Fusion or confusion?

I spent a little time in the company of Silvia Anglada recently.
Her restaurant, Es Tast de na Silvia is the certified epicentre of Slow Food in the Balearic Islands, located in Cuitadella (Menorca). As I watched her cooking and explaining her philosophy, I soon realised that Silvia is incredibly passionate about the food we eat, where it comes from and how it is grown. She has been at the forefront of the slow food movement in Spain over the last few years and her restaurant promotes the use of locally produced, seasonal, biodynamic foods. She believes deeply in a reconnection with the lost rhythms of nature, the traditions of the past and working the land. She also believes in producing and eating great, local food in a relaxed, sociable way and wastes absolutely nothing from any of her ingredients in the kitchen…her delicious dessert was flavoured with juice from the “inedible” skins of broad beans!

Silvia’s philosophy and her determination to defend the traditional recipes and indigenous ingredients from her beloved Menorca is inspiring and should be supported and encouraged. In a world where most of us are constantly looking for something different and waiting for next new food trend to come along, it’s easy to forget about good classic food and fall briefly in love with “Peruvian-Japanese” or “Mediter-Asian” fusion while it’s in fashion.

But the problem with modern fusion is that it encourages young chefs to think that blending miso and butter or Peking duck with truffles is just about the coolest thing they can do in a kitchen! Once upon a time, Chefs spent every day of their lives honing their skills and making coq au vin, or blanquette de veau without sweet chilli sauce, wasabi or Mexican herb additions. But every day of their lives the coq au vin, or blanquette de veau, got better, as little by little they made observations and improved the execution. They also respected the basic ingredients.

There is, of course, nothing intrinsically wrong with using techniques or ingredients from different places and many chefs more than get away with it
The adapting and transplanting of ingredients and dishes from other cultures is nothing new. In fact the fusing of various cuisines has been around forever.  I’m all for pushing boundaries, testing the limits of what food is and can be, changing people's minds as to what are acceptable flavour combinations. But I’m always mindful of trying to develop a flavour combination - rather than just trying to do something new, and wacky. There are perfectly good reasons why some foods are often used in combination - they have an affinity, and work well together.  Some kinds of fusion I am intrigued by, but Peking duck with truffles and the Italian-Japanese fusion place that serves risotto with chopsticks…sorry, but that’s just ridiculous!
Thai flavoured red lentil soup with coconut milk

Prep time: 20 mins
Cooking time: 40 mins

Ingredients  serves 6

2tbsp olive oil
150g red lentils
2 red onions, diced
1tsp chopped ginger
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp vegetarian red curry paste
1 red chilli, chopped
2 lemongrass stalks, bashed and bruised with a rolling pin
4 kaffir lime leaves
1 litre of vegetable stock
250ml coconut milk
Juice of one lime
Salt and pepper
Chilli oil (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over low heat, add the red onion, chilli, ginger and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes, until softened but not coloured.  Add the red lentils, lemongrass stalks; lime leaves and Thai curry paste.  Cover with vegetable stock, and then bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 30 minutes until the lentils are cooked. Remove the lemongrass stalks and lime leaves. Add the coconut milk, limejuice and then blend to a smooth puree. Season to taste; pass through a fine sieve and then ladle into soup bowls. Garnish with fresh mint or coriander leaves, sesame seeds and, if you like it extra spicy, a tiny drizzle of chilli oil will help. Serve immediately.

Mexican pork pibil 

Prep time: 30 minutes 

Cooking time: 4 hours

Ingredients serves 10

2.5kl of boneless pork belly or shoulder

For the marinade:
1tbsp Mexican spice mix
100g achiote paste
3tbsp cider vinegar
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1tsp dried oregano
2 fresh bay leaves
2tbsp sea salt
3tbsp olive oil
Juice of 4 oranges

Place the achiote paste, vinegar, onion, garlic, herbs, salt, spices and olive oil in a blender and pulse to a paste. Slowly pour in the orange juice with the motor running to incorporate into the paste. Pour the marinade all over the pork ensuring it is thoroughly coated and then marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
Preheat oven to 150C/130C fan/gas 2
Transfer the pork belly and its marinade to a large casserole and cover with foil or a tight-fitting lid. Cook slowly for 4 hours or until the pork is soft and falling apart to the touch.
Serve the pork pibil covered with sauce with boiled potatoes or Shred the pork using 2 forks, discarding the fat to make a delicious fajita garnished with sliced red onions, chopped green chillies and sprinkled with Mexican spice mix.