NEW YORK (Reuters) - American chef Anita Lo believes that all food is the result of fusion cooking because every type of cuisine has been influenced from elsewhere.
Lo is known for combining French cuisine with Asian and other global influences. In her first book “Cooking Without Borders” she hopes to broaden readers’ minds about different foods.
Her 11-year-old Annisa restaurant in New York has been a favorite with critics and consistently carries a Michelin star.
The 45-year-old chef, who was born in Birmingham, Michigan to Chinese parents, spoke to Reuters about the book, fusion cooking and her culinary influences:
Q: What do you hope to achieve with your first book?
A: “I have been trying to write this book for decades. I want to draw attention to the diversity of America. If you look at food and culture, a lot of people in this country have always looked at food through Eurocentric eyes. I think the haute-cuisine of this country is contemporary American with influences from all over the world. We are a country of immigrants. I was hoping to draw attention to this and make people a little more open-minded about different food and different cultures.”
Q: Fusion cooking’s reputation has been tarnished over the years. What is your definition of it?
A: “I think all food that we cook is fusion. You could name any cuisine and it’s been influenced by somewhere else.”
Q: Do you feel you need to reclaim it and bring it back to what it was originally intended?
A: “I hear people who say ‘I really don’t like fusion food.’ I say, ‘What are you doing?’ You are cooking a cuisine in a different country. You are clearly using different ingredients and bringing your own sensibility.’”
Q: How do you know a dish you create is successful?
A: “It’s a lot of different things. For example, a good amount of fat flavor in a dish, you want to balance it with a sour flavor or a bitter flavor. Every flavor I add, I like it to have multipurpose. You can’t just be adding for color. It has to make sense on the palate.
“You can’t just add an ingredient without it being present on the palate. If you are adding something because it sounds cool and you don’t really taste it, then you should probably get rid of it.”
Q: Your book addresses eating every part of an animal, which we don’t really do in the United States. What is the under-eaten animal part?
A: “Obviously all the innards. People in this country don’t necessarily eat those things. Unfortunately, it’s even decreasing in France where young people are not eating as much innards as they used to. They are really delicious. In China, you clearly eat everything. I grew up with those sensibilities as well.”
Q: Is it simply education and exposing people to it?
A: “Absolutely. In Japan, people grow up loving slimy things, here not so much. In Asia, eating different parts of the animal is really fun. Here people are grossed out by it. It’s cultural.”
Q: What is your favorite comfort food?
A: “There are so many. I’ve grown up with so many different cultures. My comfort food could be chicken paprikash. There is a lot of Asian food that is comfort food to me. Noodle soups are always comforting. At least once a year I like to make a pizza. I like to make pizzas on my grill. Usually I try to make the effort to have a variety. Usually it’s in the summer time so usually I’d use some clams I’ve dug up.”
My Auntie Beth’s Chicken Paprikash (Serves 4)
3 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
2 teaspoons salt, plus more for seasoning
Black pepper to taste
8 chicken thighs with skin, trimmed of excess fat
3 tablespoons neutral-flavored vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 pound dried egg noodles, cooked
1. Combine the paprika, 2 teaspoons of salt and pepper, then toss with the chicken to coat. Heat a pot over medium-high heat, add the oil, then add the onions. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook until translucent.
2. Add the chicken and turn to coat with the oil. Add just enough water to cover; simmer for 20 minutes.
3. In a small bowl, combine the sour cream and flour. Add to the pot and stir. Increase the temperature and bring to a rapid boil. Boil, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes, breaking up any lumps. Season to taste with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the parsley. Serve over hot egg noodles.
Reporting by Richard Leong; editing by Patricia Reaney