Food has always reflected its cultural origins - food sociology documents the order of the Japanese reflected in their beautifully structured sushi, the explosive passionate nature of Italian cooking, the social backdrop of mezze. But travel and new forms of communication have broadened our horizons giving us access to new food cultures with greater immediacy, allowing us to have social, political, and religious culinary dynamics that aren't necessarily the ones we were born with but are those of our own choosing. We now eat as individuals.
Increasingly we don't even have to pursue food experiences through travel, as new food experiences are constantly being delivered to our doorsteps and these new concepts are proving the most fascinating and progressive. In the world's leading cities a small group of food experts and visionaries are trawling the globe, using their experiences and influences to create new concepts that fuse both different foods and cultures. In London Alan Yau has been continually creating seminal, diverse cross culture concepts for the past 18 years They include Princi his artisanal Milanese bakery concept founded by Rocco Princi in Milan and now available in London, and his various Asian inspired restaurants Wagamama, the celebrated Haakasan and most recently Cha Cha Moon with its move from 'noodle pop culture to the soul of regional Chinese cooking'. His success in Europe may soon be replicated in the U.S. with the recent opening of a branch of Haakasan in the Fountainebleau in Miami Beach, Florida.
Successful ventures are those whose style creates eating cultures that are easily transferable to the mass market and fit with their surroundings. On travels in both San Francisco at Delica and Rio at Sushi Leblon we have recently seen the adoption of sushi, its handmade freshness finding an affiliation with the lush ingredients readily available in both places - with the added twist of fruit in Brazil.
And in the U.K. the easy social style and convenience of Middle Eastern mezze has seen it follow Asian food as the latest popular import with both Le Comptoir Libanese with it's vividly beautiful Rana Salam designed identity and Yalla Yalla, flourishing thanks to their quick delicious offerings of Beirut Street food.
These concepts, carefully adapted, and in some cases softened or hybridized, allow us to feel adventurous in bite sized chunks. They open us up to new experiences by intensifying rather than diluting them. Opportunity also lies in exactly we will define those experiences. "Fusion became a bad word," Chloe Mata Crane, Partner of New York lifestyle PR agency, Baltz and Co. told me in a recent conversation "It's not authentic and shows no perspective. Some chefs can work very well with food in more than one style but mostly you have so much more success now being a specialist of one thing - though these specialists still have their tentacles all over the world." We are looking for intense experiences that feel special and true to their origins whilst also feeling fresh and innovative and as Chloe admits "sometimes there aren't yet words for the gap, but you know that something exciting will fill it. We are still waiting to see what effect this new world of food and our obsession with it has on the next generation."
In the meantime, the front runners are creating a new world of stimulation for us - with their challenging visual identities which introduce new energized and unexpected palettes and symbology. For designers they allow the opportunity to create rich new narratives and verbal and visual languages, creating vibrant new streams of influence that are changing the way we understand taste and its representation and challenge the depth of the eating experience we are used to.
The new world may hark back to the important things - origin of produce, authenticity and seasonality and we may still rely on the food of our upbringing and draw comfort from its familiarity, but these experiences offer us a new way of looking at food. They allow food to become a meeting point and cross-cultural common ground for forging links and new affiliations and allowing us to develop a voracious appetite for a whole world of other choices, flavors and influences.Sophie Maxwell is Head of Creative Insight at Pearlfisher.