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The perfect start
Espresso steamed eggs

The other day, I came across an interesting proposal on a social networking site. Have a chocolate breakfast, it said — and then invited suggestions for different kinds of chocolaty meals. I found that amusing, and while not a great chocolate lover myself, it set me thinking about the changing concept of our morning meal.

It’s evolved so much that these days you even have a concept of nouvelle breakfast. A hearty breakfast in a hotel is no longer confined to a huge buffet which has everything from sausages and bacon and eggs and steaks to idlis and vadas and aloo paranthas and curd. Some are experimenting with special signature breakfasts. The fare is exotic — and can consist of delicacies such as smoked salmon, herbed crepes of spinach and buckwheat or quiches cooked with goat cheese and pureed black olives.

I had a glimpse — and taste — of that a few days ago when I was invited to Le Méridien in New Delhi to partake of a special breakfast. The menu has been designed by three-star Michelin chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the famed chef of Jean Georges in New York, who as a young man worked in Le Méridien in Singapore almost 30 years ago. In the Delhi hotel, the signature dishes are being presented by chef Ashu Chug.

Oatmeal soufflé

The menu, indeed, is awesome. Take the croque madame reinvented — which is a new version of an old favourite. The original croque madame was an eggy variation of the croque monsieur, which is essentially a hot ham and cheese sandwich. In the original croquet madame, a poached egg is usually placed on top of the sandwich. In the new version, the yolk of an egg is placed in a hole in the middle of the sandwich and then steamed.

What the dish does in underline the fact that breakfasts are not meant to be trifled with. The concept of describing a granola bar — or even a bowl of muesli with fruit — as breakfast is being challenged by a whole host of chefs who believe that the morning meal can be as exotic — and creative — as other meals.

That means eggs don’t just have to be boiled, poached, scrambled or fried. They can be cooked into a fluffy soufflé in a high-pressure espresso steamer. Or if you have forsaken eggs, you can have something like an oatmeal soufflé — cooked with spices and brown sugar, and served with warm berries.

What’s interesting is that the creative menu is based on the usual ingredients that a breakfast consists of — eggs, bread, ham, cheese, cereals and so on. A smart twist has also been given to the basket of fruits that some of us look at with a jaundiced eye in the morning. Fruit flavours — oranges, strawberries, cherries, mangoes and raspberries mixing and matching with chillies, cloves, lime and black pepper — are presented in shots in what the hotels calls Eye Openers.

The idea, the French chef has said on a few occasions, is to blend exotic flavours that will “invigorate and awaken the palate” — as well as surprise the guests. I must admit that I was more than a bit surprised when I had a slice of smoked salmon with silken tofu. The texture was smooth — and the smoky flavour of the salmon complemented the lightness of tofu, while the tart raspberry vinaigrette that went with it gave the palate the tingling surprise the chef has been talking about.

Of course, it goes without saying that the morning meal cannot be heavy, for it’s difficult to start your day when the stomach’s full. But chef Jean-Georges’s signature dishes are not heavy at all: the eggs are lightly cooked, and the salmon and tofu are almost as thin as carpaccio.

I belong to the camp that believes a substantial breakfast raises your spirits. And an exotic breakfast, I can now say, keeps the spirits right up there through the day.

Smoked salmon, silken tofu with fresh raspberry vinaigrette (serves 2)

Ingredients:

• 150g smoked salmon • 90g silken tofu (2 slices)

For raspberry vinegar: • 60ml red wine vinegar • 30g sugar • 4 cloves • 90g canned raspberries

For pickled chillies: • 2-3 red chillies • 30 ml red wine vinegar • olive oil

Method:

Clean the smo-ked salmon, place in a bowl and set aside. For the raspberry vinaigrette, heat a pan. Add vinegar, sugar, clove and bring to a boil.

Remove from the heat. Now stir in the raspberries gently. Let it cool. For the pickled chillies, place sliced chillies in a bowl. Pour the red wine vinegar over it — just enough to cover the chillies — and set aside for half an hour. Now steam the tofu in a steamer.  Arrange the smoked salmon on a plate and top with the tofu. Scatter pickled chillies, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with dill.

Croque madame reinvented (serves 2)

Ingredients:

• 4 slices of large sandwich bread • 10g cheddar cheese • yolk of 4 eggs • 20g butter • 60g crispy bacon dices

For the foam: • yolk of 1 egg • 50ml lime juice • 30ml orange juice • 2g zantham gum (optional) • 2 tbs Thai chilli sauce • 2 tbs grape seed oil • salt to taste

Method:

In a bowl, put all the ingredients for the foam. Whip them with a wire whisk until it becomes foamy. Refrigerate.

Take two slices of bread and cut the edges. Spread cheddar cheese in between the slices and punch a big hole in them with a pastry cutter or a sharp knife. Heat butter in a non-stick frying pan, place the sandwich on the pan and pour two egg yolks in the hole. Grill the sandwich from both sides on slow fire with the lid till the egg is medium cooked. The sandwich should be golden and crispy. Repeat with the other slices.

Put these on a plate, sprinkle crispy diced bacon over it, and pipe the foam on the top. Before serving, heat it in an oven or a salamander. Serve hot with chopped chives on top.

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