Mary-Frances Heck, author and freelance food editor, served as moderator – and she defined “diaspora” as a scattering of people from their cultural homeland. Perhaps the two most-often cited cases of diaspora examples are the following:
More contemporary diaspora examples include those of Ireland, Vietnam and India, as just three more examples.
As people immigrated, both voluntary and forced, the culinary legacy of one nation or region naturally became shaped by another. In our panel, the following participants shared innovative ways that chefs are melding multiple food stories and culinary influences to shape their menus and celebrate American diversity:
Here’s more about each of our panelists.
JJ Johnson cooks the food of the African diaspora, meaning what the people of Africa were cooking before they reached the American South. Right now, he’s especially experimenting with the use of rice. Here’s more about his perspective:
Ryan Swanson shared how he cooks at the only five-star/five-diamond Native American restaurant, one that’s owned and supported by the community. This restaurant revives indigenous ingredients that have virtually been forgotten. Here’s more:
Andy Ricker, meanwhile, offers diners the foods of Thailand and Southeast Asia. When we talked to him in preparation for Roots 2017, we learned that he sees “himself more as an eternal student who is always searching for new techniques and flavors on a lifelong educational quest that enriches the dishes served at his restaurants.” Here’s more:
Asha Gomez combines two Southern culinary influences to create a style of cooking that represents the sum total of her life experiences, the evolution of who she is and where she has called home. Those two cuisines are from the southern tip of India – and from the American South. Just don’t call that fusion! Here’s more of her comments:
Finally, we had Carlo Lamagna and his Filipino influences. This cuisine, he acknowledged, is currently having a moment (see more about that at the Culinary Vegetable Institute blog), adding how he started doing pop-ups with Filipino cuisine almost a decade ago, starting in Chicago in 2009. He’s pleased to be part of the new Filipino culinary revolution – and here’s more from Carlos:
This panel had no fear of tackling tough subjects, including what it means to cook an authentic cuisine – and whether that should even be a goal. Here are just some of their thoughts.
First, Gomez believes that, while cooks and chefs should respect tradition, innovation can’t be afraid of tradition. Food on our tables is evolving, she said, every single day.
Johnson shared his experiences of cooking in Ghana for two months, where he heard about Afro-Asian cooking – and he wondered what that even was. But, upon reflection, when looking at immigration patterns, this wasn't a fabricated combination of culinary influences. Really, it was just part of history.
Lamagna has found that labels can be useless, with cuisine really being an accumulation of his experiences.
Ricker recreates particular dishes from particular places and he believes authenticity is in the eye of the beholder. If it’s authentic to you, well, then, it’s authentic. He’s banished the words “traditional” and “authentic” from his menus, though, considering them to be loaded words – even though he’s replicating dishes.
As for Gomez, she cooks with the ingredients she has available to her. So, even though she could not get peaches in India, she makes peach chutney now. When making fish pickle in a way that’s similar to what her mother would make in India, Gomez uses Georgia catfish – because that’s what fish is available to her.
We encourage you to watch the entire video from Roots 2017 to learn more about culinary influences and how they’ve been combined in unique and interesting ways:
And to continue being part of great conversations about issues affecting the culinary industry, we invite you to register for Roots 2018 with the theme of Cultivate. The 2018 culinary conference will take place on September 24-25, with early bird pricing of $295.00 per person good through May 31, 2018. This will save you $100 per person, so sign up early!
Or, if you have a topic that you feel embodies our theme CULTIVATE and will resonate with culinary leaders from all over the globe, please submit your proposal today!