FOR ALL THE LAUDATORY ATTENTION that chefs receive on book jackets and TV screens, cooking has never really been considered one of the creative arts. There's no Cuisinope or Culinichore among the muses. Even such past masters as Escoffier and James Beard won their well-deserved reputations not by inventing new recipes but by recognizing, revamping and perfecting traditional ones--Brillat-Savarin's celebrated declaration that the discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a star notwithstanding.
That's why what has come to be known as fusion cuisine has had such a hard time: it's as close to invention in the kitchen as we usually get.
But what is fusion? It's confusing. The usual definition is cooking that combines ingredients from dramatically dissimilar cuisines or cultures. Typically that means recipes in which Asian ingredients are used to shock French or American standards out of their complacency--glamorous lemongrass, galangal and mirin showing up where they're least expected, the kimonoed visiting professors at the dean's turkey dinner.