less talented chefs try it, the results are comical.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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And I agree that fusion is a necessary step forward.  Every cuisine as we see it today has seen it happen to it sometime in its long history.  At times it has been called as such and at others, it took new forms without having to sell that change.

Addition of spices alone does not make for successful fusion.  One needs to fuse the many other nuances that go in the preparation of food.  When one knows all the many ways in which food is prepared in the culture from which one will transplant ingredients, spices or herbs, one has found also the techniques that are necessary to help with this fusion.

Till one studies and makes an effort to make the latter happen, we will see the very natal level of fusion.  That is why I keep suggesting that Tabla has done a good job, and years from today, we will really come to the next level of fusion that would be fusion with legs.  And once we get there, there will inadvertently a need for the next round of fusion.

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Fusing is profoundly confusing at the beginning.

Soon, when it has seen the many lives that spring from trial and error, those creating it and those sharing in it, will each themselves get closer to what they would rather have.

And that realization will take us to the next logical step.  Till then, it will entertain those that know little about the culture being borrowed from and infuriate those that having thrived with what is being fused expect much more.  Neither is wrong.  Neither is better.  It is simply like with all of lives many double sided issues a story of two different forms wanting to express each of themselves and yet in need to become harmonious about there shared identity.

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Suvire - I would question the praise of Tabla.  Of my two meals there, I have yet to have one dish that satisfied on any level and I have had some actively nasty ones ( a quail dish particularly made me quail with the rawness of the spices) I found the spicing to be inexact and it had the hallmarks of a menu that had been tempered to suit western tastes and budgets.  This was the one place I had in mind when I thought of the word "dishonest" I am otherwise a fan of Mr Meyer(sp?) but I think tis was an attempt to add a bit of colour to the portfolio

Suvir- what is it about this that I am missing?  My brother and Uncle really enjoyed this place and I know other people whose opinions I admire love it.  What are the dishes you admire?

As for fusion.  I think the word itself is the problem.  Perhaps there is a more true word for what happens when someone spends enough time in a culture that the mores,norms and eating habits and techniques of that culture seep through their being.  Perhaps Immersion is a better word.  That way you can have a non-indian who is able to prepare a sublime indian meal ( I have already used the example of my welsh mother and my fillipino aunt ) because they have absorbed the essence of the food and its origins not just the techniques.  

By the same token it is not ok for a chef to spend three weeks in Delhi and Bombay with a day trip to Agra and come back and put Pot roast pork with garam masala on his menu.  That smacks of cultural imperialism and ignorance.

S

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Simon--my take on the "thread about the use of Indian spices in French restaurants" is that it is a non-starter based on a faulty premise. A misperception.

My fear is that certain people cast certain aspersions on "fusion" as they do "foodie."  It's convenient and fits an agenda.  Food evolves in a big global cauldron of swirling ideas and experiments, with alot of poorly conceived, poorly executed experiments--some resist, some forge ahead--all at different pace.  It's contrapuntal and punctuated.

Sometimes a lone chef can push things along--take Gray Kunz--someone with talent who even regressive culinarians say "gets" the fusion thing.  To him, though, he's just cooking, using the tools at his disposal to create an interesting and tasty edible experience.  We now have a book--a written record of how he sees things--and I suspect that book will become very influential in how chefs continue to refine what "fusion" means to them.  Perhaps the book will help eliminate the need to even discuss fusion anymore.  All "fusion" does is distract.

I also fear that when one generalizes about specific "fusion" dishes and ill-conceived mistakes--they're misconstruing "fusion" as a valid entity.  It isn't.  I see "fusion" as a deep culinary prejudice.

When an Adria or Conticini looks to America, they see an opportunity to express their spirit as a Kunz has--and I just don't accept "fusion" as anything other than a media-imposed term, used to describe something they don't understand. What cuisine or modern contemporary cooking is not a fusion of ideas, ingredients and styles?

It's easy and defensible to say the French have resisted change--but the best chefs have always approached other cuisines and ingredients and co-opted them.  As Steve Shaw says, it is a function of speed--of acquiring critical mass. That's all Pacaud was doing with "curry" on his langoustines at L'Ambroisie.  Sprinkling curry powder on a dish is nothing more or less than sprinkling a little salt or cracked pepper on a dish--and it is not very astute or correct to indict any chef for doing this.  One should simply judge the dish and whether it worked.  This is how the best chefs work--treat all these flavors, spices, ingredients and techniques as options--and figure out how to integrate them in what they do.  

