Asian flavors are reshaping the American menu. And as diners become increasingly familiar with Asian cuisines and ingredients, they’re not just looking for authentic Chinese, Japanese and southeast Asian dishes. They’ve developed an insatiable appetite for “Asian Cool”—foods, fusions and flavors that combine the best of Asia with the other global cuisines they’re falling in love with.
At All’Onda in New York, Chef Chris Jaeckle’s Italo-Japanese menu is right on the cutting edge of this kind of cross-cultural culinary creativity. A Morimoto alum with a solid background in Italian cooking, Jaeckle was struck by the Iron Chef’s keen interest in Italian cuisine. “Morimoto was always interested in Italian food and dishes like bocconcini, fresh-made mozzarella. He got me thinking about the common threads of Italian and Japanese cooking.”
Recognizing that both Japan and Italy are both surrounded by water, Jaeckle’s menu is primarily focused on seafood, with a primary focus on the rich history and culinary influences of the Venetian seaport.
“Both countries use products derived from and influenced by their symbiotic proximity to water,” he says. "Both native cuisines are ingredient- and integrity-focused, rather than relying on the manipulation of ingredients.”
“Everyone knows or has a connection with Italian food, and Italian cuisine translates to multiple cultures,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to introduce new ingredients in a familiar setting. So I asked myself, ‘How can I make something that everyone already knows even better and think outside Italy?’”
Jaeckle notes that balance and umami are the keys to harmoniously marrying these two seemingly different cuisines. And the main ingredient that ties them together? Soy sauce.
“Anywhere on our menu that is high in umami is where it makes the most sense to use soy sauce. For example, we finish our house tomato sauce with a touch of soy sauce, and we use it in our vinaigrettes. It really takes a dish to the next level.”
With menu items like Hamachi Crudo with citrus and soy, tortellini with soy and kombu extract, and even soy sauce ice cream, his mise en place is a study in complimentary Italian and Japanese ingredients.
Shiso takes the place of basil, dashi is as abundant as vegetable stock, and both parmesan and kombu are nearly as prevalent as salt and pepper. “We’re not reinventing the wheel, but we’re creating something new from two well-known and culinarily loved cultures,” he explains. “We’re continuing to learn what that looks like and why we’re doing it. For example, I was shocked to learn recently that wasabi and olives go so well together. And, our Italian yellow fin tuna is so delicate, people request chopsticks to eat it, but really, it’s a very Italian dish.”
Fusion cuisine has been around since the ‘70s. But Jaeckle believes we’re really just beginning to gain a better understanding of how to pair ingredients and techniques from two cultures in ways that are truly organic to the spirit of both.
“One of my instructors at culinary school would play with international ingredients and just pair them together in what seemed like fairly random combinations,” he recalls. “That’s where fusion turned so many people off; there was no rhyme or reason for it. Now, with an ever-growing influx of international immigrants and a revitalized interest in good, healthy, sustainable food, we’re able to learn about so many different cultures and cuisines firsthand, explore them, and understand where they fit into our culinary landscape.”
Chef Chris and All’Onda have been a hit with everyone from neighborhood regulars to the New York Times. Who knows? Someday soon we might just see versions of his signature Uni Pasta—a cool new riff on traditional Carbonara, with cream, smoky pancetta and silky sea urchin—showing up on menus across America. Meanwhile, he’ll keep exploring ways to bring the best of two worlds to a single plate.