Fusion foods are essential to the expansion of culture. Anyone with even the slightest interest in calling themselves gourmands must be in the know when it comes to who is introducing revolutionary culinary concepts to the world. The food industry can be a study in Darwinism. Without question, the strongest do survive, but those who are most adaptive to their environments and societies thrive. Standing out in an industry that has seen it all is a challenge. Learn how these four culinary creatives have taken on that challenge with spirits that range from rebellious to tropical. Get the insider’s take as to why their backgrounds and philosophies have earned them recognition as visionary chefs. In addition, you might glean some ideas for your next dinner party. What to see homes that feature exquisite taste? Start your journey home by visiting the Distinctive Collection by Better Homes and Gardens® Real Estate.
Yoshi Okai, Otoko
Sushi is an art defined by Japanese tradition. Artists who pay close attention to the fluffiness of the rice and shapes for optimal presentation have developed a traditional choreography that many feel would be heresy to alter. Enter Yoshi Okai, who believes these strict rules should be broken and that supposed culinary blasphemy should be celebrated. Okai balances between crudo and standard sashimi to create innovative blended flavors that are gaining him international attention. While citrus is not a typical ingredient in the Asian staple, Okai adds lemons and limes to his rolls with aplomb. Based in Texas, he uses hyper-local ingredients and – in his signature unorthodox style – barbecue sauce, which is practically religion in the Lone Star state. Upon moving from Kyoto to California at the age of 20, Okai saw that blending in with the Asian community there would be all too easy, and yet at odds with his rebellious spirit. The city of Austin began its siren call for Okai’s talents, and he quickly set up shop there. Okai’s ability to harmonize the outrageous has made every mouthful an adventure.
Angie Mar, The Beatrice Inn
A steakhouse may conjure images of Mad Men-era suits performing their social rituals as they devour prey bought from hours spent in an urban jungle. One can practically hear the rhythmic beating of puffed up chests in between mouthfuls. A woman at the helm of a steakhouse not only breaks with tradition, it awards an opportunity for the glass ceiling to shatter for flavorful rebirth. One chef, Angie Mar, has changed the landscape of meatery and added elements of international flavor to a once restrictive menu. After leaving the corporate world behind, Mar worked at Marlow & Sons and The Spotted Pig. Her biggest influence has been Parisian butcher Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec who gave Mar an apprenticeship that has influenced her signature dishes, such as beef swaddled in a whiskey-saturated cloth. With a Eurasian background by way of England and Taiwan, her delights, such as prawn butter and a flambé Peking duck, have drawn crowds to The Beatrice Inn and Mar’s uncompromising love of all things meat. Wild boar, lamb and venison are just some of the canvases on which she expresses the most creative butchering on this side of the pond.
Val Cantu, Californios
History meets creativity under the helm of Chef Cantu. Many do not know that Californios is a reference to Californians who are of Spanish and Mexican descent, from when Mexico governed San Francisco. This cerebral nod is just a hint of the intellectualism that accompanies every dish. Cantu views himself as a culinary historian and allows his edible masterpieces to pay homage to exceptional Mexican influences, with touches of NorCal charisma infused in his seasonal philosophy. Raised in Texas, he felt drawn to the food of Mexico and eventually made his way there to study under chefs who instilled a playfulness in his education. Cantu also learned to never cook outside the seasons and to limit plates to only five ingredients. A standard oysters and pearls dish is given Mexican context via three varieties of beans harvested from Napa and Mexico. It is crowned with a spoonful of hackleback roe and glittered with specks of gold leaf. Simplicity and an homage to nature have earned this former English major critical and mass recognition, and he has been hailed for having the city’s premier tasting menu. However, Cantu’s star is still rising in the food industry. With playfulness as his inspiration for fusion, only greater dishes can be expected; his creations that will certainly be in the history books for future intellectual chefs to devour.
Nina Compton, Compere Lapin
One cannot visit New Orleans and leave with the same palette. Any preconceived notions of what food should taste like will be challenged with exotic influences and fusion elements. The commitment to honoring a variety of flavors intrigues outsiders and comforts those in the know with the sweetest taste of tautly rendered meats. New Orleans may be serious about its bacchanal times, but the culinary offerings border on blended perfection.The city’s rich history has resulted in open arms toward fusing cultures and cuisines. Nina Compton celebrates Caribbean influence and then some. It is no surprise, given her Saint Lucian roots, that her heritage would be a perfect match for one of the greatest/most flavorful cities on earth. French, Southern and Haitian influences are seen in Compton’s curried goat, where cinnamon-scented meat is paired with sweet potato gnocchi. Compton is an island girl who prides herself on tender meats seasoned just right to seduce rather than overwhelm palettes. Her belief is that every meal should create a fond memory and educate diners on the finer, perhaps more exotic ingredients that master simplicity.
These fusion chefs are sure to eclipse their present achievements with innovation and dedication while remaining in harmony with their philosophies.