Sugar was sprinkled as a spice 400 years ago. Mostly all of those spices referred to as "Indian" or Oriental or exotic were used all across Europe in the Middle Ages--as others have mentioned--and were often used in mixtures of a dozen spices--in sweet and savory things in what is now the UK, France and Italy.  One way of looking at that Passard tomato is that it is nothing more adventurous--flavor-wise--than something already done in the Middle Ages.  (This is apart from the "technique" involved to cook it--and apart from the visionary notion of a tomato as dessert.)

Techniques of other cuisines can be integrated, or not. Perhaps in other dishes, the three-stars of France will embrace the true Indian techniques of bringing the flavors out of spice slowly that Suvir and others have eloquently revealed on this board--perhaps not.  Perhaps L'Ambroisie blended their "curry" mixture according to an old Indian home chef's tradition, we really don't know.  No one should care whether they do or do not, least of all an over-rated American two-star (under Reichl, probably a one-star under Grimes in the new NYTimes.)  But that didn't seem to matter to Hoffman, the over-reaching American chef conveniently used by Adam Gopnik to further a "light has dimmed" hypothesis.

The only relevant thing to say about that dish is--whether it was interesting, good and worked in the flow of that meal.  So what if it was "a French dish with powder" as Hoffman is quoted as saying?

It is irrelevant and specious to extrapolate, as Gopnik quotes Hoffman, that it was as "though nobody understood that curry isn't as powder that you apply cosmetically.  Nobody had read Madhur Jaffrey, or really understood that curry isn't just a spice you shake but a whole technique of cooking you have to understand."  All of this may be true.  None of it matters one wit.

So Simon, I'm uncertain what you mean when you say "fusion food with particular reference to Indian inspiration" because I suspect we will not agree on what actually is "Indian-inspired." Because if your lead examples for this are Michelin-starred chefs using spices that have been used in Indian cooking, that's not enough of a connection for me.

I'd suggest my previous hypothetical--that of Pacaud, possibly roasting spices per long established Indian traditions would be a valid example of "Indian influence," were it true.  What are other examples?

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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...............

By the same token it is not ok for a chef to spend three weeks in Delhi and Bombay with a day trip to Agra and come back and put Pot roast pork with garam masala on his menu.  That smacks of cultural imperialism and ignorance.

S

What's wrong with taking junkets ? We take them all the time  :smile:

and then come back and write reports and Whitepapers that no-one reads

or follows up.

On the matters of Fusion - I prefer to stir clear of this debate  :biggrin:

anil

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You are the smart one Anil.

And Simon, read between the lines... You will unerstand what I really say.  It may be closer to what you grasp as reality anyways.  About Tabla that is.

And Steve gave you some very good points about a fusion that has happened for generations.

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For what it's worth to those who are curious and for those who might have something to add, I believe the thread Simon refers to is one that invovles my exchange with Steve Plotnicki about something Adam Gopnik quoted Peter Hoffman as saying about the use of curry powder in a dish at l'Ambroisie in Paris. The quotation appeared in Gopnik's From Paris to the Moon an otherwise excellent book about Paris and the Parisians, as well as about Gopnik and his life among the Parisians.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Thanks Bux... very interesting threat that was.  Woof!

Well, Indian spices have been used as you rightly say for centuries in the west.  People just did not make as much fuss about the fusion that happened.  Living in a country and a part of the world where we need obsessions, we find it easy to take beyond their due anything anyone does.  And I think that is what has happened with the play of spices happening in the kitchens of many chefs.

Country captain chicken was a poor but quite authentic version of a chicken curry.  It is still made in some older homes of the south in the US.  I was working with Nathalie Dupree on her recipe.  A few changes I made, not many, changed the recipe that was wonderful to become authentic.  But her version was just as wonderful I think.  It just did not come with the heavy word fusion, it simply was a chicken dish reminiscent of the old days.

I think fusion has been happening as long as human beings have lived and traveled and moved from place to place and accepted visitors.  It is but a natural thing to see happen.  IN the old days, one did not make much fuss till something radical and substantial had taken place.  Today, even as Table struggled to find its feet, we had declared it a winner.  Not that it was not close to what it should be; it just had not evolved for itself.  I believe, if Tabla can last with the same chef for a decade more, we will certainly see then a fusion cuisine that will be relevant.  

