Fusion Cuisine, Tastefully Prepared
Forget everything you thought you knew about fusion cuisine
We know what you're probably thinking: Groan — not another Southeast Asian/Latin/Indian-inspired (with heavy quotes around "inspired") cookbook. But this one is different, we promise.
That's because Angelo Sosa is behind the wheel this time. Sosa, of Top Chef fame, is just as likely (if not more) to be a household name than his mentors Alain Ducasse and Jean-George Vongerichten. Then, throw in that tall, dark, and handsome routine and he's not a face anyone will forget.
But he's not just a pretty face; Sosa also happens to be a talented chef, and he aims to demonstrate what his storied mentors have taught him with his first cookbook, Flavor Exposed, a whirlwind tour of the human palate encompassing some of the wonderful sensations that food has to offer — sweet, salty, smoky, bitter, sour, spicy, earthy, nutty, and of course, the one that's all the rage — umami. Cleverly, that's how Sosa has chosen to arrange the recipes in this book; every chapter focuses on one of these flavors.
But don't think that list is exhaustive. In the introduction to the book, Sosa also points out that many other flavors are present in his recipes and in food in general — ingredients can be acidic, herbaceous, astringent, and floral, he says, just to name a few more examples. Clearly, this is a man with a talented palate.
And he puts that palate to good use. In developing his recipes, Sosa usually gets inspired by a single ingredient, tries to think of other flavors that would complement it, and hunts down those ingredients. While many other cooks would try to incorporate too many elements into a dish, Sosa limits himself to a trio of main flavors — like with his Green Papaya Salad, which leads with bitter green papaya, sweet candied tamarind, and sour lime. Anything more than that, and the flavors would just get lost.
This focus combined with restraint is demonstrated over and over throughout the book, with recipes like Braised Short Ribs with Lemongrass Honey, and Charred Octopus with Chorizo Oil and Jalapeño Pickled Onions. It's what sets Sosa's cooking apart from that of so many others who try their hand at working global flavors into their cooking, and fail. Sosa, says Ducasse, "knows how to be faithful to this inspiration yet how to incorporate various other influences to satisfy Western, urban palates" and "has mastered his art so well that he can juggle all these varied elements and never fall into the trap of creating 'confusion' food" — which is what a lot of fusion food ends up being.
And if anything, Vongerichten's ringing endorsement of the book is a testament to how serious Sosa is when it comes to successful fusion; after all, Vongerichten is no stranger to fusion cuisine himself, with a restaurant in New York's Meatpacking District, Spice Market, that's a wildly successful and tasteful homage to his own travels throughout Southeast Asia. Vongerichten believes Sosa "demonstrates a keen understanding of the complexity through simplicity concept," meaning his recipes are "designed in a way that allow contrasting tastes to complement and enhance one another, creating a layered explosion of flavor with each and every bite."
If you want to try your hand at fusion, there's a handy flavor map in the book that has examples of some common and exotic ingredients that fit the main flavors discussed in the book. Feel like something spicy? Try wasabi, gochujang, or sancho pepper. Or perhaps you're in the mood for something earthy — then look for black cardamom, Turkish pepper, or even turmeric. When it's all mapped out, it's hard not to share in Sosa's enthusiasm for exotic flavors.
In the end, the creation of any dish, not just ambitious fusion dishes, is all about understanding flavor. And with his accessible style and easy-to-follow recipes, Sosa's expertise may just rub off on you, too.
Green Papaya Salad with Candied Tamarind Vinaigrette
Green papaya salad is a useful marker of just how good a Thai restaurant is — try Sosa's playful version, which features some new flavors in this beloved classic.
Chilled Buckwheat Noodles with Hot-Sour Tamarind Broth
Feel like having the flavors of Chinese hot and sour soup and chilled Korean noodles in one dish? Look no further than this recipe.
Vietnamese Shaken Beef Tartare
Sosa takes the French connection one step further with his version of a Vietnamese dish that was originally — you guessed it — French-inspired.
Will Budiaman is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @WillBudiaman.