Fusion fail: why restaurants should stick to getting one dish right
Fusion. What was at first such an exciting word in the world of food has earned a decidedly bad reputation. “Fusion” used to mean daring combinations of Asian and classical elements. Now, seeing it on a menu, or even worse, the name of the very restaurant, seems to signal to the diner overly elaborate hack versions of dishes that everyone was perfectly fine with in the first place.
At its best, fusion can be a celebration of creativity and a well-traveled chef. At its very worst, it's a flashy pipe dream that disrespect the ingredients and the cultures from which it sprang in the first place.
You can eat almost anything in Vancouver. In fact, its very diversity makes it one of the best places on the planet to eat. However the restaurant business is a very fickle one. At one time, making the menu “fusion” seemed to be insurance against culinary whims. How can your menu grow flat if, at any given time, you can just combine whatever trendy ingredient is to hand, stuff it into a gyoza wrapper and call it a day?
Of course it’s gone out of style, just like every other attempt at menu immortality. Think Retro Food, Nouvelle Cuisine, Salad Bars.
So how can a restaurant win this battle for hearts, minds and tastebuds? The answer at the moment seems to be focusing on one ingredient. Think of the proliferation of Pho, taco trucks, and cheese specialists. Instead of seeing how fancy the chef can be with every possible ingredient under the sun, there seems to be more street cred in being wildly knowledgeable about waffles, for instance. The kitchen is becoming less of a general contractor, more of a specialist.
Perhaps this is an offshoot of the Asian influence whence all this diversification came from in the first place. Think Japanese soba noodle “sobarias”, or eastern China’s soup dumplings. When you show fanatical devotion to getting one thing right, you get fanatical consumer loyalty to that one beautifully done item.
Will we see an end to chefs using diners as guinea pigs? Hopefully soon. In the meantime, rest assured that if any of our newest and most popular places around town are any indication, “loyalty to craft” is our beautiful new buzzword for the year.