Every take on fusion can have strong association with one cuisine. In Tablas case it happens to be some cuisine other than Indian.  I have met some snooty French chefs that claim that it has no French roots.  I doubt that.  And as an Indian cooker teacher, and someone that has lived eating Indian food all his life, I certainly can vouch for the fact that Tablas food has little if any roots in the food I grew up eating at home, or those of friends or even in restaurants.

The Bread Bar at Tabla was an afterthought.  Or a thought that reached a higher potential years after the restaurant opened.  IN fact that very Indian concept seems to have done better in the longer run.  I see very little if any fusion in that part of Tablas's menu.  

Raji Jallepalli did the same; she fused and borrowed Indian subtleties into French cooking.  French food was the dominant partner.  Beware, at Tamarind, she gave little of herself and her cuisine other than her name and blessings as a consultant.  The food was the age-old Indian repertoire from the north.  Made to perfection by Hemant Mathur who has since left Tamarind.  It was fortunate for Tamarind that Raji had reached a place and time in her short-lived life, to begin exploring Indian cuisine that she had never known. She left it to Hemants mind to come up with recipes and variations to age old classics and she helped him in finding edible flowers that could be used as garnishes in his plates.  If we could call the addition of a flower used as a garnish as successful fusion, yet it did succeed.  Perhaps I am more apt in calling it simply Indian food served in an elegant setting with effort made to serve it in contemporary styles.

I have still not had one Indian fusion meal that I have loved.  Where the Indian element of the food has been dominant and yet been fused with foreign elements that change it enough so as to make it just different enough but not lose its identity.  For all your interest, I am the same chef that New York Magazine and Food Arts Magazine had called as being fixated on fusion cooking and nouvelle cooking.

As I live in the realm of a chef and a creative person, I hate to summarily dismiss t hat work, which is being done by people wanting to create something new.  I simply watch without getting too excited or too disturbed.  I do not let something as nascent as what we see in the world of Indian fusion occupy anymore of my time than it deserved at this stage of the game.  My love for letting life lead its own course freely makes me understand the relevance of places like Tabla.  And that makes me respect their being and encourage others to give them a chance.  I believe, Tabla is a first step in a great new walk in the path of Indian food.  I am sure somewhere along the path, a course that leads to the end successfully will be found and that would be a great new turn in the life of both French and Indian food.  

Till then, I am happy eating both cuisines as they are.  Enjoying subtle play that makes each of these cuisines take new turns.  And while I make little if any effort to eat at places like Tabla, I am also keenly aware of what they do in the longer life of food as a whole.  And I am also happy to accept that which they create that could decades from now, be considered a great change in the life of two cuisines that were very strong in the own roots.  But we are far from that reality and thus, we can only watch for now.  And enjoy both the little peaks and drops as these cuisines find a new high point.

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Simon, I agree your basic premise. I also agree with Steve that fusion is mostly failed experimentation. But fusion defined as "deep culinary prejudice" just amuses me.

I have tasted a lot of so called fusion food (and heard a lot of so called "fusion music"). What I tasted out of Passard's and Guy Martin's kitchen was above the purely theoretical criticism leveled here. You might have issue with how my ignorant self presented the subject. However, when flavors and textures are in such harmony that you wonder if you have ever tasted the real thing ever before, that my friends, just might be evolution. And that is what my tongue told me.

And I am going to vote with my wallet and go back to both places on my next trip (whenever that is).

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Vivin I loved Arpege and loved Passards food.  I chatted with him.. and he did not call it fusion at all.  Evolution yes.

And I was thinking of you as I was in the cab coming home.. and so, it was funny coming to your post.  What timing.  I had wondered what you had to say about all this.

We come from a land of fusion.. or at least I.. even my ethnic background is fusion.. and my people, the Kayasthas were a fusion of Hindu and Moslem.. so I have thrived in the world of fusion... and Madhur Jaffrey is also a Kayastha like me and also comes from the world of that fusion that I talk about.  

