True Cinnamon Is The Secret Behind Robert Irvine's Famous French Toast - Exclusive

When Chef Robert Irvine tells you to do something in the kitchen, you do it. Not because he's a former member of the British Royal Navy and in possession of arms that look like they could shatter most manacles, but because Irvine is a skilled culinary artisan. His commitment to technique and respect for ingredients have made him one of the most commanding chefs, food media personalities, and cookbook authors of our time. It may then seem that a dish as simple as french toast would be a bit beneath him, but not so. Tasting Table sat down with him at the Nassau Paradise Island Wine and Food Fest's Jerk Jam and asked if he had any tips for getting the most out of the sumptuous breakfast dish.

"I have the largest downloaded French Toast recipe in the history of Food Network," Irvine said. If you know anything about the byzantine operations of search engine algorithms, then you know that Irvine's french toast recipe must be solid for folks to find it, return to it, and for the internet gods to rank it so high. According to Irvine, it comes down to a respect for good, true ingredients.

"Start with an amazing bread, eggs, and cinnamon," said Irvine, outlining the comfort food dish. "Americans use cassia, which has pepper in it. Use the true cinnamon and you'll find a better taste."

What's the skinny on true cinnamon?

If you're beginning to question reality because all along you thought you'd been using and tasting real cinnamon, you're probably not alone. Irvine is correct that, in the U.S., most commercially available cinnamon (both ground and in stick form) is actually the bark of Cinnamomum aromaticum, or cassia cinnamon. Also known as Chinese cinnamon, this relative of true cinnamon is harvested from an evergreen tree and is generally easier to produce, which is why it is so ubiquitous in North America. Compared to actual cinnamon, cassia cinnamon has, as Irvine implied, a much bolder and more peppery bite that some feel obscures other flavors in foods.

Fear not, though, as true cinnamon, sometimes called Ceylon or Sri Lankan cinnamon, is readily available in the U.S., you'll just have to pay a premium for it. The distinct but mellow cinnamon flavor is a respite from the assault of cassia cinnamon and is what makes it perfect for the delicate flavors of Irvine's custardy, rich french toast recipe, which also contains nutmeg and a touch of vanilla. You can use powdered varieties or true cinnamon in the recipe, but the most potent flavor comes from freshly grating the "quills" or sticks of cinnamon, a move that is slightly more laborious but well worth the effort. From there, feel free to experiment with the dish and follow our tips for the best french toast.