On Authenticity

MasterChef Australia is easily one of my top 5 comfort shows- if I am being honest, it would be better described as my guilty pleasure, given the absurd number of times I re(binge)watch it. I cannot explain my attachment, if not love, for the show.

Now in its 13th season, the kitchen of MasterChef Australia welcomed 24 contestants (and the South Asian representation excited me to no extent), and amongst them was Dan Dumbrell. Dan had a fondness for fusion food, which often produced excellent dishes, with a few mishaps and misses here and there. He dabbled in “classic” dishes and was more than successful in pulling them off as well, but he was unanimously known as Fusion Dan.

In one of the episodes, the challenge was to make a fantastic mac and cheese. A good classic mac and cheese is soul food to many, but all the contestants put their own spin on it. Dan decided to go for Korean inspiration, and served a gorgeous looking fire chicken mac and cheese that I would love to try. Suffice to say, my kitchen had an interesting Saturday soon after.

(Dan Dumbrell’s mac and cheese, via Twitter)

This episode got me thinking about authentic food. I love me a classic mac and cheese as much as the next person, but I would not shy away from jazzing up with flavors from across the world. I am Indian, for crying out loud. We love fusion. We saw pizza and decided tandoori should go on it- and you know what, it works. I know nary a person who would turn their nose up at ‘desi chinese’. I am fairly sure that across all the dosa stalls of this country, you will find dosas filled with a filling of absolutely everything under the sun, from stir fry to icecream- you name it, and we might just wrap it in a dosa. Some of it works for some people, some of it does not, but suffice to say, fusion food is a blessing more than a ‘dear god, why’.

In a nutshell, making food just a little (or a little too much) away from the recipe you’ve been told is the start of great culinary things. Which begs the question- how does one then define ‘authentic’ food? What really is authentic, if over the course of making many meals, even the greatest chef’s and loving grandma’s tweak the recipe taught to them for the better? Authenticity, I think, has no true place when it comes to food. I don’t think we cook so that  the recipe that grandma lovingly taught is preserved, down to the last milligram, for the next millenia. We follow that recipe so that the one’s we’re cooking for, feel that same touch of grandma’s love that we felt. 

In fewer words, authenticity is a shade overrated. My fire chicken mac and cheese tends to agree. 

-Devangee Haldee

TY B.Sc.

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