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Fusion is Cool Again

Out of the gate, one of the new year’s biggest food stories is Chef Roy Choi’s latest venture. The renowned food truck chef has partnered with Daniel Patterson, a modernist fine dining chef most recently at the helm of Coi in San Francisco, to start a healthful fast-food revolution in the middle of a Watts food desert in Los Angeles.

With an average price point between $2 and $4, LocoL churns out chili bowls, fried chicken and spicy turkey sandwiches, stuffed flat tacos or “foldies,” and sides of coleslaw, rice, hot flatbread and greens.

If anyone can revolutionize fast food, it’s the man who legitimized fusion cuisine. Choi’s Kogi Korean BBQ Taco Trucks have created a new culinary classic: the Korean beef barbecue taco, and LocoL’s menu continues to hybridize Asian, regional American and Latin influences.

“Fusion failed and became taboo because people were applying Asian flavors and ingredients to European techniques,” explains Gerry Ludwig, consulting chef at Gordon Food Service, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based broadline food distribution company. “When Roy Choi put Korean fillings into a soft corn tortilla, he proved Asian and Latin could work together in a lot of ways because these flavor profiles pair better.”

Ludwig sees Choi’s innovation as a seemingly endless source of inspiration. “This second iteration of fusion, which is called ‘mash-ups’ this time around, works anywhere. If you can prepare a sandwich, you can do this.”

In fact, Choi’s influence is widespread. Ludwig points to Goa Taco in New York City as another independent fast-food venture where Asian, Latin and American influences merge in sandwiches made with soft, flaky, flat Indian bread or paratha. Fillings include seasonal butternut squash, chicken chorizo, goat cheese and white beans.

Ludwig points out that prepared food settings are known for fried and rotisserie chicken, which make great sandwich fillings and can be taken in any flavor direction. He recommends creating hand-helds with different breads: Latin tortillas, Indian flatbreads and steamed Chinese bao buns are really popular right now.

“Look at what holds well in a carrier, and use condiments and extras to layer in flavors,” says Ludwig, who notes that fusion sandwiches can mix and match flavors, but cautions, “Just don’t go too crazy. Two to three flavors is plenty.”

Grocerant-Ready Ideas:

  • A signature dish–pulled pork, rotisserie chicken–with a sandwich mash-up program built around it
  • Global fusion inspiration from the condiment aisle 
  • Greens and produce elements that shift with the seasons
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