May 10, 2016

Bringing Excitement to Oatmeal

A great chef can take the skills and techniques learned at culinary arts institutes and transform a familiar, even boring, dish into something remarkable. There is no better evidence of this phenomenon than the oatmeal that is now served at many restaurants. This breakfast staple has taken on a variety of new forms, full of unusual ingredients and unique tastes.

Making oatmeal more interesting
While many of us have enjoyed a satisfying bowl of oatmeal porridge with milk and sugar or cinnamon, there’s plenty of room for adding more sweet or even savory flavors. Putting your own twist on oatmeal at home can be a simple matter of throwing in fruits and alternative sweeteners.

“Try adding more sweet or savory flavors.”

For instance, Real Simple suggested mixing in sunflower seeds, blueberries and agave nectar. For a touch of the tropical, you can turn to pieces of mango and toasted coconut. Health stated that banana, chopped walnuts and cinnamon make a lower calorie alternative to sugar.

On the other hand, you can get ambitious with varied grains and unconventional add-ins. New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman has been a major champion for adventurous approaches to oatmeal. He explained to NPR’s Morning Edition that any grain that is ground, cut or rolled can make a tasty breakfast porridge. He also advocated for experimenting with savory recipes like soy sauce and scallions or salsa, grated cheese and a hard-boiled egg.

Serious Eats offered further inspiration for savory tastes. You can simply fry a piece of bacon and sprinkle on some cheddar. On the other hand, you might brown butter, fry sage and combine with ricotta and lemon zest. If you like booze with your brunch, pour in a little bourbon, plus bacon bits, toasted pecans and maple syrup.

Oatmeal breakfast cereal with berries

Oatmeal specialists at work
Bon Appetit selected oatmeal as one of 2016’s coolest trends in healthy foods, pointing out that many chefs have taken advantage of the dish’s simplicity and versatility by putting their own stamps on it. At New York City’s High Street on Hudson, the breakfast menu includes a version with Scottish oats and apple butter, topped with an oat cookie crumble. Rather than the traditional bowl of oatmeal, Milktooth in Indianapolis has an ancient grain porridge served with pistachios, coconut milk, blackberry jam and hemp seeds. Similarly, breakfasters at the London Plane in Seattle enjoy cereals with ingredients like polenta, rhubarb, pistachios and creme fraiche.

Sam Stephens, chef and owner of OatMeals in New York, fully embraced the dish when she established what she called the world’s first oatmeal bar in 2012. There, customers can build their own morning bowls with over 80 choices of toppings, including fresh and dried fruit, savories, sweets, nuts and seeds, milk and spices.

“Customers at OatMeals have over 80 choices of toppings.”

On the other hand, the cafe’s menu is full of inventive ideas. You can dig into an oatmeal topped with dried pomegranate seeds, pistachios, almond milk and honey or the Canadian, which features cinnamon-roasted apples, sharp cheddar cheese, bacon, maple syrup and sea salt. The dessert menu offers items like a cheesecake-inspired oatmeal with nonfat Greek yogurt, graham crackers, dulce de leche, cinnamon, whipped cream and brown sugar.

OatMeals employee Justine Miller told the Wall Street Journal that expanding customers’ ideas of what can go into the bowl is a rewarding experience.

“My best moment is turning people who kind of like oatmeal into trying a savory bowl with crazier toppings,” she said. “That’s a ‘Yes, score!’ kind of moment.”

Oatmeal offers a solid foundation that allows chefs to explore new ideas for exciting tastes and textures. Anyone attending culinary academy can find ways to adopt this breakfast classic. Perhaps young chefs may even find other ways to revolutionize the dishes that many take for granted.