Multi-Cultural Cuisine

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At Worlds of Flavor, we saw that contrasting ingredients, flavors, and textures work together beautifully as long as there is balance.

Two firsts that should never occur simultaneously: First trip to Napa Valley and first run-in with the flu.

In town for the Worlds of Flavor conference hosted by The Culinary Institute of America, I remained quarantined in my hotel room until day three of the conference. But when I finally did make it to the Greystone campus, it was an incredible experience.

I joined some 700 attendees who traveled from all over the world to attend the April event, themed Asia and the Theater of World Menus. It was a comprehensive immersion into the technicalities, ingredients, and explorations of Asian flavors and culinary expertise.

So much to learn, to taste, to digest: and all around me, everyone raved about this food or that chef. Our publisher, Greg Sanders, is still carrying on about the ice cream sandwich with fish sauce. What I found intriguing was the explanation from Chef Shinobu Namae, owner of L’Effervescence in Tokyo. Chef Namae explained that soy and fish balanced the ice cream’s sweetness, but he added: “I don’t believe in traditional ratios.” Instead, he uses a 3:7 blend, three parts fish sauce to seven parts soy.

The result: A perfect culmination of sweet and savory.

The need for balance was one of the key takeaways for me: The marriage of distinctly contrasting flavors, textures, and sensations works perfectly as long as there is balance. That applies to cultural balances as well. And another key takeaway was a recurring emphasis on multi-cultural influences in a single dish.

Matthew Rudofker, executive chef of Momfuku’s Ssäm Bar in New York City, says the restaurant is “inspired by Asia, but is not just a Korean restaurant,” and he cited the influence of Southern cuisine introduced to the menu by sous chef, Brandon McDonald, a Charleston, South Carolina–transplant.

Chef Rudofker went on to talk about how chefs put “personal influence on the menu,” like when Ssäm Bar serves sardines on toast, a Japanese adaptation of a classic Italian offering. Then he asked the question that all chef/operators face: “How do you define the cuisine of your restaurant?”

The answer to that question becomes the foundation of the brand, the menu, the dining experience, and—ultimately—the success of the business. Increasingly, the answer to that question has multiple layers and is a veritable melting pot of global cuisines and influences.

Worlds of Flavor presents an ideal opportunity for chefs to expand their knowledge and broaden their culinary horizons. It also reinforces the value of culinary education—a topic highlighted, as well, in Rising-Star Grads from Top Culinary Schools (page 48), where you’ll meet young alumni from the CIA, Le Cordon Bleu, and Johnson & Wales who are making industry headlines as chefs, owners, and innovators at leading restaurants.

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