The Kiwi chef who brought fusion cuisine to the UK explains where he gets his ideas from and why he doesn’t have time for Gordon Ramsay’s outbursts.
Fusion became a dirty word in the noughties – why do you think that is?
Probably because in order to do fusion well you need to understand different cuisines, and I think what was happening was a lot of chefs were trying it who didn’t have a clue about Asian food.
But it looks as though it’s making a comeback now?
A restaurant we helped set up in New York six years ago called Public won an award for best international fusion restaurant last year, and yet when it first opened we were told you can’t use the word fusion cos it’s really negative!
Fusion will be quite a nice word [again], and all it will mean is you can go to a restaurant, one that will be a mix of different cultures. It won’t mean this wacky crazy thing, it will just be a descriptive word.
In your new book you’ve got a recipe for black pudding with rice noodles. How do you hit on combos like that?
A lot of it’s instinctive … It wasn’t a case of coming up with something that’s Scottish and Chinese. It was more like the texture of these slimy noodles would be delicious with this lovely rich, fatty black pudding.
Are there any ingredients that just shouldn’t go together do you think?
I once had poached beef and Kiwi fruit salsa, and to me, that was just really gross.
You said you would never again work with angry chefs or abusive managers. How did you avoid that in London’s notoriously aggro kitchens?
When I came to London it was the first time I’d seen such bizarre behaviour. It seemed like being in a gulag rather than going to work. Not only are you shoved in the basement working mad hours, you then have to listen to this abuse.
I thought: ‘I don’t need this!’ And then you have Gordon Ramsay behaving like that on TV. The public love it. If it was a show about a hospital and you had a doctor treating staff like that it’d be: ‘This is unacceptable!’
Chefs are pretty damned precious about their knives. Why is that?
Yeah chefs are precious and the poor buggers, whenever we’ve got someone coming in for a trial and they’ve been on the underground with their knives, they’re feeling terrified because they think they’re about to be arrested for being a terrorist or something.
I think they’re illegal to carry, but if you’re a trade chef how are you supposed to get to your job without your tools? Every day on the Tube there’s all these people going around with knives in their bags and no one knows about it.
What’s the worst thing a restaurant critic has ever written about you?
Terry Durack, from the Independent, a fellow Antipodean, when he reviewed us [The Providores and Tapa Room] when we first opened, said that “fusion food is the zeitgeist for wrong”.
It was written with such vitriol. And then like most critics you bump into them a couple of months later and they can’t look you in the eye. God, at least have the courage of your convictions!
Words: Alison Grinter
» Peter Gordon’s book Fusion, A Culinary Journey is out now through Jacqui Small