Like anything in life, we need to see fusion with legs first.  And then judge it.  For now, the few restaurants that have called themselves fusion, have done so to become trendy.. maybe in haste.  If they were clever, they would steer away from these names.  Make legs for their vision and then label it.  For, till that happens, people will be dissapointed in this new trend.  A trend that is for now, nothing more than another evolving with time and effort into something it will become at a latter date.

Does it make sense?

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Suvir,

Absolutely makes sense. You are right about bringing up your background in this. It matters a lot. I married a Brahmin from Karnataka. Does that matter? Yes it does. The music she listens to, the food she cooks, everything. We immigrants walk this line everyday.

I also agree with you about what you call fusion with legs. I will give you an analogy from the audiophile world. There are a lot of audiophiles who forget that our passion is music first, equipment and its reproduction later. They will argue about what circuit topology is best or what tube produces the best harmonal structure etc etc. Your ears will tell you right from wrong. What are we talking about? The proof is in the pudding, my friends. Go taste Passard's cooking or Guy Martin's. I am not talking about Sushi Samba here. There was also an amuse bouche of desserts that I forgot to mention. Darjeeling tea sorbet. Are you kidding me? I might be relatively new to the world of Michelin three stars but I was raised to distinguish between an amazing tasting concoction and a merely good one. This was amazing. This is what it is all about.

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Darjeeling tea sorbet.. wow.. sounds wonderful.

Again and again, my mind comes back to the one thing.. we need all our food, being played with today, to find legs.  And when it finds  them, builds them, it will walk. Till then, we will need to argue, defend and protect it.  But once it has landed, the next such round of fusion will begin.

But this drama also keeps us loving that which is classic while entertaining our senses today in more ways than one.  If we only had the classics, we may never have learned to respect them or critique them.  It is only after we have eaten a meal that could be good but not sound, can we understand in comparison a meal that may not be lively but is sound.

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And Vivin, it takes me back to comparing music and food as being very similar.  Classical music may not appeal to the young and the hip, but for decades and generations, it what people go back to when they want something very comfortable and easy.  

And a great young artist, at least in the INdian music scene normally comes from within the folds of the classical genre, or one who has enough knowledge of the classics to then create from their roots, something fresh and lively but deeply grounded in history and life.

I know little about french food and by no means am I wanting to die having discovered every nuance of it, but I loved Arpege and remember it fondly.  I had one of my favorite western meals in a restaurant at Arpege.  And their service and attention to detail was extraordinary.  At least the night I was there.

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Steve KLC - I wasn't going to respond to this thread because it is mostly about semantics, but on rereading your response I found the following nit to pick. You say that sprinkling curry powder on a dish is no different than sprinkling salt or pepper on a dish. And I guess that is where opinions part. You believe that Pacaud is using curry just as another spice. Hoffman believes (and I agree with this), that he was using it to appear modern. It's not the use of the curry that is relevent, it is the intent behind its use. His choice of curry and not say, ras-al-hanout was simply fashionable.

Hoffman's other point is a more simple one. All he says is that from tasting this dish, he concluded that Pacaud didn't understand the theory of curry. Now maybe he is right and maybe he is wrong but, I don't think Hoffman was lying about it. That's how it came off to him. But to take it a step further, he thinks there are many chefs out there (and he uses himself as an example) who are studying how to do it properly. And if he wants to eat a dish with curry, he would have gone to a restaurant someone who understands it runs, not L'Ambroisie. That is sort of in line with my opera singer/Broadway show tune theory. I might want to hear Some Enchanted Evening performed, but not by Placido Domingo.

Hoffman's quote in the context of the article isn't intended by Gopnik to indict Pacaud, it is intended to indict France. It is part of a series of points that Gopnik makes about how France does a poor job of integrating outside influences into its culture. If I recall correctly, the big example shown is how not a single top chef had managed to integrate cous cous into the cuisine. I mean how hard would that be? When I was in London two weeks ago I had dinner at Tamarind. It was Valentine's Day and they had a set menu. One of the dishes was Sea Bass atop something called Uppava (I'm sure Suvir and Simon will have lots to say about that ingredient). They coated an entire dinner plate with a thin layer of this grain, then coated it with a yellow spicy sauce and laid a rectangle of sea bass on top. It looked just like something you would get at Gordon Ramsey. I took one bite and said to myself this is cous cous. I called the waiter over and asked him what it was and he said semolina. Bingo. I tell this story because in my 25 years of French travel, I've never had a starred chef serve me cous cous in any fashion. Pasta, polenta, rice but cous cous? Never. I mean 5 million North Africans live in France and still no cous cous in ther cuisine. And look how easy it is. Bernard Pacaud could have served the exact same dish as Tamarind if the spicing on the sauce was diferent.

