Las Vegas Chefs Fuse Unlikely Flavors

LAS VEGAS ( TheStreet) -- Ethnic food continues to gain popularity among consumers, particularly Asian and Indian cuisines.

The market research firm Mintel says ethnic-food sales probably reached a record in 2009 and could grow 20% from 2010 to 2014. To capitalize on the trend, Whole Foods Market ( WFMI) is sponsoring six months of cooking classes at Las Vegas-area stores that feature demonstrations from Kuldeep Singh, executive chef of Las Vegas' Origin India and Jet Tila, executive chef of Wazuzu at Encore at the Wynn ( WYNN) Las Vegas. The first one, "The Curry Connection," highlights South and Southeast Asian flavors and techniques. TravelsinTaste went to the sources to get their takes on fusion cuisine.

Wazuzu's barbecue platter.

Tila, known for his mastery of pan-Asian cuisine, says he's seeing a lot of tandoor dishes in restaurants. A typical tandoori marinade consists of yogurt, lemon and spices. After soaking the marinade, the meat is cooked in a clay oven called a tandoor.

"It's a safe way to introduce Indian tastes and flavors. A lot of folks who have had a negative first experience with curries might opt to try these," he says.

Tila says Chinese roasting techniques involving duck or pork are also popular with diners.

"In L.A., Jar has a staple char sui pork chop and Luques is famous for its suckling pork belly."

Kuldeep Singh, a recent guest chef at the James Beard House in New York, says he enjoys working with flavors that are native to his hometown of Meerut, India, as well as those of Delhi, Jaipur and Mumbai, where he trained.

"But what I serve at Origin India is very different than other Indian food found in Las Vegas," he says. "I stay true to the key elements of Indian cuisine but present the food in a more modern and refined fashion."

Shawn Armstrong, executive sous chef of MOzen Bistro in Las Vegas' Mandarin Oriental, grew up eating Tex-Mex food in Texas and later worked at the Taj Hotel in the Maldives, where he served Indian food.

"The similarities between Mexican and Indian cuisines really struck a chord with me," he says. "Many of the spices are the same, like cumin and cinnamon. I find a real comfort preparing Indian food and it's definitely showcased throughout my menu" which includes the popular Royal Tandoori Platter.

Luciano Pellegrini, a James Beard Award winner who's also the executive chef at the Valentino Restaurant Group, likes to work curry flavors into the Italian dishes he serves at his restaurants. Pellegrini showcases this in his Fagottini d'Aragosta, Maine lobster-stuffed purses with a spicy vodka sauce.

"I love the depth that curry adds to any dish. I find it particularly appealing when applied to shellfish and creamy sauces," he says. "That's why I combine it all when putting together a pasta dish. I also use it when making up a spice mix for grilled seafood and or chicken."

We asked Tila about the fusion of these ingredients at Wazuzu.

"The Roti Panang that we serve is a chapati. Roti bread is our homage to the link between Thailand and India," he says. "This literally links the Thai Panang style curry to roti, the unleavened cousin of naan, which can be found all over Thailand as street food."

Wazuzu also serves a traditional Chinese barbecue plate with crispy roast duck, barbecue pork and baby back ribs. The meat is soaked in a marinade made of five spices and oyster, hoisin and soy sauces. After the meat is roasted using a technique from Southern China, the restaurant applies a thick honey glaze.

"It represents the natural accepted 'fusion' that has been occurring in Asia for a thousand years, and not the 'confusion' that I find sometimes," he says.

-- Written by TravelsinTaste.