Imagine the weirdest food combination you can, the strangest cake decoration scheme, or the oddest cooking method, and chances are there’s already a restaurant out there profiting from this oddity. Many chefs are naturally creative, and chaos cooking, an exciting, new culinary trend, gives these cooks a chance to express the full spectrum of their imagination.
Chaos cooking is a cooking movement that transcends fusion in the ingredient and style blends that it sanctions. Several food critics have dubbed chaos cooking a major food trend for 2023. Restaurants are incorporating this trend as well, to attract young millennial and Gen-Z diners looking to add a little bit of unpredictability to their ordered modern lives.
The Fusion Controversy
Chaos cooking is sort of “next-level” fusion cooking. But fusion cooking, which came of age in the 1980’s, isn’t without controversy itself. Fusion cooking is a style of cooking that blends cultures, flavors, and ingredients together intentionally to create a new food concept. For example, a chicken teriyaki taco marries the asian-origin teriyaki sauce flavor, with the taco – a popular Latin American street food dish.
Back when fusion cooking emerged, alongside globalism and access to more exotic ingredients, food critics weren’t too happy about the subversion of traditional fine dining rules. One critic called the trend the end of the “tyranny of taste.” Later, as the trend expanded and took hold in millennium-era restaurants, it triggered stormy debates about cultural authenticity, appropriation, and whether taste trumps all when it comes to what to make for dinner. In other words, could an all-American chef actually produce “authentic” chicken teriyaki tacos, and does it even matter, as long as the results taste good>
What is Chaos Cooking?
Maybe it’s the backlash to the demands for authenticity in fusion cooking that sparked the even more “radical” culinary adventure that chaos cooking is. In pursuit of innovation over authenticity, chefs, restaurant owners, and food influencers are going big, and a little wild, with insane-sounding food combos, and next-level fusion blends.
Avish Naran, a chef with an Indian background who owns the sports bar, Piija Palace, in Los Angeles, says chaos cooking represents putting aside old and unnecessary notions about food needing to be “authentic” to be presentable. Naran claims that experience is more important than ethnicity when it comes to cooking.
Some chaos cooking restaurant owners describe the trend as “food trolling.” It’s not hard to understand why. chaos cooking has spawned dishes like the fine dining standard fettuccine alfredo – inexplicably painted purple, masala pasta, and “Nutellasagna.”
Chaos cooking enthusiasts are reporting that the new cuisine has the added benefit of being cathartic. Bringing chaos into the kitchen helps some accept and manage chaos in their life, especially in the wake of the pandemic and the unpredictability of the last few years. Plus, no-rule, no-recipe cooking has aided cooking perfectionists in stepping into the apron anxiety-free.
Chaos Cooking: a Social Movement
Some methods of chaos cooking add social benefits to the list of chaos cooking’s virtues. Subverting the old aphorism, “Too many cooks spoil the broth” young people are getting together for chaos cooking parties with precisely “too many cooks in the kitchen.”
For these events, home chefs advertise to their community that their kitchens are “open for business.” At the event, dozens of home chefs from in and around the community show up armed with ingredients, pots and pans (and alcohol).
With dozens of strangers joyously, raucously, and chaotically sharing one apartment-sized kitchen, each chef prepares and cooks his or her chosen dish. As the dishes come out, amid the general mayhem, the fresh food is passed around for all to sample. Participants report that it’s fun, a great way to meet new people, and it subverts the traditional dinner party rules. Marry these “too many cooks” dining events with some eclectic recipes or dish combinations and you have the ultimate counter-culture culinary experience.
Bringing Chaos to Your Business
But it’s not just home chefs getting into the chaos game. Restaurant owners and businesses are looking to integrate the trend. TGI Fridays is one of the major brands that jumped onto the chaos cooking wagon, adding curry fajitas, tandoori chicken skewers, and dynamite shrimp to their menus. Other local businesses offer dishes like Big Mac pizza and sashimi tostadas.
If you cater to young, cosmopolitan consumers, it may be worthwhile to add some chaos to your menu. Here are some tips for finding recipes that both shock, and delight, and how to market them to a chaos-seeking population:
- Get out on social media: Chaos cooking goes hand in hand with other younger generation cooking trends. Tik Tok is the latest food platform, and those in the food industry are already taking advantage of its marketing opportunities. The same demographic that consumes food content on Tik Tok, enjoys chaotic innovation in the kitchen. So, if you do find something new and wacky to bring to the table, take to social media to share and popularize your recipe and your business.
- Decorate your restaurant appropriately (but not too chaotically): You want your restaurant style to evoke memories of those fun chaos cooking parties that your clientele enjoyed in their trendy, hipster apartments. To cater to the chaos cooking cohort, set up your restaurant in a similar style: think brick walls, bar stools, and simple patterns and prints.
- Focus on your area of expertise: Maybe you run a certain type of restaurant, or maybe you have a history of certain food tastes and styles in your family’s culture. Incorporate that into your chaos cooking instead of starting from a blank slate. Rather than throwing everything into the pot, think about what ingredients you can add to the already-on-your-menu pizza to create that trendy wackiness. Or, find a way to connect literally any dish to your family’s culture or cooking area of expertise. For example, if you come from a hispanic family, think about how to taco-ify other foods, or what you can combine with salsa, or other foods from your culture. This is exactly what Indian heritage chef Avish Naran does, he brings traditional Indian flavors to wings, barbeque, and even dumplings.
- Follow the flavor rules: Chaos cooking doesn’t mean anything goes. After all, you want the food to taste good. Before you try offering your customers fortune cookies dipped in BBQ-sauce, make sure you know which flavors work well together, as well as how much of each flavor element (spicy, sweet, salty, acidic) to bring to each recipe. There are wacky, but delicious combos still out there to be discovered, but there are also blends that decidedly do not work!
A Chaotic Vegan Japanese-Greek Fusion Dish
This recipe for vegan Soba noodles with tahini and “shrimp” was inspired by Greek and Mediterranean cuisine expert, Diane Kochilas.
- 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 1-1/2 cups of king oyster mushroom cut into strips
- 2 peeled and minced cloves of garlic
- 1/4 cup of ouzo
- 4 tablespoons of tahini
- 1 lemon juiced
- 3/4 cup of water
- 2 inches of peeled and chopped ginger
- 2 dashes of cayenne pepper
- 1 pinch of cumin
- 3 tablespoons of honey
- 1/4 cup of (vegan) soy sauce
- 8 ounce package of udon or soba noodles
- 2 minced scallions
- Chopped parsley and sesame seeds for garnish
- Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the mushrooms and garlic and saute.
- Add the ouzo. Cook off the alcohol from the ouzo.
- Puree the tahini, honey, lemon juice, soy sauce, cayenne pepper, ginger, and garlic in a food processor until smooth and creamy.
- Slowly add water to the mixture, while continuing to puree, until you get a mixture with a thin batter-like consistency.
- Add the juices from the pan with the king oyster mushrooms to the food processor mixture and puree.
- Cook the soba noodles for five minutes in boiling water.
- Drain the noodles and add them to the tahini sauce. Mix with the scallions and mushrooms (save a few mushroom slices as garnish).
- Garnish the dish with the parsley, sesame seeds, and remaining mushrooms.