Whether offered at breakfast, lunch or dinner, eggs are finding their way onto the plates of more and more customers, according to many non-commercial chefs. This increased demand has led to the addition of more sophisticated egg menu items, such as stratas, frittatas, crêpes and breakfast tacos. Foodservice professionals like eggs because they are easy to prepare and are a relatively inexpensive protein. Customers eat them up because they are hearty, flavorful and comforting.
“I think eggs, on some level, are a comfort food,” says Robert Mayberry, executive chef at the University of Texas in Austin. “They’re also easy to work with and an easy way to get high-protein [food] in your diet.”
Lately, Mayberry has been incorporating more ethnic flavors into his egg offerings. For example, he recently introduced a breakfast taco featuring chorizo, potatoes and cheese that is served in a flour tortilla. It is extremely popular among the university’s students, the chef says.
“We cook the sausage on the grill and then use the fat that renders out to fry the eggs,” he says. “It’s great and very tasty. The chorizo has lots of garlic in it and that along with chile, annatto seed and achiote are the main flavors. The beauty of chorizo is it has so much flavor and oil in it, it does all the work for you; it’s all you need.”
Mayberry says he also started a condiment bar so students can top their breakfast tacos with housemade pico de gallo or a special roasted salsa that is made in house with roasted tomatoes, onions, whole garlic cloves, serrano and cayenne peppers, cumin and oregano. Besides the breakfast taco, Mayberry also is serving up various kinds of strata.
“We’re doing the stratas in 2-inch hotel pans serving layers with wheat toast, broccoli and cheese,” he says. “We make the egg custard with whole eggs and milk and bake it until it sets.”
Besides broccoli and cheese, other versions use bacon, mushroom and beef chili. The beef chili strata is seasoned with cilantro and green onion and is made with tortilla chips instead of toast.
“It’s sort of like a Frito pie,” Mayberry notes.
Getting creative: At Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., egg and rice stir-fry with oyster sauce, one of the dining program’s most requested menu items, was invented out of sheer necessity. According to Steve Miller, senior executive chef, cook Jean Tang first created the meal in 2001 for a faculty member who came to Tang’s Asian station for dinner late one night, after all of her food had sold out.
“[Tang] was embarrassed she didn’t have any food left,” Miller says. “She asked if the customer liked eggs, went to the cooler and got eggs and leftover rice to create this dish from her childhood.”
An old-fashioned, Chinese comfort food, the stir-fry is made with eggs, jasmine rice, oyster sauce and green onions. Says Miller: “We’ve used this dish ever since that day. We serve it several times a week, and the students can’t get enough of it. Anyone who tries the dish will never look at eggs and rice in the same way. It’s heartwarming, costs very little and provides huge customer satisfaction. The dish is a win-win from a culinary point of view.”
Hospitals also are embracing the notion of serving more complex egg dishes. At Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio, eggs are served daily at retail operations and once a week to hospital patients, says Drew Patterson, assistant director of nutrition services. Patterson noted that one dish in particular, an individual frittata, is extremely popular with both retail customers and hospital patients. Introduced about six months ago, the item is offered in single-sized casserole dishes and served with coffee and hash browns in the retail dining facilities. It is priced at $3. Patients, however, can get low-cholesterol versions of the dish that is made with egg whites or egg substitute, in the event of dietary restrictions, he adds.
“This is a very popular breakfast item for us,” he says. “It probably captures between 25% and 30% of our breakfast sales. That is pretty significant.”
The frittata comes in Mediterranean, steak and egg, country scrambler and roasted vegetable varieties. “We wanted to get a good protein product out there, something flexible, that the patients would eat,” Patterson says, “and because [the frittatas] are small, we’re able to make them with egg substitutes or egg whites, which are lower in cholesterol.”
The Mediterranean frittata features kalamata olives, feta cheese and spinach, and the vegetable variety is made with green peppers, broccoli, onions and cheese.
“They’re very similar to quiche but crustless,” he says. “It’s kind of like a personal pizza in an individual dish. I can tell you this item is very popular with the patients, much more so than our scrambled eggs. It has worked out very nicely.”
Cage free: Students at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, are enjoying the fruits of the department’s switch to all cage-free eggs, which happened last fall. Dining Services now offers made-to-order omelets and breakfast burritos, plus a variety of frittatas and crepes.
“We’re seeing a real spike in breakfast sales because of our made-to-order omelets,” says Kris Klinger, director, USC Hospitality. “And the fact that they are made with cage-free eggs has been well received.”
The frittatas, he added, come in spinach and feta or Swiss chard and jack cheese flavors. The crêpes are served with toppings such as fresh fruit and Nutella spread.
“We are always looking for ways to enhance the egg offerings,” he says.