Breakfast goes global

Published in FSD Update

Menu items from four regions help boost morning meals’ sales.

You know what they say: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But American breakfasts, while tasty, are often high in carbohydrates and fat. To appeal to those health-conscious customers, consider creating breakfasts with a worldly influence.

Take Anthony Kveragas, the chef/manager at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., who offers breakfast dishes from Greece, Asia and Latin America. 

“Adding ethnic variety to our regular breakfast lineup takes minimal effort, lowers our costs, raises customer satisfaction and it’s healthier—win, win, win, win,” says Kveragas, who researches recipes, travels and talks with foreign students to better understand other countries’ cuisines. “Students are interested in exploring by nature, and I enjoy providing them the opportunity of eating more diversely and healthier.” 

To get some worldly inspiration of your own, take a look at these four regions for ideas.

1. European:
At the Passport Café in the Carole Weinstein International Center at the University of Richmond, in Virginia, Chef/Manager Karen Kourkoulis offers a variety of ethnic breakfast sandwiches, like a Spanish chorizo, egg and Muenster cheese sandwich and a French spinach, mushroom, egg and Brie sandwich. 

The sandwiches come on telera rolls, a softer rounded bread—“customers like the texture and flavor of the roll, as it allows the flavor of the sandwich ingredients to come through.” For the egg portion, Kourkoulis starts by making omelets, which get halved and added to each sandwich. They can even be used for the next day’s sandwich building. 

“The sandwiches are fresh and filling, and the addition of an ingredient like chorizo makes them stand out from the usual breakfast items like bacon and sausage,” Kourkoulis says. “The best way to entice diners to try something new is to simply talk to them, explain a certain ingredient or give a little history of where a certain dish originated.” Samples go a long way, too, she notes.

Another great European option is a Greek-style yogurt bar, like the one Cornell’s Kveragas has installed. The chef strains plain yogurt overnight (tip: you can use the whey for smoothies to minimize waste) and allows students to choose their own toppings, like maple syrup, berries, chocolate and salted caramel, at a self-serve station. “It’s our most popular breakfast option, probably because it has wide appeal to a large audience.” Kveragas also does some more adventurous European offerings, like French crêpes and tartines and an Alsatian-style pizza (made by subbing out tomato sauce for crème fraîche and using a lavash bread for the crust) topped with onions and bacon.

2. Caribbean:
After realizing what a large Caribbean population New York City had, Pnina Peled, executive chef at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, decided to offer two breakfast items to cater to this demographic: a Caribbean porridge and salt cod with hard boiled eggs. “Porridge is considered a comfort food, which always does well in the healthcare environment,” Peled explains. After researching the dishes and relying on her diverse staff, she tweaked the recipes and found perfection. “All the customers love it—our biggest problem is making enough. It just flies out of here,” she says.

The cafeteria goes through nearly 10 gallons of porridge each day, which is made fresh every morning around 6 and lasts through 10:30 a.m. Peled recommends using cornmeal, condensed milk and coconut milk, with a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg, similar to how it is made in Jamaica. “Some people mix in oatmeal, but we don’t because it’s not authentic,” she adds.

The salt cod is equally popular. “We buy salt cod—it’s pretty expensive, but [the dish] is priced accordingly—and soak it overnight in water to remove the salt,” explains Peled, who then sautés the fish with onions and peppers until it shreds. “Our Caribbean population really appreciates having these items, so my advice is always to know your customers—that’s the only way to offer foods that are going to be popular.” 

3. Asian:
Many operators have also found success with Asian options. Kveragas offers Zhou, a rice-based Chinese porridge with ginger, a protein (shrimp, chicken, tofu or pork) and pickled vegetables, and a Japanese miso soup breakfast bar with add-ons like shiitake mushrooms, seaweed, tofu, noodles and pickled ginger.

Similarly, Richmond’s Kourkoulis offers Japanese items like shrimp shumai, dumplings, seaweed salad and sushi rolls starting at 9 a.m., due to customer demand. When it comes to finding some of the more ethnic ingredients, Kourkoulis recommends making special trips to specific markets. 

4. Latin American:
Latin American options are a natural, easy choice at breakfast as well. Like the rest of his self-serve ethnic stations, Kveragas offers a Mexican bar where students can make their own breakfast wraps, choosing from items like diced avocado, fresh tomato salsa, black beans, rice, sour cream and a Costa Rican Lizano sauce. “The students heat their own flour shells, as we have a hot plate for them to use,” Kveragas says. “It’s always a big hit and a labor savings.”