“Culture and Cuisine” and The Origins of ‘Fusion’

ON CULTURE & CUISINE

“Culture and Cuisine”, Jean-François Revel 

I purchased this book at a shop on Fleming Street in Key West in mid February of 1988. I was part owner of my first restaurant. It was called “MIRA”. I was also in the middle of a huge amount of culinary self analysis as to what I was going to do with cuisine. I’d cooked my way around French, Italian, various regional American cuisines like many of my generation. After reading this book I sat down and over the course of about two weeks wrote a paper I titled “Fusion”. I wrote the paper only for my own personal understanding. I had no intention of publishing it. But in the Fall of 1988 I was asked to join other chefs on stage in Santa Fe for a symposia on American Cuisine to describe why we cooked the way each of us did. The other chefs that day on stage with me were Tom Douglas, Lydia Shire, Emeril Lagasse and Charlie Trotter. 

My definition of fusion refers to fusion between haute cuisine or aristocratic styled “restaurant” cuisine with the more down-to-earth, rustic home cooking. It also means the “fusion” between various cultures and countries. Fusion cuisine takes place in almost every continent and it always has. I didn’t invent fusion cooking. I was simply finding a term I felt that represented a human to human connection that transcended our human differences. Jean-François Revel states, “there is gastronomy when there is a permanent quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns and when there is a public both competent enough and rich enough to arbitrate this quarrel”. 

I think that fusion is the mother of all of the different types of hyphenated cuisines. Like me, other chefs across the globe are finding that there is a combined power in what I named “fusion cooking”. In my cooking, I create an interplay, a fusion, between regionalism and technical know-how. My cooking is the result of coupling our native regional foodstuffs like conch, black beans, plantains, mangoes, coconuts, grouper, key limes, snapper, shrimp and the folk cooking methods intrinsic their preparation, with the self-taught classical techniques I learned though reading. “New World Cuisine” is the term I came up with to describe the fusion occurring in Florida and the immediately surrounding areas.

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