The Irvine chef behind the spaghetti grilled cheese aspired to create the perfect soufflé pancakes

Souffle pancakes
Chef and owner Paul Cao’s new brunch pop-up menu at Burnt Crumbs in Irvine offers freshly-made soufflé pancakes.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Paul Cao shot to foodie stardom with the Spaghetti Grilled Cheese.

The ooey gooey masterpiece amassed more than four million views Foodbeast’s Facebook page. Four years later, it is still the No. 1 best seller at his Burnt Crumbs restaurants (in Irvine and Huntington Beach) and a Food Network darling.

The question is, can he do it again?

He sure hopes so, because he just spent the last two months eating, sleeping, breathing, and sometimes even cursing, pancake batter.

Souffle pancakes
Chef Paul Cao flips the batter as he cooks soufflé pancakes at Burnt Crumbs in Irvine.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

It all started the week after Thanksgiving. Paul, now 41 and living in Irvine, thought 2020 would be the perfect time for him and his three partners to create their first-ever brunch menu.

An online search for pancake recipes filled his social media feed with photos of fluffy little circles called soufflé pancakes.

“So I went down the rabbit hole,” he says.

Cao texted a few friends in Japan and Shanghai to ask if they had ever heard of soufflé pancakes.

“Dude, it’s the biggest craze here,” they told him.

So Cao started watching YouTube videos to try and figure out how to make the delicate little puffs. It was not as easy as it looked.

“They just kept deflating,” he says. “That’s when I got crazy obsessive.”

He called his sister, a pastry chef, to see if she knew the secret, but nothing she told him helped crack the code.

Nevertheless, he toiled onward. For seven weeks straight. Day and night. Cracking egg after egg. Tinkering with his technique, tweaking his ingredients.

Soufflé pancakes
Chef Paul Cao tops a soufflé pancakes pancake with strawberry cream at Burnt Crumbs in Irvine.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“I must have gone through 1,000 eggs,” he says. “It was driving me crazy. My wife thought it was cool ’cause she got to eat pancakes every day. But the kids were, ‘Oh, pancakes again.’ My 4-year-old, he won’t even eat them anymore.”

Finally, on New Year’s Eve, Cao was over it. He was one bowl of batter away from raising the white dish towel and conceding defeat.

Frustrated, he cursed the pancakes, yelling at them out loud like they were lovers who had wronged him. Then he dumped into the hot pan the remaining batter, which in his opinion was under-mixed.

Fifteen minutes later — cue the hallelujah chorus — there they sat, in all their puffy glory.

Soufflé pancakes
Soufflé pancakes with whipped cream and topped with syrup at Burnt Crumbs in Irvine.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Cao called a Burnt Crumbs meeting for 9 a.m. the next day, even though it was New Year’s Day, because who needs sleep when you just solved the mystery of the soufflé pancake? He wanted everyone to taste his pancakes, to taste victory.

“I just like to know how things work,” he says. “I’m also extremely competitive. I just couldn’t accept the fact that there were a bunch of people in Asia doing this, and I couldn’t figure it out.”

Cao’s soufflé pancake debuts this Saturday at the Burnt Crumbs in Irvine. You can order it three ways: with whipped butter and syrup, with berry compote and whipped cream or drizzled with strawberry cream.

It will be on the brunch menu every Saturday and Sunday thereafter. And if it proves popular, it will be added to the menu at the Pacific City location.

Soufflé pancakes
A strawberry cream soufflé pancake, center; an original soufflé pancake with whipped cream, right; and a berry compote soufflé pancake with whipped cream, left, are on the new brunch pop-up menu at Burnt Crumbs in Irvine.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Cao’s Spaghetti Grilled Cheese creation has been featured on a variety of TV shows: “Man v. Food,” “Food Paradise,” “Big Food Bucket List” (coming soon) and “Junk Food Flip.”

Will his soufflé pancake also rise to foodie stardom? Stay tuned.

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