The world of food blogging is a beautiful thing. Everyday I find myself inspired by something new, whether it’s food, a place, or something familiar that I see in a new light. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that you can use ingredients in different ways. When I find that my creative juices stop flowing, I try to pry myself out of my comfort zone and dive into a new way of doing things. A wise little bird recently said “instead of stepping outside the box, just throw away the box” (ok, I credit the quote to my husband) and I couldn’t agree more.
So when I was invited to a blogger’s brunch hosted by Mornflake – a traditional British oat-milling company – I was intrigued. The theme of the event was centered around using oats in sweet and savory cuisine. Since I’ve had somewhat of an off and on relationship with oats for years – either eating it as hot porridge or throwing it into the occasional cookie batter – I was curious to know more about this humble little grain that’s become a staple on breakfast tables around the world. As I was about to find out, there is more to the oat than meets the eye.
The brunch was held at Dubai’s Top Chef Cooking Studio, where aspiring chefs congregate to get a dose of inspiration from the studio’s talented culinary team. Upon arrival, guests were greeted by Mornflake representatives (an extremely welcoming group of individuals, I have to say), then treated to a couple of oat-inspired breakfast appetizers. It was a great start to the morning that set the tone for what was to come.
As food blogger’s arrived one after the other, the room filled with chatter. Getting re-acquainted with familiar faces while getting to know new ones was one of the many highlights of the day. There’s an amazing bond that exists between bloggers and the local Instagram community, and one that you could certainly feel throughout the event.
The real fun began when we got down and dirty in the kitchen and put our culinary skills to the test! Guided by the expertise of head chef Thibaut Bertin and chef Michael Fessier, bloggers worked in teams to create a four course meal, with the mighty oat playing a starring role in each dish.
My team was given the task of preparing the Oat Fish & Chips with Mushy Peas and Tartar Sauce. We started by making a light tempura batter that would coat the creamy white flesh of Chilean sea bass filets. Potatoes were thinly sliced on a mandolin before being fried in batches as an accompaniment to the fish.
One of the most humbling tasks of the day was when chef Michael commissioned us to peel a huge bowl of peas. One-pea-at-a-time. It was a painstaking process, but the result of the silky green purée made it all worth it.
Half way through pea-peeling, I aborted our mission and volunteered to make the aioli which would form the base of the tartar sauce. Under chef Michael’s watchful eyes, fresh organic eggs were separated, whisked, and emulsified with vegetable oil before fresh herbs and chopped capers were added to the thick, silken mayonnaise.
Things were looking good, and it was time to fry up the star of our main course. Our fish filets were dipped into the tempura batter, rolled in oats, and deep-fried until crisp, golden, and delicious. We plated each dish individually before sitting down to sample the fruits of our labor. One bite of the oaty fish filet, and it was clear that this stellar creation was a success.
When our team went onto the next station, bloggers were busy preparing Beetroot and Goat’s Cheese Roll with Crispy Oats and Roasted Walnuts with chef Thibaut. Cooked beetroot was thinly sliced and placed on a lining of cling film. A creamy, goat’s cheese mousse was piped length-wise along the center of the beetroot which was rolled into a log and frozen until firm.
While the logs were freezing, we watched Chef Thibaut prepare paper-thin crêpes (tuiles) that were lightly dusted with oats. It was a delicate process that would add texture and finesse to our finished dish.
When we got to plating, the beetroot logs were cut and placed on a little mound of piped goats cheese mousse. The delicate tuiles were broken up and scattered on the plate along with roasted walnuts and lightly dressed with yuzu vinaigrette. Tiny edible flowers in vibrant shades added a whimsical touch.
The dish was almost too pretty to eat, but judging from the empty plates in the dining room, this wasn’t a problem.
Wild Mushroom Risotto with Shaved Pecorino was a dish that piqued my curiosity where oats were used in place of risotto rice. Although the method was very much the same as in a traditional risotto, the cooking time was significantly reduced in order to prevent the rice from being overdone. We were fortunate to use porcini mushrooms (a favourite of mine) – half of which were grilled, and the other half sautéed. The grated pecorino tied in all of the ingredients and the dish came together beautifully.
The smell of chocolate flowing through the kitchen gave us more than a subtle hint that it was time for dessert!
The Oatmeal Brownie with Vanilla Pecan Ice Cream was waiting to be plated, photographed and devoured. The brownies were still warm when sliced, which meant the ice cream had a chance to slowly drip into puddles over the sides of the soft, chocolaty treat. Working in true assembly line fashion, we managed to plate the brownies before the ice cream melted into oblivion! It was delicious, and knowing that the oats added a nutritional benefit made it feel (slightly) guilt-free.
After filling our bellies on some seriously fabulous food, nutritionist Hala Barghout gave us a rundown on the many benefits found in oats, and armed us with a list of healthy substitutions that could be applied to all the dishes we created, as well as in the home kitchen.
As the brunch came to an end, one thing was clear – there a definite place for “oat cuisine” within the realm of “haûte cuisine” and beyond. With so many fun and creative uses, I will never look at this nutritional powerhouse the same way again. It’s time to roll the oats of the pantry and get cooking! Bon appétit!
* You can find each of the recipes by clicking the highlighted recipe titles within the text.
Shot on location at Top Chef Cooking Studio in Dubai
Photos by Tara Atkinson Photography
Header photo and finished beetroot roll photo/plating by Lidija’s Kitchen