Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I'd Like My Sushi De-fused Please

One of my pet peeves when evaluating a restaurants is any variation of the word "fusion." Commonly seen as "Asian-fusion" it's supposed to mean some sort of combination of ingredients, techniques or flavors. When I see fusion, i just think "pass." It's a shame really; after all, there are few cuisines I will judge right off the bat based solely on a name, but fusion restaurants just tend to fail.

It's not that I'm against combining cuisines. To me, authenticity is one thing, but good food can benefit from spanning other cuisines. New creative combinations, while often fail, can open new venues for gastronomic delight. Take for instance, New American, Nouvelle French and Nuevo Latino. My issue is with the word "fusion" itself. The only time I want to see fusion is in the colorful blue and orange commercials for Gillette razors. It has just been degraded into a new "it" word that everyone says but no one really understands. Actually, in most cases, the creative effort is nothing more than slapdashing a few ingredients that don't actually belong together. Proper culinary innovation involves science, logic and experimentation. But don't dare experiment on me and charge me for it. Many restaurants have picked up on this trend too and are moving away from referring to themselves as such. Junnoon in Palo Alto actually called me and told me that I could use a picture for FoodDigger so long as I make sure not to call them fusion cuisine.

I'm not discouraging the practice of creative combinations of cuisines. Food is an art too, and as such, needs innovation to stay alive. Just don't call it fusion, unless you're really trying to run your restaurant into the ground. Sawtelle Kitchen serves somewhat fusion cuisine with Japanese ingredients often prepared in Italian and French techniques. It's an example of responsible fusion. But they know not to call themselves by that wretched name. Oh, and also avoid saying anything is "infused" with flavor, it creates the same sense of disgust in me.

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