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Ethnic and Immigrant Influence

Grilled meats are a particular American favoriteThe demand for ethnic foods in the United States reflects the nation's changing diversity as well as its development over time.  According to the National Restaurant Association,

Restaurant industry sales are expected to reach a record high of $476 billion in 2005, an increase of 4.9 percent over 2004... Driven by consumer demand, the ethnic food market reached record sales in 2002, and has emerged as the fastest growing category in the food and beverage product sector, according to USBX Advisory Services.  Minorities in the U.S. spend a combined $142 billion on food and by 2010, America's ethnic population is expected to grow by 40 percent.

A movement began during the 1980s among popular leading chefs to reclaim America's ethnic foods within its regional traditions, where these trends originated. One of the earliest was Paul Prudhomme, who in 1984 began the introduction of his influential cookbook, Paul Prodhomme's Louisiana Kitchen, by describing the over 200 year history of Creole and Cajun cooking; he aims to "preserve and expand the Louisiana tradition." Prodhomme's success quickly inspired other chefs. Norman Van Aken embraced a Floridian type cuisine fused with many ethnic and globalized elements in his Feast of Sunlight cookbook in 1988.

The movement finally gained fame around the world when California became swept up in the movement, then seemingly started to lead the trend itself, in, for example, the popular restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley.  Examples of the Chez Panisse phenomenon, chefs who embraced a new globalized cuisine, were celebrity chefs like Jeremiah Tower and Wolfgang Puck, both former colleagues at the restaurant. Puck went on to describe his belief in contemporary, new style American cuisine in the introduction to The Wolfgang Puck Cookbook:

Another major breakthrough, whose originators were once thought to be crazy, is the mixing of ethnic cuisines. It is not at all uncommon to find raw fish listed next to tortillas on the same menu. Ethnic crossovers also occur when distinct elements meet in a single recipe. This country is, after all, a huge melting pot. Why should its cooking not illustrate the American transformation of diversity into unity?

Puck's former colleague, Jeremiah Tower became synonymous with California Cuisine and the overall American culinary revolution. Meanwhile, the restaurant that inspired both Puck and Tower became a distinguished establishment, popularizing its so called "mantra" in its book by Paul Bertolli and owner Alice Waters, Chez Panisse Cooking, in 1988. Published well after the restaurants' founding in 1971, this new cookbook from the restaurant seemed to perfect the idea and philosophy that had developed over the years. The book embraced America's natural bounty, specifically that of California, while containing recipes that reflected Bertoli and Waters' appreciation of both northern Italian and French style foods.

Early ethnic influences
While the earliest cuisine of the United States was primarily influenced by indigenous American Indians, the cuisine of the thirteen colonies or the culture of the antebellum American South; the overall culture of the nation, its gastronomy and the growing culinary arts became ever more influenced by its changing ethnic mix and immigrant patterns over the 20th century unto the present. Some of the ethnic groups that continued to influence the cuisine were here in prior years; while others arrived more numerously during “The Great Transatlantic Migration (of 1870–1914) or other mass migrations.

Some of the ethnic influences could be found in the nation from after the American Civil War and into the History of United States continental expansion during most of the 19th century. Ethnic influences already in the nation at that time would include the following groups and their respective cuisines:

  • Indigenous American Indians in the United States (Indians) and American Indian cuisine

  • Select nationalities of Europe and the respective developments from early modern European cuisine of the colonial age:

    • British-Americans and on-going developments in New England cuisine, the national traditions founded in cuisine of the thirteen colonies and some aspects of other regional cuisine.

    • Spanish Americans and early modern Spanish cuisine, as well as Basque-Americans and Basque cuisine.

    • Early German-American or Pennsylvania Dutch and Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine

    • French Americans and their "New World" regional identities such as:

      • Acadian

      • Cajun and Cajun cuisine

  • The various ethnicities originating from early social factors of Race in the United States and the gastronomy and cuisines of the “New World,” Latin American cuisine and North American cuisine:

    • African-Americans and “Soul food.”

    • Louisiana Creole and Louisiana Creole cuisine. Louisiana Creole (also called French Créole) refers to native born people of various racial descent who are descended from the Colonial French and/or Spanish settlers of Colonial French Louisiana, before it became part of the United States in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase.

    • Cuisine of Puerto Rico

    • Mexican-Americans and Mexican-American cuisine; as well as related regional cuisines:

      • Tex-Mex (regional Texas and Mexican fusion)

      • Cal-Mex (regional California and Mexican fusion)

      • Some aspects of “Southwestern cuisine.”

    • Cuisine of New Mexico

Later Ethnic and Immigrant Influence
Other ethnic groups may have arrived in the United States prior to 20th Century, but they were either not part of the main colonial settlers, indigenous American Indians, Latin American experience, African-American slave class or Creole people; as likewise, their population numbers were probably not as numerous as the other existing ethnic groups or the subsequent populations of their own respective ethnicities forthcoming during the years unto “The Great Transatlantic Migration” and other mass migrations of the 19th Century.

This would also include what is current day United States of America, as every year the population census and U.S. immigration populations change, thus changing the cultural influences of the nation.  The later arrival of many immigrants into the United States seemingly does not discount their profound impact on the national or regional cuisine. Many other ethnic groups have additionally contributed to Cuisine of the United States, some with greater impact and productive success than others; as indeed, some of these more prominent groups include the following (listed alphabetically):

  • Polynesian-Americans and Polynesian cuisine, Hawaiian cuisine, Cuisine of Philippines

  • Caribbean-Americans and Caribbean cuisine, Cuban Cuisine, Cuisine of Jamaica
    Chinese-Americans and American Chinese cuisine

  • Irish-Americans and Irish cuisine and Irish pub traditions in America

  • Italian-Americans and Italian-American cuisine

  • German-Americans and German Texans (namely, post-civil war), exemplified in German cuisine other than Pennsylvania Dutch.

  • Greek-Americans and Greek cuisine or Cuisine of the Mediterranean

  • Japanese-Americans and Japanese cuisine and related influences on the Cuisine of Hawaii

  • Jewish-Americans and Jewish Cuisine and Cuisine of the Mediterranean

  • Portuguese-Americans, also known as Luso American and Portuguese cuisine

  • Polish-Americans and Polish cuisine and Cuisine of the Midwestern United States

  • Russian-Americans and Russian cuisine and Cuisine of the Midwestern United States

  • Lithuanian-Americans and Lithuanian cuisine and Cuisine of the Midwestern United States

  • Vietnamese-Americans and Vietnamese cuisine

  • Middle Eastern

"Italian, Mexican and Chinese (Cantonese) cuisines have indeed joined the mainstream. These three cuisines have become so ingrained in the American culture that they are no longer foreign to the American palate. According to the study, more than nine out of 10 consumers are familiar with and have tried these foods, and about half report eating them frequently. The research also indicates that Italian, Mexican and Chinese (Cantonese) have become so adapted to such an extent that "authenticity" is no longer a concern to customers."

Contributions from these ethnic foods have become just as common as traditional “American’ fares like hotdogs, hamburgers, beef steaks (e.g. "chicken-fried steak, a variation of German schnitzel), cherry pie, Coca-Cola, milkshakes, fried chicken and so on. Nowadays, Americans also have a universal consumption of foods like pizza and pasta, tacos and burritos to “General Tso's Chicken” and Fortune Cookies. Fascination with these and other ethnic foods may also vary with region.

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