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"It's not the use of the curry that is relevent, it is the intent behind its use."

I know you just hate to discuss semantics, Plotnicki, but by "intent," what do you mean? I might agree that a small percentage of very serious customers might be concerned with a chef's intentions vis-a-vis a larger body of culinary work or tradition. Whether or not that's an appropriate standard by which to condemn a dish that is otherwise delicious is a different question, and I think the answer is clearly "no." And certainly you'd agree that the relevant intent behind a dish is extremely limited, if it exists at all as a legitimate critical tool. For example, if the chef while adding curry is screaming anti-Indian racial epithets at the top of his lungs, is that in any way relevant to our judgment of the dish? Certainly it is relevant to our judgment of the chef's character, but not his food. We might boycott his restaurant, but we couldn't honestly say we were doing it because his food was bad. In other words, I think intent and result are two entirely separate things. If two chefs create the exact same dish independently, and one does it with deep understanding of Indian culinary tradition while the other does it by opening a box of something he found in an Indian store and pouring it in, what's the difference?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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There is a huge difference in the two sides Steven.  One comes with the burden of knowing not only the food, but also with the magic that comes by knowing a spice.  

No textbook alone can teach you what a spice does as it changes with heat.  In every step lies a new intensity of taste and a new subtle aroma and texture.  A trained chef alone can make that judgment about how to use those spices.  The ignorant and amateur will make do with curry powder.  And I am nauseous thinking about curry powder being sprinkled as would be salt and pepper.  Since so many ingredients in there need to be sautéed for their true flavor to come out.  And some would at least make the trained Indian palate of mine want to throw up cause I taste raw flavors that are not tasty to a palate that has seen the subtle changes that transform a spice from just being a spice or becoming the key ingredient taking our senses to a culinary heaven.

It is this expertise that does not exist much in the world of fusion yet.  And I say Yet, only for many chefs including some you have each highly praised.  While they have reached new heights and done very well from where they began, their own knowledge and their food, have years of experience to live before t hey can be as deft with spices and their moods as the chefs and cuisines they borrow from.

I cook western fusion style every now and then.  Five years ago I made a cream based pasta with curry powder.  I found it offensive to my senses.  I knew it would charm my American friends.  That was exactly what happened.  On the anniversary of that day, this last month, I was asked if I could recreate that stunning dish. I found it so mediocre that I did not give it any space in my memory.  And here, foodies of some repute in our fine NYC were asking me for that dish.  It was one of my first forays into fusion.  To most anything new is exciting.  And seeing the response that night from people that seriously were in love with my very amateur attempt at fusing two cuisines, I realized how important it was for me to not share these with people.  I needed to bring to them something, which would be ready to be loved and epitomized.  Or else, we humans tend to accept certain things out of our need to see change. I did not want on my shoulder the burden of having created a dish even I was not happy with.

I am told by sources that have worked with a few of these fusion chefs that they often find more comfort and craving for their more traditional foods.  I have asked what they mean by that, and have been told, those foods are quote " boutique " and have a place in a restaurant to be served to customers, but do nothing for their own craving for something tasty.  Well, I was doing the same.  Cooking something for my egos need to create something.  While I was far from pleased with it, it did make the others happy.  But shall one be creating things one cannot respect themselves?

It is with that knowledge that we need to respect the need for a mastering of ones trade.  And all steps involved in our trade becoming what it is.  So with fusion cooking, one has to understand well what cuisine will become the dominant one, and understand every subtlety of the one we bring into this dominant cuisine.  So, with that behind us, while we may be bringing no more than an element or two into this base cuisine, we do so knowing how brilliantly t hat one addition can transform the dish and yet maintain the basic brilliance of each of the cuisines.

Curry powders are not meant to be used as salt and pepper.  They were meant to be used in sauces and gravies and other cooked preparations where the cook was trying to imbue the food with an Indian flavor.  It was a quick fix for a curry craving.  Not a perfect answer at all.  But it was made to be a quick fix alone.  

