The road less traveled

Veteran Austin chef charts new territory with east side fusion food truck

Veteran Austin chef charts new territory with east side fusion truck

Cumberland Austin
Cumberland's dishes explore the ways immigrants shaped American cuisine. Cumberland/Instagram

The Asian fusion trend, which jolted to popularity in the '60s, has seldom been as revolutionary as it first seemed. For every thoughtful exploration, there are hundreds of culinary train wrecks, like Southwestern egg rolls — dishes with only novelty as their selling point.

But a new food truck from Austin chef Chris Sapp — a veteran of Parkside, Dai Due, and Apis Restaurant & Apiary — may soon redeem the form. Opening at 1304 E. Cesar Chavez St. this fall, Cumberland will be a celebration of the ways immigrants have shaped American food.

“The concept is born out of what I don't like about fusion,” explains Sapp. “It's generally either taking Asian ingredients and bending them to European techniques or based around a narrative of spending time in the 'old country' to better understand your past.”

Cumberland’s dishes, however, have a more personal connection. The chef’s great grandparents emigrated from Japan to Canada, where they developed a cooking style that combined their native traditions with what was readily available in shops. Like many immigrants, they created a fusion cuisine long before the phrase was coined.

While Sapp admits that the first dishes he explored for the concept were “a bit all over the place,” he soon discovered that the ones that most resonated with him were inspired by the Asian diaspora, like his pastrami ramen.

“It wasn't an actual dish from my childhood, but I could see how it could be,” he says. “What if my family had immigrated 20 or 30 years later, when ramen became a staple of Japanese food? What if they worked near a Jewish deli instead of a Chinese restaurant?”

That same thought process can be seen in Cumberland’s contemporary fare. A white sweet potato latke is topped with kimchi, octopus, dashi, and Kewpie mayonnaise, a take on okonomiyaki. Chow mein is served with ginger oil poached chicken, shiitake mushroom, and pickled ume — the flavors reminiscent of a Canadian-Chinese version of the traditional dish.

Ahead of opening on Cesar Chavez Street, Sapp will be staging two pop-ups in the coming weeks, first at East Austin venue Wolf House on September 8, then at Apis on September 22. The pair of events will introduce diners to the concept, while paying homage to his ancestral table.

“I want to make something that says my ancestors' story and my culture is worth celebrating. That people from different cultures having a mashed up neighborhood cookout is as American as food can get and should be celebrated as such,” he says.