26 Jun They’ve Got the Whole World in their Pans: Internationally Inspired Cuisine, Catered Locally
A Walking United Nations
Executive Chef, Mathew Koyanagi, is one of the major driving forces behind Savoury City’s unique and inventive internationally-inspired culinary creations. Born in Vietnam and adopted by a Scottish mother and Japanese father, he’s a walking culinary United Nations. Mathew explains that being raised in a culturally diverse family exposed him to eclectic cuisine styles, and taught him an appreciation and respect for true culinary fusion.
Peacock Feathers on Pigeons
Koyanagi explains, “there’s a lot of fusion that’s really just heavy-handed juxtaposition of two cultural cuisines, but that’s not what I think of when I create my dishes. To me, that’s the equivalent of sticking peacock feathers on a pigeon–shocking but not aesthetically pleasing.”
Unity in Diversity
Chef Mathew explains “I don’t want to culture-shock my guests, but rather pleasantly surprise them with a delicate mix of flavour pallets that compliment each other in their diversity.”
A Progression of Contraries
It calls to mind poet William Blake’s progression of contraries–two seemingly opposite elements working together, and idea, perhaps, best expressed in culinary and poetic terms by Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai, in which he writes, “We drank tea with roasted almonds, two tastes that didn’t know each other and become one in our mouth.”
In this way, Chef Mathew creates culinary metaphors–diverse flavours becoming one in the mouth, spices and ingredients conveying a culinary meter and rhythm, providing a truly gastronomically poetical experience.
East Meets West
Koyanagi conveys the importance of knowing and respecting a culture’s food and traditions when attempting to create fusion-based cuisine:
When I competed in the last Curry Cup, I chose a Malaysian-inspired curry but gave it a Western flair. Because I was using Fraser Valley raised goats for this dish, I couldn’t go with the traditional curry, as the flavour would be too astringent. So, I created a new take on the traditional curry, using ingredients such as sumac, cinnamon, and cloves, which we don’t normally associate with this type of curry. I also added mustard and chrysanthemum greens, which are normally quite bitter, but when prepared in a more American collard green style and adding Swiss chard black and green kale, a perfect balance of Asian and Western flavours was achieved.
Thinking Globally, Cooking Locally
Like Chef Mathew, Savoury City owners, Donna Wadsworth and Blaine Arnot, have traveled the globe and retained its flavours. They cook recipes from all over the world and love the way two ingredients combine, the way a spice can complement a meat or legume or the way a plating can reflect the elegance of a culture and yet retain an unpretentious simplicity.
Just recently back from a tour of Italy, Donna and Blaine reconnected with the old world culinary traditions where concepts like farm-to-table are not new hip buzz words, but an everyday way of life. It was a reminder that with food, as in life, simplicity is best, and the success of any dish depends not on its complexity, but on the quality of the ingredients. Handmade and lovingly prepared cured meats, fresh cheeses, and market-fresh seafood speak for themselves–artisanal, uncomplicated, unpretentious.
Their appreciation, respect and knowledge of old world cuisine inform their own culinary aesthetic: refined but never pretentious.
Between Chef Mathew and Donna, there aren’t many places in the world they don’t draw upon for culinary inspiration. Donna recalls teaching cooking classes at the Windermere Hotel in Darjeeling, at the foothills of the Himalayas:
I was invited by the hotel owner’s mother for dinner, and she made these momo’s–these amazing Tibetan dumplings, with buckets of tea. I was floored by the flavour! Wild asparagus and leeks grew nearby, and it all went into the momos. The experience of these flavours all working together, creating something I’ve never tasted in my life filled, my mouth with so much joy!”
I think Amichai would understand.
The Welcome Table
At the end of the day, Blaine and Donna believe that great food, like great art, is for everyone to enjoy and consume. Having travelled extensively, they’ve developed the unique gift of incorporating foreign ingredients into their cooking, while at the same time making people feel right at home.
When you get all the elements right, it has that age-old effect of creating community at the dinner table, a concept that is at the heart of Savoury City’s philosophy. Ultimately, it’s about the coming together of family and friends, new and old, over good honest fare, prepared with love, offered with humility and the belief that everyone is welcome at the table.