Updated: Feb 3
by Tom Becker
We are a country of immigrants and, as such, our cuisine reflects that history. The colonization of our country by our European forefathers brought recipes and techniques from all over the world. And, with this continued influx of immigration, our developing cuisine has developed a wide diversity in flavor, style and technique. But let’s remember, when the original pilgrims arrived, people were faced with extremely primitive conditions. New cooking procedures, unknown native products and wildlife led to a natural alteration to the foods and recipes brought into this new land. Sure, recipes were passed on, but changes were made to accommodate the conditions.
Today, we have our standbys, some sophisticated, some common-place. So, what is your standby All-American dish? Perhaps a hamburger? It’s simple, satisfying and All-American, right? The idea of eating ground meat goes back centuries. An interesting part of its history begins with the armies of Genghis Khan in the 1200’s, taking scraps of lamb and mutton, forming patties and placing them under their saddles while riding all day and eating the resulting pulverized meat at meal time. Later, when Khan’s grandson invaded Moscow, the Russians adopted that raw meat-style patty into their cuisine, calling it Steak Tartare. From there, it spread into other parts of Europe becoming, among other things, the main ingredient in sausages. Having made its way to Hamburg, Germany, in the 1600’s, being known as the “Hamburg Steak”, named after the Hamburg breed of cattle, it became an established food for shipping lines. In the late 18th Century, in an effort to attract the German sailors in port, New York street vendors began selling these patties cooked in the Hamburg Style, seasoned and lightly smoked. By 1850, as the German migration was reaching a peak, immigrants were served variations of this meal on their journey to the States, again, seasoned with local spices and smoked. As this immigration progressed, people brought the cooking techniques they treasured at home. They brought the culinary influence of all of Europe, Italy, France, Ireland, Mexico, Asia, the Mid-East, Africa, India to their new home. We are a country of immigrants. It continues today and when we look at American Cuisine, it’s a true cuisine of culinary fusion. It’s an American version of the culinary offerings brought to us from all corners of the world.
Having a French training background, I love and understand the idea of French fusion, the joining of French technique with other cuisines. It works! But really, the forefather of French cuisine is Italian. Though not certain, my guess would be that Greece influenced Italy. All cuisine is really an adaptation of another. Today, we are much influenced by our media and mobile culture. We travel, we taste, we experience. We learn from others and bring it home.
If you’re a Foodie and love to cook, cooking shows are a joy. The first network cooking show was aired in 1946. An NBC production starring James Beard, a New York columnist, author, chef and teacher who originally hailed from Portland, Oregon. “I Love to Eat” was the first attempt at bringing recipes and cooking technique to a viewing audience. When Julia Child released her sensational book, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, it was James Beard that she turned to for guidance and direction. They became fast friends and colleagues, and in 1963, she began her TV show, “The French Chef”.
That was the time when the culinary world in America began to expand and look beyond the norm. It was a time to abandon the canned dinners and ingredients, to step away from what had become the everyday and afford those with a culinary mind-set to look at the challenge of French technique. It was a chance to blend an advanced culinary approach to a modest and yet elegant view of food. And, it was a time of birth for popular food television, featuring Julia Child, Graham Kerr, Jacques Pepin and Chef Tell Erhardt. But, it all began with James Beard, the man known as “The Father of American Cuisine”. And thanks to Mr. Beard, we have all learned to look at a culinary WORLD. And, American Cuisine is just that. It is a fusion of world cuisine.