Customers are looking for bold flavors in the morning and chefs are meeting the demand with creative dishes. Brought to you by TABASCO® Foodservice.
Chef Wafi Dinari admits he’s a fan of light breakfasts: fruit, yogurt, coffee, and he’s off to work. So when he took over the kitchen at Ouisie's Table in Houston, he couldn’t believe guests were asking for more dinner-like items for their morning meals.
“When I had customers asking for chicken-fried steak and pork chops, I asked myself, ‘Is it me, or is this strange?’” Dinar says. “Turns out it was me.”
So he met them where their appetites were headed with dishes like slow-roasted beef short ribs served with poblano salsa and corn tortillas. “Breakfast of champions, right?” he says with a laugh.
And Dinar followed that up with sausages made from wild boar, quail and antelope alongside egg dishes on the menu. Then he began adding fiery harissa, a Moroccan hot sauce, to crêpes stuffed with goat cheese and spinach.
“We’ve seen a change in the last five years in what our clientele wants, partly because of a lot of new people coming to Houston,” Dinari says. “Chefs are being challenged to make new dishes, and our younger customers especially are looking for sexier cuisine. A lot of that experimentation is happening at breakfast.”
A recent survey of nearly 1,300 chefs by the National Restaurant Association bears that out. The association's What's Hot 2014 Culinary Forecast lists full-flavored ethnic-inspired breakfast items — including Asian-flavored syrups, chorizo-scrambled eggs and coconut milk pancakes — as being among the top 20 trends of the year.
Tony DiSalvo, executive chef at CAST at the Viceroy hotel in Santa Monica, Calif., also agrees, saying customers don’t wait for dinner anymore to dig into highly flavorful foods. DiSalvo's menu includes such items as Shakshuka, a traditional Israeli breakfast of eggs simmered in a sauce of spiced tomato and roasted pepper sauce that’s garnished with feta and pita bread. One of his biggest sellers is the quinoa and eggs tossed with spinach, roasted squash and chile-orange sauce. Even basic buttermilk biscuits get some flavorful finesse from chorizo gravy, Tuscan kale and poached eggs.
“There are so many dining options around us that we have to capture our customers when they’re here in the hotel,” DiSalvo says. “So we do that with breakfast. We try to do what nobody else is doing.”
Kassie Dague, general manager of TruckStop in San Diego, Calif., credits chefs with driving the breakfast flavor blitz, but she says customers who watch food shows on television arrive preconditioned to try adventurous meals.
“I do think the younger generation, people 20 to 40 years old, is the one who orders these dishes,” Dague says. “The 60 to 80 year olds are still ordering eggs, bacon, toast, pancakes and waffles. But the young ones, they order The Bulldog or The Firebird.”
Those three-egg scramblers are studded with fresh jalapeños, fiery pepper sauces, pepper jack cheese and avocado.
“We ran a breakfast special recently that was a carnitas Benedict,” Dague says. Over the top of pork roasted with apple cider vinegar, the cooks added sautéed mushrooms and red peppers “and a chipotle hollandaise. It sold well.”
While the trend toward big flavors in the morning is being driven mostly by smaller restaurant companies, their influence is bubbling up on menus at breakfast-centered chains such as the 1,600-unit Denny’s, which sells a Santa Fe Skillet with eggs, crumbled chorizo sausage, fire-roasted bell peppers, onions and mushrooms. The 77-unit Marie Callender’s Restaurant & Bakery menus the Tex-Mex Hasher, which blends hash browns, scrambled eggs, chorizo, pico de gallo, green onions, avocado and jalapeño jack cheese. Incorporating the virtues of a well-known sandwich into an egg dish, 386-unit Huddle House sells a Philly Cheese Steak Omelet.
Arlene Spiegel, a New York City-based restaurant, retail and hospitality consultant admits she’s somewhat surprised it took chefs so long to add some pizzazz to breakfast. It was the final meal frontier that few chose to modify, yet perhaps that unwillingness was rooted in research showing most breakfast eaters are ritualistic and slow to change their routine, even when it might taste better.
“The good news about breakfast foods is they lend themselves to customization whether it’s sweet or savory or the celebration of some ethnicity in terms of spices or herbs,” she says. “An egg can become anything: Asian with scallions, bean sprouts and soy sauce; Mexican with jalapeños and salsa. Just by themselves, eggs become a canvas to express culinary point of view, and so now you’re finally seeing that happen at breakfast.”