When I was working through culinary arts school, fusion cuisine was on the way up. It had also evoked some arguments about what constituted a fusion dish. The idea is a blend of two traditions, but some argued that there is a fine difference between a true fusion cuisine and bolting two things together.
My favorite accessible example of the two both come from Shaun O’Neale on Masterchef season 7. In the finale, he takes some crap from judge Daniel Boulud, who argued about how American cuisine claims to have no rules, but the dish presented by O’Neale in the appetizer round was disrespectful to French cuisine or to the ingredients. O’Neale’s entrée, in my opinion, won him the trophy, for turning a more respectful eye to the ingredients chosen.
American chefs has so much more room for invention than anywhere else in the world, because we are a young country with no solid cultural roots, other than what people immigrated here with. And as a result of that, I’ve always had a question in the back of my mind when I eat somewhere that is advertised as “authentic Italian” or someone tells me that a certain place is “authentic Mexican”. If I don’t like it, does it matter that it’s authentic? If I enjoy America’s original natural fusion cuisine, Tex Mex, more than authentic south-of-the-border Mexican food, that’s no sin.
American Chinese food has evolved to a point that Chinese people don’t recognize it as their own cuisine. I’ve had traditional Chinese food that I like and I’ve had my own weight several times over in American Chinese food and I’ve liked it too. I’ve always felt that someone who turned their nose up at the Chinese buffet as not “real” Chinese food is a snob. They’re right, but still a snob.
I’m only four episodes in on David Chang’s (of Momofuku fame) Ugly Delicious eight part documentary series, and I’m loving his exploration of that tension between the unwilling to change traditionalist and those who push the cultural envelope through food. You can find it on Netflix, but read up on it from Helen Rosner writing for the New Yorker: David Chang Combats Culinary Purity in His New Netflix Series, “Ugly Delicious”.