The Frugal Foodie: The Fairmont’s Jason Dalling

A spring brunch doesn’t have to break the bank. The Fairmont’s Jason Dalling shows us it’s easy saving green with a brunch for six for less than $25.

Eggs Benedict with spinach, made by the Fairmont's Jason Dalling. Photograph by Kelly DiNardo.

>> Click here to see a slideshow of Dalling cooking his brunch.  

Jason Dalling is crouching in front of a row of butter with a bulky calculator that looks like it was borrowed from Doogie Howser.

The chef at the Fairmont accepted our challenge to cook brunch for six for less than $25. After wandering through the grocery store, selecting eggs, fennel, English muffins, mango, apple, and other sundries, he wants to make sure he’s under budget.

Content with his options, we head to the checkout line. I pull out my frequent-shopper card, which knocks almost $4 off the bill. Dalling’s eyes light up, and he heads back into the store for fennel and a tomato.

At my apartment, Dalling quietly begins slicing onions, apples, and asparagus. He blanches asparagus tips then tosses them into an apple/fennel slaw. He rough-chops a mango, which gets blended with two flavors of yogurt for a breakfast smoothie.

Dalling slowly melts a stick of butter for a hollandaise sauce, letting the fat rise to the top before he skims it off. While the clarified butter cools, he separates three egg yolks and begins to whisk them. When the butter is room temperature, he slowly adds the butter to the eggs, continuing to whisk until it becomes a pudding-like consistency. Making a hollandaise sauce is tricky: Dalling warns that starting with butter that’s too warm will start to cook the eggs, but butter that’s too cold will break the sauce.

While the English muffins toast, Dalling gets to work poaching the eggs. When everything is ready, he carefully places a scoop of slaw on each plate and tops each English muffin with sautéed spinach, a poached egg, and hollandaise. Finally, he pours the smoothie into martini glasses, and we say cheers to brunch—and spring.

All recipes serve six.

Mango/Cilantro Smoothies

1 mango, peeled and chopped
1 6-ounce container vanilla yogurt
1 6-ounce container banana yogurt
¼ cup milk
½ cup orange juice
½ lime, juiced
½ teaspoon chopped cilantro

Add all the ingredients to a blender. Blend until smooth.

Asparagus Slaw

1 bunch asparagus
¾ fennel bulb, thinly sliced
¼ red onion, julienned
1 green apple, julienned
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 lime, juiced
Pinch sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Set up a pot of boiling water and a large bowl of cold water and ice. Cut the asparagus tips so they are about 3 inches long. Add them to the boiling water for 2 minutes and then place in a cold water bath. Reserve until cool.

Chop the remaining asparagus stems, avoiding the fibrous root end. Add the asparagus, fennel, and onion to a saucepan, and sauté over low heat just until the vegetables are tender. Remove them from the stove, place them in a large bowl, and add the apple. Cool the mixture in the refrigerator.
When the asparagus tips have cooled, add them to the slaw. Stir in the olive oil, vinegar, lime juice, and a pinch of sugar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Eggs Benedict with Spinach

2 sticks butter
3 egg yolks plus 12 whole eggs (for poaching)
¾ red onion, julienned
1 bunch spinach
1⁄8 cup water
6 English muffins, sliced in half
1 teaspoon white vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable oil, as needed for sautéeing

Make the hollandaise: Place the butter in a metal bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan filled with water and set over medium-high heat. When the butter melts, the fat will rise to the top. Skim off the fat so the butter is clarified.

In a separate bowl, add the 3 egg yolks and whisk them over a slightly warm water bath. Whisk until the eggs are slightly stiff. You can test them by drawing a figure 8 with your whisk. If it briefly keeps its shape, the eggs are ready to mix with the butter.

Slowly add the clarified butter, whisking constantly. Whisk until the mixture reaches a pudding-like consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Lightly coat a sauté pan with vegetable oil and set over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 15 minutes. Add the spinach and the water. Let the spinach wilt, then drain off the water.

Toast the English muffins.

Poach the eggs: In a saucepan with gently boiling water, add the white vinegar. Gently the crack eggs into the water and poach. For a soft poach, cook for 3 minutes. For medium, cook for 5 minutes. For a hard center, cook for 7 minutes.

Top each half of an English muffin with the spinach-and-onion mixture. Place a poached egg on each half. Top with hollandaise sauce. Serve immediately.

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