Zi Fusion's Rhett Songer on the F-word, racism and sexism and eating a puppy...dog
This is part one of Lori Midson's interview with Rhett Songer, the executive chef of Zi Fusion. Part two of Songer's interview will run in this space tomorrow.
"It's absolutely silly that it's such a no-no word in the culinary world," says Rhett Songer of the maligned F-word -- fusion -- that most chefs, gastronauts and food writers ridicule. "If you're taking two or more cuisines and folding them together, it's fusion. It's about taking cooking techniques and ingredients from different cultures and putting them together to make something original. What's so bad about that?"
Nothing, insists Songer, the executive chef of the aptly named Zi Fusion, which opened two months ago in Englewood under the direction of owners Ricky and Anna Choi. "We do a lot of meshing to make our dishes new and fun," he says, pointing out that Anna is Chinese and Ricky is from Hong Kong. And Songer? He was born in Wyoming and raised in Bakersfield, California, where he started cooking at the tender age of ten.
"I was a latchkey kid and had to make all of my own meals, so I started reading cookbooks, learning recipes, doing my own grocery shopping and cooking for myself, starting with marinara sauce, which I was completely obsessed with," recalls Songer, who perfected the sauce -- and soon after, Bolognese -- by the time he was fifteen and landed his first kitchen job at a brewpub. "I was this blue-mohawked punk with a spike collar, and it was the only place that would hire me," he adds. Songer stuck around for two years before heading back to Wyoming to pursue a degree in English. "I wanted to teach and write and be the next Tom Robbins or Kurt Vonnegut," he says.
Instead, after spending some hard time in the pokey -- "I got in trouble a lot," admits Songer -- he eventually emerged behind the line as the sous chef of an Italian restaurant (where he made marinara sauce, naturally) in Casper. Then, like a lot of cooks, he became a kitchen gypsy, hopping from burner to burner before finally finding his niche at an Asian-fusion restaurant, where he started as a line mutt and left with the title of executive chef.