Fusion cooking started before the 1990s (at Tetsuya’s, for example) but in this decade became more widespread. Chefs combined eastern and western influences. Chefs like Adelaide’s Cheong Liew combined cuisines with a deft touch but lesser mortals often produced “confusion cuisine”. Fusion cuisine worked best in countries like Australia, Canada, the US and New Zealand with their fresh produce, fewer historical food traditions and foodies with adventurous palates.
There have been food fusions long before the term itself was invented. For example, the English adapted various Indian dishes to make classics of their own, including kedgeree and mulligatawny soup. It could be argued that fish and chips is a fusion dish, combining elements of Jewish and Belgian cuisines. However, in the 1990s fusion cooking came to refer mainly to a combination of Asian and European ingredients and techniques.
Some so-called fusion dishes were horrendous. Take Szechwan Shrimp Alfredo for example. Mentioned in Silvia Lovegren’s book Fashionable Foods: Seven Decades of Food Fads, this dish consisted of fettuccine with Alfredo sauce (heavy cream, parmesan and garlic), mixed with prawns, broccoli, water chestnuts, mushrooms, ginger, sun-dried tomatoes and Hoisin sauce. Yes, it was in America, but a more appalling example of fusion food can scarcely be imagined.
The term ‘fusion cooking’ has fallen out of favour. Celebrity chef and former MasterChef winner Adam Liaw commented on why the term now seems old fashioned. He said it “reminds us of our rebellious and awkward teenage years when Australian food was in the process of throwing off the rules of its European parents and opening itself to new ideas”.
Liaw argued that we no longer focus on the origins of the various ingredients, simply taking advantage of the many ingredients and techniques available to us. Now we talk about “modern Australian” or “mod oz” with confidence and take it for granted that there will be hints of many different cuisines in what comes out of the kitchen.