08 4 / 2012
London-based Kiwi chef Peter Gordon has restaurants in London, Auckland and Istanbul, recently published his eighth cookbook, Fusion, and is lauded by food writers the world over as the king of fusion cuisine. What’s On food editor Gareth Rees sat down for an espresso with the affable chef during his recent visit to Jones The Grocer in Dubai…
What’s On: So, Peter, what exactly is fusion cuisine? Are we talking curry and Cornflakes?
Peter Gordon: No, no. All the world’s great cuisinesare a fusion to a certain degree. Fusion looks at the world’s ingredients, ignores where they come from and tries to find a way to bring them together in harmony. I believe that regional boundaries mean nothing, and that all the different flavours can work together with a bit of thoughtful planning.
WO: You were born in New Zealand, a country that produces plenty of top quality produce. What sparked your interest in fusing ingredients from all over the world?
PG: I was raised in a family that grew a lot of its own vegetables; we butchered our own animals in the garage and made soap out of the beef fat. A typical 1960s New Zealand family – it was quite normal to do all of that. Then I moved to Australia as an 18 year old, and Melbourne was a place of amazing cultural diversity. There were Greeks, Italians, Moroccans, French – just everybody. I was so excited by all of these new flavours and ingredients that when it came to cooking for my mates, or even just myself, I would opened the cupboard and cook everything that was in there.
WO: Fusion cuisine can be a complete disaster with the wrong chef behind the stove, though, surely?
PG: A good cook, given any ingredients, will look at the characteristics of those ingredients and work from there. I read recently that when the Jerusalem artichoke first arrived in Europe it was used often in desserts such as crème brulee, so it was seen as having quite a sweet characteristic. But if any restaurant in Dubai put Jerusalem artichoke in a crème brulee or panna cotta now, people would say, “oh lord, that’s some weird fusion”. But it was actually done a few hundred years ago.
WO: So it’s just a matter of perception, then?
PG: Yes, I suppose it is. If you look at Thai cuisine, for example, Thais use a lot of sugar in their savoury dishes. So you will have a lovely beef salad with a palm sugar and lime juice dressing. Or you might have fishthat has been glazed with sugar syrup. But if you said to a German, “I want to put sugar on your savoury food” he would think you were bonkers. All cultures have a lot to offer, and I always keep my eyes and ears open to see what other people are doing.
WO: You mentioned earlier that you grew up eating ingredients you had grown or reared yourself – truly local produce. Isn’t using ingredients imported from across the globe terrible for the environment?
PG: I was invited on to Canadian radio to debate with a chef from Toronto – a supporter of the ‘locavore’ movement [those who believe in using locally produced produce] – and he argued that using all of these different ingredients wasn’t sustainable. But, if you take New Zealand lamb, for example, it is more sustainable than Welsh lamb – the carbon footprint for British lamb is three times that of a New Zealand lamb. People can’t quite believe that, because it’s from so far away, but it’s true. All the sheep in New Zealand are free range, most of our electricity is generated through hydroelectric power, whereas in the UK it’s generated by fossil fuels. So you can use food that’s from a long way away that is, in fact, more sustainable than local produce. I also asked him if he served coffee in his restaurant, and of course he did. If you lived in Brisbane, Australia, being a locavore would be easy, because everything is grown there, but all you have in Britain in winter is swedes and turnips. If you lived in central China, you couldn’t have seafood. It’s just not going to work. I have my own set of rules when it comes to sustainability.
WO: With ingredients from all over the world available here, Dubai is the perfect destination for fusion cuisine. Any plans to revisit?
PG: It is. You have a lot of different ingredients, people from different cultures and a mix of different cuisines. This is just trip number one, so we’ll have to see.
Peter Gordon’s book Fusion is available now at Jones The Grocer