Asian fusion was the signature stylish cooking mode of the early 1990s, as even those in the throes of it recognized: "Fusion Cuisine may be the culinary buzzword of the '90s," the Los Angeles Times reported in 1993.
A decade earlier, Los Angeles chef Wolfgang Puck had opened Chinois on Main, the restaurant credited with popularizing a Chinese chicken salad crowned with fried wonton wrappers. Other chefs, including Jean-Georges Vongerichten, followed Puck's lead of applying French techniques to Asian ingredients, while Nobu Matsuhisa experimented with preparing South American ingredients in Japanese fashion.
But the notion of bringing Asia and the South together on one plate was still fairly novel when Magnolias' Donald Barickman set out to do something with chicken, collard greens and tasso ham.
"As the sous chef arrived for work, I tossed it out for ideas," he wrote in his 2006 cookbook, "Magnolias: Authentic Southern Cuisine," which has the egg roll on its cover. "He quickly suggested an egg roll."
According to restaurant spokeswoman Sarah Sackett, it took a few tries to get the recipe right.
"They first tried to grill the chicken and served the egg roll with a hoisin sauce," Sackett says. "They also tried a spicy peanut sauce and roasting the chicken in the oven with blackening spices. About a week into trying different ideas, they figured out that incorporating the ginger-soy reduction with the dry mustard made the best spicy mustard sauce."
In 1995, after the egg roll had become locally famous, The New York Times' Bryan Miller described it for his readers:
"One appetizer that, inexplicably, is found all over Charleston is the Southern egg roll," Miller wrote. "Mr. Barickman executes it better than most: a crisp egg roll stuffed with spicy tasso, collard greens and minced chicken, served with moderately hot red pepper puree, spicy mustard sauce and sweet peach chutney."
The egg roll has stayed on the menu since its invention, and with good reason: In 2013, Magnolias sold 8,000 of them.
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