Certainly flukes happen.  Maybe once in a million tries a chef can open a can of exotic unknown ingredients and come up with a dish that is nice.  But that does not make it fusion or an art form.  Fusion will need to have substance to find a home in the hearts of people.  It may feed hungry stomachs, may entertain that mind searching for a fad, but to bring comfort to ones cravings, it will need sustenance from within itself.  And that comes from a core of traditions.  Traditions need roots.  While there is certainly a root growing there, it needs to get deeper and have lateraline development.  When that has happened, the opening of a can and sprinkling a spice nature of this cuisine is transformed into a cuisine that though new, is grounded in its own rich tradition.

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Steve - For a guy who is a lawyer (and this coming from a guy who is a client,) I thought I made myself clear. Pacaud intended to make his cuisine appear modern by using a "foreign" spice, just like an opera singer wants to appear contemporary by including a Beatle's song on his recording. So I do not agree with you that the relevent intent behind a dish is limited. Of course that doesn't mean the dish tastes bad. Aside from the other context I put the quote in vis-a-vis the cous cous, if I recall correctly another aspect of the article was the statement that nouvelle cuisine wasn't really anything new, just a rehashing of the same old French technique in a slightly revamped format and this time French chefs had hit the wall.

Suvir's last response deals with the other aspect of Hoffman's/Gopnik's point. Last year when I ate at Union Pacaific, they had this great Monkfish in Curry Sauce on the menu. It was so good I asked the waiter if they would tell me where they got curry powder. He came back and said they made it fresh every day so I asked him for the recipe. He came back and told me Rocco told him they were still tinkering with the recipe and if I left my address they would send it to me when they were happy with the proportions. Let's just say that Hofman was implying that Pacaud didn't approach his curry powder with that much care (not saying whether he does or doesn't but Hoffman certainly believes so.)

But there were now chefs out there who did care. And even worse, those were the chefs the public seemed to be turning their intention to.

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Plotnicki, I'm not questioning the precision of your use of the language -- only the clarity of your thoughts about this matter. :raz:

I agree that it's stupid when opera singers include Beatles songs on their CDs. But why do we think that's so? Because it's absurd. Because the song is out of place. Because it feels forced. Because if you sing a Beatles song in an operatic voice it sounds silly.

But does any of this have anything to do with intent? I think not. I don't care why the opera singer wanted to sing a Beatles song. I don't care if it's because he wanted to seem modern, or because he thought he could sing it better than the Beatles, or because it has special sentimental meaning to him because his grandpa sung it to him in his cradle. I don't care if John Lennon himself said on his deathbed that he would die happy if only this opera singer would sing him a Beatles song. I still think it's dumb to have that song on the CD.

Likewise, if the end result is good, I don't care about the singer's intent either. Lots of singers are evil, horrible, stupid people with extremely limited understanding of what they're singing about. But they have natural gifts of voice that make them sing like angels. This may make me hate them, but it doesn't affect my opinion of their work.

So all I'm saying is, sure, if a chef's deep roots in Indian cuisine make him better able to use spices then fine. But if some ignoramus with no experience in Indian cuisine can make a great dish too, it doesn't bother me. It doesn't even bother me if he's doing it just to seem cool. All I care about -- and I think I'm speaking for Steve Klc here too -- is: Does it taste good?

Suvir, I think you're talking about probability: A chef without training in a specific area is not likely to be able to succeed in that area. I agree. But it's not impossible. The point I'm making about intent is: If that one in a million contextless chef does succeed, I see no valid objection to his success. I know you're very open minded, so when you say something tastes bad it's because you really mean it. But too many people, when they say something tastes bad, just mean it doesn't taste the way they're used to having it taste. So if handling a spice a certain way makes it taste great, that's great. But if it's handled a certain way just because people have always done it that way, that doesn't diminish the success of the foreigner who figures out a better way to do it.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Steve-Your arguments about the opera singer are all fine except for one thing. Hoffman doesn't feel that way about it. And neither do I. Being a professional in that industry, I can tell you that the reason that opera singers sing contemporary songs is to make their recordings more accessable to people who do not understand classical music. It's purely commercial. And while I don't hold that against them, I think it's a shame on many levels that they need to stoop to that level to sell recordings and that they just can't rely on the art they practice in an appropriate context.

