If you're a chef of some renown, you find yourself in plenty of hotels. It's just what happens, whether you're cooking for a charity event, popping up on a morning show, touting your book, or just seeking culinary inspiration far from home. While most chefs would rather be back in their own restaurant or home kitchens, sometimes a hotel buffet is the only way to get a morning meal—and they vary pretty wildly. At the recent South Beach Wine and Food Festival, a few of our favorite chefs shared their strategies for making the most of a sometimes bountiful, sometimes abysmal situation.
Extra Crispy asked, "How do you make the most of a hotel breakfast buffet?"
Adam Richman, host of Man Finds Food and author of Straight Up Tasty
The only time I think it's best to sort of kick up your heels tends to be one of those epic brunch for Mother's Day buffets that I have seen at hotels. Generally speaking, as a business traveler especially, there isn’t much to speak of with an average hotel breakfast buffet spread.
They are all roughly the same, so it takes getting a little bit creative. Sometimes for my smoothies, I find myself taking some peanut butter, honey or a banana from the buffet and mixing that in with my chocolate protein powder. I find interesting ways to top a bowl of oatmeal depending upon what types of fruit, cereal and coffee additions they have.
As Jim Gaffigan says, the hardest thing to discipline yourself around is that giant pan of bacon. I have found that if I don't overfill my plate and there is still space between the items, I haven't overdone it, and don't feel terrible about potentially going back for seconds. For this reason, I deliberately try to make sure I get oatmeal and fruit first. That way I know I am mostly full of good things, and anything else that might be indulgent won't be as big a portion.
Vish Bhatt, chef at Snackbar
It depends on the hotel. We just got back from a trip to India and Indian hotels do a really nice breakfast. You can get the Western stuff, but they also have a really nice spread of regional, local stuff. That makes that a lot easier. Otherwise, it's about the bacon. If the bacon's good, we're good. Some white bread and bacon. Anything else is gravy.
Pictured: Chefs Currence and Bhatt
John Currence, chef/owner of City Grocery and author of Big Bad Breakfast and Extra Crispy's Breakfast Chef of the Year
I don't. There's nothing that sends off my offended sense of smell like sour chafing dish water. It just smells like mop water to me. That's the first thing that I get from hotel buffets. Eggs have to be cooked a la minute, period. No discussion about it at all. Period. There's just no other way to do eggs. If that's your baseline ingredient, there's no reason to eat at a hotel buffet. That's my easy answer. My thing wherever I am is to try to suss out who's doing the best breakfast, whether it's a bakery or a Locanda Verde which is my fallback description for really being awestruck by breakfast opportunities. I love to still try to find those places that connect with the past, whether it's places that have survived or are trying to reference them in a meaningful way.
Alex Raij, chef/owner of Txikito and author of The Basque Book
I usually pocket fruit. Sometimes a roll in a napkin. Eder [Raij's husband and co-chef/partner] does the ham and cheese in Spain. He will split the roll that I get and make a sandwich for later. I'm not really a big breakfast person, so whatever I take from the buffet is for later.
Alon Shaya, executive chef and partner at Shaya
I always look for smoked salmon and load up on that. I feel like I'm really getting my value. I always look for the goat cheeses and breads and jams. I feel like that combination will be good no matter what. I always skip the scrambled eggs in the chafing dish or the hash browns that are all soggy. I stick with the breads, dips, and cheeses.
Marcus Samuelsson, chef/owner of Red Rooster and author of Marcus Off Duty
It depends clearly where you are. You can go to Asia for example where you have soups and rice. I love having Japanese breakfast with miso soup and stuff like that. In Sweden, I love hotel buffet breakfast because it's always rye bread and really good jams. You've got some herring in there. I'm not mad about that. The breads are really well thought out. You can eat all right.
Seamus Mullen, chef/owner of Tertulia and author of Real Food Heals
Oh man, I don't really do the hotel breakfast buffet but if I do, I'll go to the omelet station. The thing that drives me nuts though is that I always have to ask for them not to use the pan spray on the cancer pan that they use. It's bad enough that they're cooking it in the cancer pan, but then they're gonna add the cancer spray to it so it's pretty rotten.
Can you clarify "cancer pan"?
Like a crappy Teflon pan that's scratched up. The pan has cancer and the pan gives you cancer. Through some amazing miracle, the great French chefs of yesteryear made the most incredible omelets ever with cast-iron pans, but as soon as Teflon was invented, no one could make an omelet in a cast-iron pan anymore.
Andrea Reusing, chef/owner of Lantern and author of Cooking in the Moment
Eat fruit? Turn into like a raw foodie? You know what I love is that tradition of German frühstück breakfast. Like sweaty sliced meat, cheese, hard boiled eggs that are sometimes warm in a big bowl. Maybe they're peeled. Really good granola, homemade yogurt, but mostly savory. I'm a savory breakfast person.
Aaron May, chef/owner of The Lodge Sasquatch Kitchen
You have to choose a path. Are you going to go healthy and go for the bounty of fresh fruit and cottage cheese and granola and all that wonderful healthy mindful eating, or are you going to go full glutton? I don't think you can go middle of the road. If you do that, you've failed miserably. It's either French toast with whipped cream and chocolate sauce and eggs Benedict and a plate full of bacon, or it's like a yogurt parfait with granola and a lot of fresh fruit and all the berries. I think one of the highlights of a breakfast buffet is the big bowls of berries.
David Kinch, chef/owner of Manresa and author of Manresa: An Edible Reflection
For me it is yogurt and fruit. I tend to play it safe. I tend to stay away from starchy stuff but I'll eat granola if it's not too sweet. I've also become a fan of oatmeal. I'd never eaten oatmeal in my life, and in the past year or so I find myself making it for myself once a week and I feel really great after eating it. A little bit of maple syrup and coconut oil—the two together, wow. I have two French Canadians working in the kitchen at Manresa right now and they brought have brought back these jars of the best maple syrup I've ever had in my life, really light amber in color, not reduced down, almost like water in consistency, not thick, and it's incredibly aromatic, tastes almost like it's fresh. A little bit of that and melted coconut oil or Trader Joe's has this coconut cream—try it. Melted over roasted sweet potatoes, it's unbelievable.