Fusion cuisine is a joining of multiple cultures. There’s schoolable techniques to all of this and you can’t learn every little technique and such but lucky for us we live on this tiny little island that is such a big melting pot. Like Tony Lui said, “What’s fusion cuisine? In Hawaii it happens every time somebody gets married.” It’s a melding of culture and foods and it’s boundless.
There are universal truths to cooking that make for easier synergy. If you cook a premium piece of meat like a steak, you wouldn’t cook it more then 110˚-130˚; You wouldn’t cook it all the way through for hours and hours. Even if you slow cooked it, the inside temp wouldn’t be much more then body temperature (like a great rib roast). This would be the same in Russia or Japan or England. If its a secondary cut of meat, that requires being braised then you would braise it for hours and hours in a small amount of liquid. In France it would be wine, leeks, mirepoix and peppercorns and in China it would be star anise and mushroom or dark soy sauce and stock in Japan it could be a lighter soy sauce and naga negi (those giant flavorful green onions) instead of leeks. These techniques are all cross-cultural. That doesn’t mean throwing every primary ingredient from every culture because you wouldn’t get something very good if you did that. It’s about simplicity and complementary techniques and seasoning. You can’t get too far from the basics.
The biggest don’t of fusion cuisine is taking two separate ingredients of two different cultures that you don’t understand and throwing them together just to be unique.
You learn thoroughly when you’re immersed in a culture. For me it was coming from the east coast, from an Italian family, being one of the only haoles in the kitchen when I moved to Oahu. A lot of the learning curve on that is the food that the cooks make for themselves. These guys are 1st & 2nd generation from all over, Philippines, Korea, Japan, China, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Samoa and so on. If they make something a certain way, like how their parents taught them, you know it’s authentic and as for me I pay very close attention to learn the proper techniques from them. How they handle certain ingredients, how much of the skin they leave on the bitter melon, how many star anise to put in a dish. It really speeds up the learning process seeing it first hand, it’s awesome. Realizing this, it’s obvious to me that island cuisine in Hawaii is predisposed to being fusion.
Right now the food scene here is growing exponentially, and it’s changing rapidly and there’s a handful of people that are changing it. The Hawaii Regional Cuisine is beautiful and wonderful and it’s all melting pot cuisine. I know Italian and I understand Hawaii Regional so the fusion that I work with makes sense and isn’t meant to stand out but rather compliment. Our Gnocchi, which is one part potato, half part flower to one part egg yolk is an Italian pasta that’s been made over and over for centuries but with lots of different variations. We try and make it into something different by adding local flavors and spices to it that’s all. Still focusing on the perfection & beauty of the classic goodness that a gnocchi is.
I’m inspired by watching what my cooks and other cooks around me make. Their passion and inspiration drives my creativity and all of this cross-cultural influence that we have here just grows the cuisine. Just tasting what I have around me is the impetus to creating and it feels like, in Hawaii, we have everything around us. Perhaps not loads of down home Italian food, maybe that’s my gift to add to the mix.