The reason I keep using opera as an example is because I think what happened to opera is analagous to what is happening to French cuisine.  Opera is unique in that it was a high art form that was popular among entire European populations. It was distributed to the masses as high art, during a time when the masses were being taught that the appreciation of high art is something they should aspire to. That market dynamic peaked within the half century after the advent of the recording. Now there was a way to distribute Caruso, even if most peope couldn't even get to see an opera. But what was good for opera in the beggining, turned out bad for opera in the end. And just like the Guttenburg printing press was co-opted by people who didn't believe in god, recording equipment was co-opted by plain folk who said, "opera, hell no, I want to play the blues!" And once the public got to vote with their hard earned dollars, they eschewed opera for Elvis. And the result a century later is that if opera wasn't underwritten by corportaions and benefactors, it probably wouldn't be performed anymore. It is a museum piece.  And all attempts to modernize opera through the style of performence or the furtherance of the repetoire by modern composers has fallen on deaf (commercially) ears. Unless you want to call Tommy and Arthur operas?

The food equivelent of what I just described was routed through the cookbook business and the TV industry. Maybe you couldn't get to taste Bocuse's truffle soup. But you could get the recipe in print, and you could see him make it on television. Since food no matter how high the artform is ultimately sustenance, one could make the soup in their kitchen. This is the point where food and music diverge. Cooking is something you practice and singing is something you listen to (though I know you sing Beatle songs in an operatic style in the shower Shaw.)

I hate to go further because this point is deserving of its own thread. And in fact, I think this point is the single most important conversation about food today. And the point ultimately isn't whether Pacaud was right, wrong, informed, misinformed, arrogant etc., or whether fusion is a good word, bad word, good or bad cooking style. The point is why the revolution in food today is occuring outside of France? And all Hoffman does is point out one example of how France is falling behind in cooking technique. And before someone points to the advancement of the artform by chefs like Passard and Guy Martin, they have advanced it like classical music had been advanced. There aren't a slew of chefs over the world who have brought Passard's approach to distant shores and have revolutionized the local eating scene. But people in NY, London, Sydney are copying Adria's technique or Nobu or Tesuya's technique. Pacaud's use of curry is merely an example of why French chefs aren't driving the train. It isn't a statement that they don't cook well (including the dish in question.) But it is a statement about why people are beginning to care less about it.

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Steven you are right, but flukes do not happen again.  And not always will be understood by everybody the same way.  

And there is no reason to not let flukes exist and have their day of glory.  I am not debating that.  But baseless thoughts and all things without roots disappear on their own.  

Such is the reality of our lives.  Things we do in the moment, can lead to much happiness and much victory, but it does not mean that will happen every time.

I live in the moment and my cuisine does as well, but at no moment is any element of it simply a fad.  That is what can be pointless.

And yet, I am deeply aware of the need for change to exist and happen.  Since t hat is lives romance with itself. It's own need to exist and flow.  We are all here for a finite moment and then gone.  Many of our fads die with us, what we leave behind will only leave an impression when those things have substance that merits others time.  Too many of us have little time today to spend with another and their lives, why would we do so with a dead man.

It is with that in mind, certain people think of a legacy they will leave behind.  We all leave one, but some speak louder than others and resonate as such with broader audiences for longer periods of time.  And those few are called classics.

And the power to make anything a classic lies in the hands of the creator and circumstance.  But mostly in the hands and mind of that shaping it.  Many give up; have short-term goals and limited vision.  That is not to say at all that they lack talent.  Many geniuses never see their due for they give up too soon or are very distracted.  It is a pity that we have little in place to help those winning minds.  For if they could bring to fruition each of their ideas, the world would have even lesser time to fight wars, but more time to enjoy those creations.

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So start a new thread, already, Plotnicki. And don't think I'm going to let you get away with changing the subject: The proof is still in the pudding, not in the intention. And though I sing Beatles songs operatically in the shower, I don't record them.

Suvir, I'm giving the example of the fluke (the accident, not the fish) as a means of uncovering the fundamental argument about intent versus results for the purposes of (as usual) educating Plotnicki. But that doesn't mean I think everything a chef does with a foreign (to him) cuisine is a fluke. It's just what chefs do: They take the ingredients and techniques available to them, and they try to make something that tastes good. Some do it well, some don't.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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And Steven, I entertain every effort made in any direction.  Most often when things are good or bad, my reaction is the same.  Those that know me.. call me pan faced, for I share little emotion when affected by things.  

