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James Corden sent back an egg yolk omelet — so we tried to make one

An egg yolk omelet, prepared by Post Food staff writer Emily Heil. (Emily Heil/The Washington Post)

If you cast even a fleeting glance at the internet Monday, you probably saw the story of how late-night TV host James Corden was temporarily banned from Balthazar, according to the beloved Manhattan restaurant’s owner, Keith McNally. In an Instagram post, McNally accused Corden of “abusive” behavior and mistreatment of his staff — though the whole thing was happily-ever-after resolved hours later when McNally posted again to say that Corden had apologized and was once again welcome to dine at his restaurant.

But a bit player in the controversy was the thing that most fascinated us here at Voraciously: In one anecdote from McNally, Corden’s alleged abusive treatment of the Balthazar team came after his wife, Julia Carey, ordered an all-yolk omelet whose imperfect preparation (apparently there was a small amount of egg white in the dish) caused Corden to send it back to the kitchen. The restaurant remade it but sent it back out with home fries instead of the salad she had ordered, allegedly prompting Corden to erupt. “You can’t do your job! You can’t do your job!” Corden allegedly said to the server, according a manager’s report from the incident that McNally posted on Instagram. “Maybe I should go into the kitchen and cook the omelet myself!”

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This was an interesting story, but let’s focus for a moment not on Corden’s alleged bad behavior but on that omelet.

Now, omelets made with all egg whites are fairly common. It’s seen as a slightly high-maintenance custom order at a restaurant — in fact, it figures in one of my favorite restaurant movie scenes: In “Get Shorty,” Danny DeVito plays an actor who fulfills the stereotype of the divo at the power lunch (at the Ivy in West Hollywood, naturally) when he orders off-menu — and for the table. “Can you make an egg-white omelet? With shallots?” he asks the waiter. “But the shallots only slightly browned, very little olive oil and no salt? Why don’t you bring a big one for the table, and we’ll all pick on it.” (At least his character doesn’t send it back, but then again he leaves before it even arrives.)

But an all-yolk omelet is far less common — none of my colleagues had even heard of such a thing. It raised so many questions — first of all, why? An all-yolk omelet contains far more cholesterol and fat (because yolks contain both) than a regular one, much less an egg-white version. Perhaps it’s a keto thing? And also, how? We fretted about the texture issues it theoretically presented. Egg whites are what give an omelet its signature puff; omitting them would surely result in a thinner, denser round. And as my colleague Aaron Hutcherson wondered, how did they even notice that there was just a touch of egg white in the incorrectly made dish?

Seeking answers to at least some of these mysteries, I decided to try to make one. And if it’s good enough for James Corden’s wife to order — and for him to allegedly insist on its flawless preparation — it was worth a try, I figured.

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I started with my colleague Becky Krystal’s excellent recipe and tutorial on omelet-making, and I consulted her on what tweaks to make when omitting the whites. We agreed that I would need at least four yolks to substitute for the three whole eggs the recipe called for to compensate for the loss of volume. “I think you may want to thin with milk or water instead, as more yolks will just be more fat, and really what you’re losing when you cut the whites is water,” she advised. “It’s also probably going to be suuuper tender because of all the fat, so this may be more of a fold-in-half than roll situation.”

I consulted Balthazar’s brunch menu to identify the item in question: It was probably the “omelette with fines herbes and Gruyere or cheddar cheese” under the “Les oeufs et classiques” section. I had chives in a pot on my patio and a bunch of parsley in the fridge, so they were my herbs, and I had a little stump of cheddar, so that served as my fromage of choice (although Corden’s wife’s order apparently was Gruyere). I gathered my ingredients and started cooking.

I felt intense pressure as I cracked the eggs, separating them with my hands and trying to remove every last trace of whites. I imagined I was a chef, preparing the dish for a demanding customer who might be ready to humiliate me with a returned plate. The feeling was unfamiliar — usually I’m cooking for my husband, who is unfailingly grateful and unfussy about anything I make. (Though I had done mental exercises to prepare me for this — when I’m cleaning my house and tempted to cut corners, I sometimes imagine I’m vacuuming for Martha Stewart, and it terrifies me into thoroughness.)

The first thing I noticed is that even the five yolks and splash of milk I’d ended up using weren’t enough to coat the entire bottom of the eight-inch pan I was using without it getting so thin as to become a mere crepe. So the shape was a little free-form. I sprinkled it with cheddar and opted, as Becky had counseled, for a single-fold presentation. The finished product looked … not bad, exactly, but it was thin (as predicted) and violently gold. I flicked some more herbs around the plate, figuring that a good garnish can hide a multitude of sins.

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I was optimistic about the flavor, since the yolks are my favorite part of an egg — I would prefer the filling of a deviled egg to its bland exterior, and the runny yellow goo is the best part of a Benedict to my mind. My approximation of Carey’s omelet proved to have a good, eggy profile. But the dense, heavy texture of the thing — which turned leathery as it cooled — ultimately made it unappealing.

And so I tried a trick I learned about from the Balthazar staff’s handling of the situation. I poured myself a glass of bubbly, just like the waitstaff had done for Corden’s party, in order “to smooth things out,” per McNally’s post. I sipped and tried another bite. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.

And then it occurred to me that perhaps I had stumbled upon one of those self-care “life hacks” I’m always seeing on social media: While you probably shouldn’t act like a picky celebrity who needs placating, sometimes it’s nice to treat yourself like one.

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