Lannae's Food and Travel

I hope you like my food and travel blog.

June 8, 2017

TKO Fusion

Recently, from a "food expert" of Nashville, it was said that he wishes fusion food would go away because it doesn't work, and then goes on to point out Chinese fusion really doesn't work.  I beg to differ. I hope FUSION IS HERE TO STAY!  But then again, I have no choice, this is what I cook at home, and I make some really boss, really bad a$$ dishes I love, and you would love too.

There are more Chinese restaurants in the USA than there are McDs, BK, KFC and Wendy's combined (Jennifer 8. Lee, The Hunt for General Tso TED Talk 2008, Fortune Cookie Chronicles, 2008).  These Chinese restaurants we, as a nation have come to love, is all fusion.  What is not to love about some beef and broccoli with brown gravy over rice, or sweet and sour pork, or General Tso's chicken, or some veggie lo mein?

Beef and broccoli was thought to have originated in Jefferson City, MO over 50 years ago (from a NYTimes food article some 5+ years ago).  The Chinese restaurant owner was not having luck getting customers in a mostly white USA town.  Then he thought about what his friends like to eat, roasts, broccoli, potatoes and gravy.  He then created a Chinese fusion dish that had the components that his friends like, and beef and broccoli was born. He thought his friends liked beef, and rice looked a lot like mashed potatoes, and his friends liked gravy on the mashed potatoes, and his friends liked the Chinese fusion version of beef and broccoli.  Word spread and his restaurant became successful because of his Chinese fusion dish. There is nothing about beef and broccoli that is Chinese food because broccoli did not exist in China.

General Tso's chicken, is also a Chinese fusion dish, which has great appeal in the USA.  What is not to love about a crunch deep fried chicken nugget covered in a sweet and spicy sauce?  This dish also is not a Chinese dish, but it is a successful fusion dish which I order on occasion.

According to my personal knowledge, most Asian refugee and immigrant families who came to the USA in the 1960s -present did a lot of fusion cooking at home.  Using traditional Chinese cooking techniques, and I must say are as valid as any cooking technique, with USA ingredients is a valid form for dinner.  My family's dinners, and my 1st generation Asian friends families' dinners were and are delicious, and are mostly fusion because there isn't access to all the Asian ingredients that my mom, dad, and grandparents are use to from the old country. I love some of the fusion dishes I make at home, and I would not trade these dishes for anything.

As I said, I  hope FUSION IS HERE TO STAY!

All that said, this brings me to TKO, a new-ish restaurant which has been open for less than one year.  TKO uses a lot of local, sustainable, organic, and biodynamic ingredients and uses a traditional Chinese wok method to cook many of the dishes.  The way the wok is used at TKO, is truly a traditional method, and Ryan Bernhardt (chef and owner, who is not of Chinese decent) really makes the dishes and recipes sing with the wok, the wok essence, the wok hay.   Having any food Ryan cooks in a wok makes me weep with joy.  The 1st dish I ever ordered from TKO was a stir fried bok choy dish, and the smoky aroma, flavor and wok hay (the essence of the wok) just reminded me of all the homey deliciousness of my childhood.  I have not had that aroma, and flavor in TN anywhere, except from TKO and Ryan's cooking.

 For years, TKO's  Ryan and Ann Bernhardt have been working with some of the heavy hitters in the culinary world of Nashville including Margot McCormick and Tandy Wilson.  Margot is a pioneer for getting the East Nashville and 5-Points food scene going.  Tandy has been nominated every year his restaurant has been opened, and he is a James Beard Award Winner.  Ryan and Ann understand the food and beverage industry here in Nashville.  For the most part, restaurant-goers in Nashville like a smart crafted cocktail menu, and good food that is not fussy.  I think that I, and many others in this town, take it for granted that if I walk into a local chef-driven restaurant in Nashville, I can come in an easy outfit of jeans and loafers, have a nicely crafted meal (not pre-made by a food distributor), and beverages that I can't get most anywhere else.  This is what you get at TKO.  There is nothing here that is from a food distributor.  There is no soda-gun.  Everything is house-made, house-cured, and cooked fresh to order.

Congee - rice porridge with fermented pickled greens
 One thing I love about this place is that it is NO TIPPING, and every single employee gets paid a living wage.  Yes, you read that correctly. This restaurant is no tipping and everyone gets paid a just wage. I think that this restaurant is a good value, and it is not awkward at all when I don't have enough change or small bills in my pocket to leave a tip.  So working out a the conventional cost of a meal, for example the Mystery Dinner for 2 is $55, or it is about $23 per person for dinner.  The meal comes with multiple courses, usually including a congee - rice porridge soup, multiple intermediate courses like a salad or mixed veggie dish, a rice dish, a fun dish, and a large main entree dish.  They last time I was there, as part of the Mystery Dinner for 2, I got a whole 1/2 of a Springer Mountain chicken marinated in various Asian spices and roasted.  That Springer Mountain chicken dish would easily have been $20-30 at any other comparable restaurant, and I got four other courses on top of the chicken.  So, the whole meal for me was $23 + $4.50 tip = $27.50 total for a 5 course meal. This is a very good deal.  Try going to any other restaurant, getting a homemade soup, a salad with house made Asian spiced bacon croutons (which comes from a a heritage free range, antibiotic-free hog) and locally sourced and organic veggies, a fun and inventive appetizer, a heap of fried rice made with house smoked meat and locally sourced vegetables,  and a main course entree with sustainably sourced or locally sourced meat or fish for less than $23.   You can't do it anywhere else, but you can at TKO.

Wok hay prawn and bok choy

The menu changes here with the seasons and what is available from week to week.  Over the winter months, TKO had a wok-ed cooked prawn and bok choy dish that made me weep with cherished memories of my childhood and for my loved ones who have since passed on.  You know how some distinctive smell or aroma from your childhood will snap your mind back to that time and place?  This dish did that for me.  The aroma and flavor took me back to a very happy time in my life as a young child.  The wok hay aroma, the wok hay flavor, the texture of this prawn, the flavor of the bok choy dish immediately took my mind to a place and time I have not remembered since moving to Nashville almost 2 decades ago.  This wok hay aroma and flavor is what I want all my Chinese and Chinese fusion food to have.  It reminds me of a time when both my parents were young fun and healthy, and we lived in a lovely sunny home in S CA with a backyard overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  My mom planted these plants that made cone shaped flowers that attracted hummingbirds to our yard.  We had lots of jack rabbits who came to eat our lawn.  We had a concrete patio which we used chalk to draw hopscotch courts.  My parents planted some tall junipers, and we would play around them pretending we were miniature people (like Alice in Wonderland), and the junipers were giant asparagus. Before I was school aged, my mom and I would decide what lunch we would have, and then she would make a special lunch for us everyday.  My mom was amazing in that she would get up super early and make hot breakfast for us everyday, and have a hot dinner ready every night. We had our dad who would often take us to the park on weekends (probably to give our mom a break from us) and we would get Jack In the Box for lunch. When I first tasted the TKO's prawn and bok choy dish, there was this big rush of memories, the sounds, tastes, sites and smells all rushed into my brain.  That dish makes me long for those days gone-by, when we were all young, and having a good time in sunny S CA living the beach culture.

Salad with Chinese flavored bacon croutons
I think I make a good case to keep fusion food around for a good long time, or forever, for at least myself, and for those who had Asian fusion dishes like kung pao chicken and lo mein as kids, and those dishes bring back fond memories of their youth.


At 6/26/17, 2:49 PM, Blogger Victoria Raschke said...

Okay. We have to go to this place the next time I'm in town.


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