The term ‘fusion cuisine’ or ‘fusion cooking’ originated in the 1980s in the USA. At that time, California chefs experimented with combining typical cooking styles from different countries with regional vegetables and seafood. Another way to refer to this type of combination of different food cultures is ‘Crossover’. The literally limitless experimental creativity does not stop where seemingly mismatched ingredients come together on a plate.
‘I cook what I like to eat myself,’ says Daniel Baur, co-owner and chef of Düsseldorf restaurant EssBar. Traditional homestyle cooking reinterpreted, upscale French cuisine, Asian-inspired ingredients and spices – some light dishes, others hearty. One example from the menu is octopus with potato-olive mash and French black pudding. The octopus is prepared as in French cuisine, but the olives give the dish a Mediterranean touch and lemongrass brings out the Asian flavours. ‘The guests get curious when they read it on the menu. And after the meal, everyone is thrilled.’
However, he deliberately avoids terms like ‘fusion cuisine’. ‘It actually describes exactly what we do, but the diners usually have no idea what that term means. We prefer to let our dishes speak for themselves.’
French cuisine as a basic recipe book
‘From my point of view, fusion cuisine offers the most interesting taste experiences, which is why we apply this approach,’ says Philipp Lange. He is the head chef at the Düsseldorf Michelin-decorated restaurant Agata’s. ‘There are several ways to achieve the flavour profile you have in mind,’ explains Lange. Similar to how standards form the starting point for improvisation in jazz, cooking also requires a basic foundation. ‘French cuisine provides a great basic recipe book, but you throw out the rules when you have something new in mind.’
Fusion cuisine is now dominating the Michelin-decorated hospitality industry. Its emergence is often attributed to globalisation. However, cultures and their ways of cooking have always influenced each other. For example, Cuba’s cuisine combines Spanish, African and Caribbean influences due to the colonial history. The Creole dishes in the Mississippi Delta in the USA are similarly colourful and complex.
And in Hawaii the Polynesian cuisine was heavily influenced by Japanese and North American immigrants, resulting in a multifaceted food culture. Philipp Lange draws on this versatility to inspire his experimental creativity. When he was 9 years old, his family emigrated to Hawaii. How does a boy from the Baltic Sea manage to eat raw fish? How do you open a coconut? The taste of musubi – seared breakfast meat in sushi rolls – after a day at the beach also leaves a lasting memory. It served as the template for a dish at Agata’s . ‘Eel Musubi with smoked eel, teriyaki and lard from Wagyu beef, finished off with ginger, apple and onion. Nothing about it was like the musubi from back then, but it definitely inspired me.’
From the kitchen to the cocktail glass
‘Bar mixologists adapt flavours and artisanal techniques by incorporating sous vide or infusion techniques. We have learned a lot from gourmet cuisine. People even talk about liquid kitchens now,’ says Nic Shanker. He is the founder of the Düsseldorf cocktail caterers Starkeepers. Modern cocktails forego the fruit salad and umbrella decoration. Instead, they are inspired by food pairing and the fusion cuisine, combining different flavours to create a new, complex taste. When Shanker creates an aroma-matching signature drink for perfume brand Acqua di Parma, it comes as no surprise that he uses shiso syrup from Japan alongside gin and lemon, tangerine oil, bergamot liqueur and egg white: Agata’s, the catering partner of Starkeepers, introduced him to the sweet and spicy syrup at a meeting. Taste sensations can be brought to life on a plate or in a glass.