Call me jaded, but after having seen much strife and misery around me as a young child, I have much too much knowledge about all that the world goes through.  And how transient these trivial aspects of life are in the long run.

It was also that silent knowledge that had my eyes dry after 9/11 and still dry after the events of the last few days in India.  Nothing that I could have said done would have changed the reality of what had happened.  And yet, I also knew that nothing that happened in the US that day was any different from the horror that the world had quietly witnessed in many other places before and as we have seen in the last few days in India alone, is being visited today.  But yes, there were plenty in our media and in our friend circles that were gravely affected.  And I had deep sympathies with them and all ears in my sharing of their grief.  But even as I was available to one and all of my friends and acquaintances and neighbors, it did not mean I shared in their version of grief, their way of dealing with it, or in the ways in which they assigned blame.

In fact, I had my own issues to deal with after 9/11.  I witnessed the fusion of man with barbarian.  Men calling me a F*******G Arab, one even spat on me as he yelled for me to go back home and a policeman that asked me what my religion was as he looked at me so as to terrorize me.  But that was a fusion that was just as real as the fusion of flavors and cultures.  And just as successful in that moment as a chef pouring curry powder over a dish and finding success.  But we choose to ignore one, ponder over the other.  Why?  Only for one being easier to grasp.  I looked at those five or six incidents where I was harassed and abused as mere ignorance.  Steven as you point out how an ignorant man can create something wonderful that is exactly how I felt about these ignorant people wanting to hurt me.  They were ignorant in not knowing that not all Arabs are their enemies and they were even more ignorant in assuming that I was Arab.  Not that it should matter.  All lives are sacred as all fusion food and creations are necessary.  I share this to show you that ignorance can have victory.  But ignorance is also what makes the world come through points where it nears very low moments.  But from reaching those poor lows, we have but one direction to go, up.  And that is what can bring hope to those that can sense failure.  I chose to keep living in the same city and place, for I knew it could not get worse.  Things would change.  But even months after 9/11 I feel the strain exist, but it does seem at least on the surface that people are getting back to their senses.  It was a first for most everyone here to see such horror so closely.  Till 9./11 it was something we looked at on the TV screens as being the reality of those foreign and underdeveloped nations.  It brought into our backyard a small fraction of what a lot of  the world has lived with for long periods of time.

Similarly, fusion has its ups and downs.  It changes from what part of world one sees it in.  While it is always a challenge when it first begins.  Wonderful things have happened from fusion.  Like the very vast and varied Indian cooking.   A lot of it is fusion.  So is the language Urdu.  A child of fusion of 5 languages, to those that have read its literature and can speak it, no language in the world can come close to it. It is the most sensuous most romantic language and maybe  the youngest one to exist.  It was created in the 16th century I believe.  It has in its roots, Arabic, Hindi, Turkish, Persian and Sanskrit.  Many thought it was a joke when it first started.  Today, all that know it, find it magical.  So, I do not for a moment doubt the potential of the fusion we see being worked on today, I am only hoping I will see some magic in my own lifetime.  I am happy knowing that it has begun, and that lives younger than mine, will reap the benefits of that which was still growing in my lifetime.  It is a hopeful point of view.

And yet, I also make a living sharing one such trivial chore of our lives with others. Food.  So, I have no problem trying and enjoying mistakes and victories.  But they do not make me jump and proclaim winners or losers, since I know it takes much more than a fluke or a mistake to make one either a winner or a loser.  It takes a lifetime of continued self exploration, viewed by many that we do not even know exist to happen, before we can be announced as anything more than a mere human like all others.  

For any announcement on any other persons behalf is limited to their own biases.  Like mine come out in this debate.  While they are different from yours, they will never be better or worse, simply the different way of thinking of another mind.  We all are affected differently from different things.  And those that try and fit us into one mold, will find no victory at all.  

For my passionate criticisms of a chef would only be mine alone to live with.  Life would still move on for the chef and the world.  My praises will also only affect me.. and in the same limited way and affect little around the world.  So why bother, I choose to observe, enjoy and leave.  I have been known to go back to many places I have never enjoyed.  I go back for others I know love them.  I can always let go of my need to be in control.  That makes me also get closer to understanding how other minds work and get affected in different ways from me in so many different aspects of life.

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