Italian-Japanese Fusion: Saltimbocca Katsu
I think that oftentimes creativity is easiest in the context of some sort of constraints. This isn't exactly a new idea, as poets have thrived with strict meter, and celebrity chefs on Iron Chef have thrived having to make five complex dishes based on clams. There's even a recent book on the topic (warning, I know nothing about the book).
My cooking club, I think, also works best under constraints. Some of our most creative dinners have had the most highly constrained themes ("black and white", "apples"), rather than those that were just an ethnicity. Our most recent dinner had the theme of Japanese fusion, which I think worked out rather well. Fusion food, as this interesting article points out, is just a conscious extension of the usual process by which cuisines change. The quintessential Italian dish eggplant Parmesan relies on eggplant, a Chinese vegetable, and tomatoes, an American one. By aggressively seeking out new combinations of flavors, fusion food is at the avant garde of a process that is happening anyway. This said, trying to fuse ideas from one cuisine, say, Japanese, with another, say Mozambiquean, requires clever thinking. One course of our dinner was in fact Japanese-Mozambiquean, using ingredients from a traditional oyster stew in a chawan mushi. Another course reinterpreted several Thanksgiving dishes in a Japanese style. The course I worked on, with fellow cook Leo, was Italian-Japanese.
We ended up combining several standard recipes: chicken saltimbocca, a standard Italian dish with prosciutto and sage, chicken katsu, a standard Japanese dish with panko bread crumbs, and a lemon cream sauce the Italians serve with pasta. After bouncing around ideas for a while, we came up with our recipe: panko-crusted chicken breast, pan-fried in pancetta fat, served over soba noodles, with a yuzu cream sauce, topped with pancetta crumbles and fried sage leaves.
The results were (in my humble opinion) even tastier than we'd hoped. The sourness of the yuzu in the cream sauce complemented the richness of the pancetta and cream, while the earthy buckwheat of the soba contrasted nicely with the light and crispy panko. The dish is less complicated to prepare than you would think, and only took us about 45 minutes, start to finish. Perhaps not radically creative, but better than I think we would have come up with without the Japanese fusion constraint.