Thursday, June 7, 2012

CT Column 11/04/2012 : Fusion (unedited)

Last week I had occasion to visit Taranaki St cult beer bar Hashigo Zake. After a couple of beers I ordered myself one of the bar’s fantastic Beef Rendang Pies.  One of the party I was drinking with commented that the pie smelt amazing. When I told her what it was she replied that she didn’t believe in fusion cooking, pies should be mince and cheese and Rendang should come with rice. At the time I retorted that I thought it was admirable that Hashigo had taken the limitations of a small kitchen and had innovated using slow cookers and pie maker machines to craft tasty and appropriate bar snacks that work wonderfully with the beers they sell. But afterwards I began to mull over the implications of what she had said. Her opinion is one that you hear quite often, the argument goes that fusing different traditions results in the dumbing down of both.  It’s a position that gets argued in the world of beer as well as in the world of food and in my opinion is utter rubbish. For a start the foods we eat and the beers we drink didn’t just appear fully formed and ready to be defended as traditional and proper, rather they developed as a result of different traditions meeting and sharing ingredients and processes. Today that would be called fusion. For instance without the influence of South America via the Spanish, Italian cuisine wouldn’t feature tomatoes at all just as without the influence of the British maltsters who first created pale malt, European lagers would all still be brown. Neither is it the case that this fusing of ideas necessarily results in a dumb product. A skilled brewer , just like a skilled chef, can master different traditions and styles and then blend them in a way that creates something new, exciting and complex. At the moment the craft beer world is ripe with new styles of beer being created. American wheat beers are meeting American Pale Ales (8 Wired Haywired), Porters are meeting American Pale Ales (Croucher Patriot) Saison’s are meeting English Strong Ales (Yeastie Boys Red Rackham) and of course golden ale meets single malt whiskey (Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude). These beers are made by brewers who understand what the styles of beer they are fusing are about and use that knowledge to create something new. Incidentally the pies at Hashigo Zake are also skilfully crafted with a range of revolving fillings like pork and chorizo, venison vindaloo, Goat Panang, Moroccan Vegetable, and Thai Pork. There’s nothing dumb about them.   

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