June 8, 2012
I read an interesting article in the New York Times recently about Western chefs, like Rick Bayless, who gained notoriety cooking a cuisine they have no cultural ties to: “Cuisines Mastered as Acquired Tastes.” Besides having a practical edge on their immigrant counterparts, Western chefs who specialize in an ethnic cuisine they did not grow up eating are able to adapt traditional dishes to Western taste buds.
Cooking a cuisine as an outsider also enables one to think more creatively and employ techniques and ingredients from other parts of the world. For example, in today’s recipe for chicken tikka masala, I borrowed a marinating technique from the Middle East (lemon and tomato paste) and a thickening agent (roux) from France. I’ve also never seen tahini in an Indian marinade. While I did this in order to replace the butter, yogurt, and cream that normally goes into chicken tikka masala, sometimes I substitute ingredients because I can’t find the authentic ones. Cooking Indian food in America is not always easy, unless you happen to live near an Indian grocery store.