Newport Life Magazine – See Direct Article Link
Monday, October 28, 2013 1:28 pm; By Mary Weaver
FUSION CUISINE—using the ingredients, style or ethnic heritage of a dish and blending it artfully with another, dates back to the 1970s in southern California. Young Austrian Chef Wolfgang Puck was dazzling Hollywood’s darlings at Ma Maison combining classic French cuisine with the fresh and local ingredients he found there, and again at Chinois, where he popularized Asian fusion cuisine. Today we see fusion cuisine all over the world and we’re lucky to have fine examples on Aquidneck Island, in Jamestown, Tiverton, Bristol and beyond.
My earliest recollections of fusing ethnic cuisines are from growing up in a bustling university town in Virginia. Ethnic foods, or what might better be termed serendipitous fusion foods, were commonplace at gatherings of my father’s colleagues. They would bring elaborate dishes infused with spices and seasonings of their native countries that were uniquely blended with American ingredients. I tasted the culinary influences of Jamaica, Israel, Nigeria, Germany, Korea and many others and see how it’s shaped my adult palette toward unique and unusual pairings.
As the holidays approach, like most of us, I’m imagining what we’ll be dining on for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and New Year’s Eve celebration. I gravitate to inventive, creative and ethnically inspired dishes in Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, The New York Times, and on Epicurious.com and countless food blogs. Not wishing to stir the pot too vigorously at the holiday table, I’m sticking with the traditional favorites, just giving them a twist to create a delightfully different fusion menu.
For some, beginning is simple — your mother is from Portugal and your father is Irish, or your grandparents are right off the boat from Italy or Poland or Taiwan. For me, I have to dig back a bit further to the early 1700’s when Mennonites were leaving Switzerland (now Germany) to find refuge in Pennsylvania. Add another 300 years of mixing and mingling and I can still claim predominantly Swiss German roots with a little Scots Irish mixed in along the way. So I’ll be sharing two holiday recipes with Swiss German influence.
In India, the entire country celebrates Diwali, or the Festival of Lights, for five consecutive days in early November. This non-secular Hindu festival is an official Indian holiday that signifies a new year and the triumph of good over evil. Chef Sai Viswanath, of DeWolf Tavern in Bristol, is a native of India and recalls Diwali as a time of family feasts, many presents and the lighting of lamps. It is in the spirit of Diwali that Chef Sai shares some of his favorite American holiday recipes infused with the warmth and flavors of his homeland. At DeWolf Tavern, he has created an impressive signature Indian/New England fusion cuisine. “With food, we have a memory of what it should taste like,” he says. “I like to take that memory and add some excitement, to change it up a bit!”
In the Philippines, homeland of private Chef Lina Pattavina, New Year’s Eve festivities are boisterous and participatory, much like New Orleans’ Mardi Gras with multiple parades in which different groups compete wearing festive costumes and creating elaborate floats. Noisemakers, fireworks and drums made from tin cans, pots and pans are banged, clanged and set off as it is believed loud noises will scare away evil spirits and usher in a prosperous and healthy New Year. It is also a time of renewing family ties with reunions and sharing grand meals. Chef Lina, a graduate of RISD’s Culinary Arts School, trained with the late Chef John Philcox at Le Bistro, and honed her culinary skills at the White Horse Tavern and Cafe Zelda. Now private chef to a well known New England philanthropist, Chef Lina helps us get into the holiday spirit with her Filipino American black-eyed peas and cornbread pudding recipes. It’s the story behind black-eyed peas that is so enchanting she explains, “the black-eyed peas represent coins, the green spinach is for paper money, the red tomatoes represent wealth and health and the yellow in the cornbread is for gold.”
Chef Dan Hall of Perro Salado in Newport says his roots are German and Irish but his cooking style is most definitely Mexican American fusion. He deftly takes classic Mexican dishes and gives them a fresh and always flavorful zing using seasonal local ingredients. Co-owner Andi Johnson, of Norwegian descent, is the front of the house maven, setting the restaurant’s funky vibe and mixing up creative and delicious tequila cocktails. Chef Dan and Andi share their favorite Mexican American fusion recipes here…Pumpkin Empanadas, Tamales Wrapped in corn husks and banana leaves.
So the challenge is on…where are you from? And more importantly, how are you going to incorporate your genealogical finds into gastronomic holiday sensations? And if you’re not so inclined to dig up the family tree, feel free to borrow one of our local chefs’ delicious holiday fusion recipes. En guete!
Mary Weaver is the owner of Newport Cooks.