In 2012, I walked away from my financially secure job at an investment bank. I left a steady paycheck, paid vacations and health insurance for my dream -- to open OatMeals, my café in New York City, dedicated to oatmeal.
At the time, some people called me crazy. Now, I'm being called visionary for getting ahead of a trend and have even caught the attention of the oatmeal company, Quaker Oats, which tapped me as its COO (Creative Oatmeal Officer).
My love affair with oatmeal began in college when I wanted to start eating right--it was filling, affordable and I had fun experimenting with different toppings and mix-ins. I'd swirl in coconut milk and chocolate chips instead of reaching for a candy bar or I'd add a dollop of peanut butter and fruit preserves instead of making a late night PB&J. While my roommates ate boxed mac and cheese, I made my own variation by sprinkling sharp cheddar into steel cut oats.
Around the time I graduated, I noticed health food stores popping up all around New York. I realized healthy eating was here to stay. Oatmeal is one of the few things that is exactly what it says it is--if you look at the side of the box, there's nothing else going on -- it's just the whole grain. I knew that was powerful and that I could make a business out of it. When fast food chains started experimenting with oatmeal offerings and it became a bestseller for many, I knew I had to act fast.
I was certainly not the first to think of putting oatmeal on a menu. Restaurants have been serving oatmeal since the 80s and 90s. One famous NYC hotel restaurant has a legendary $17 dollar bowl of Oatmeal "Brûlée" and another renowned restaurant on Park Avenue has a $10 version with house-made vanilla and lavender syrup.
My dream was to bring oatmeal to the masses--accessible to everyone and served in portable cups to fit our busy lifestyles. At my restaurant, I strive to give oatmeal new life and help people realize its possibilities at breakfast and beyond. I have over 100 toppings ranging from sweet -- like dulce de leche and peanut butter chips -- to savory -- like bacon, shaved parmesan and truffle oil. My customers can take their oatmeal to go or enjoy it in my café.
Since I launched my restaurant, oatmeal has exploded on the blogosphere and on Pinterest where Overnight Oats (make-ahead cold oatmeal) has become the hottest cold dish of the year. With bloggers pinning variations such as "apple pie," and "pumpkin persimmon," it's clear oatmeal has come a long way from what many of us remember our grandparents serving us.
Oatmeal has actually had many revivals throughout history. Someone once told me that Herbert Hoover actually encouraged Americans to eat oatmeal to preserve wheat during World War I. And, in the 80s an oat bran craze swept the nation when it was reported that it could lower cholesterol.
But why, today, do I think oatmeal is suddenly cool again? Oatmeal has the fundamentals that keep it relevant--it's a food we can all feel good about and it's warm, hearty and a good value. But, most importantly, it has adapted over time. It's helped Americans feel patriotic during the war, healthy during the fitness craze of the 80s and is always a bit nostalgic.
Today, it fits in with our quest to eat more whole foods, with our gourmet palates and our busy lifestyles. It's portable, we've figured out how to make it the night before, and it's the perfect blank canvas which we can top with whichever ingredient we're obsessing over at that very moment--sriracha, acai berries, coconut oil...But unlike these fad foods, oatmeal is here to stay.
For oatmeal recipes created by Sam in partnership with Quaker Oats, click here.