Walnut Community

Chef Tamra Scroggins

After more than ten years leading the culinary team at Sizzler USA, Tamra Scroggins now joins us as the Director of Culinary at Daily Grill. In October 2019, she hit the ground running in her new position, looking to take on a new challenge of revitalizing a menu known for its tried-and-true American cuisine. But in less than a year in this new position, Chef Tamra had to also navigate the hurdles of COVID-19. Keep reading to find out how she is currently pivoting, as well as why she loves working with California walnuts.

How has your menu changed as a result of COVID-19?

We reduced the menu due to the fact that we only had our chefs and sous-chefs cooking. We had some problems procuring some ingredients, so we had to remove them as well. We also had to think about what would travel well in takeout containers, which I’m sure has been one of the biggest challenges for all restaurants.

We have also seen an uptick in guests wanting more plant-forward dishes. During COVID, the guests were all about comfort foods, but since we have reopened a few restaurants, we have seen more guests ordering salads.

Do you have existing menu items with walnuts?

Yes, we have a fruit cobbler that has a walnut, sugar, and butter crumble on top. I’m hoping to add more plant-forward options with walnuts in the near future.

Are your customers interested in Plant-Forward, Vegetarian, or Vegan menu options?

Yes, our guests have expressed interest in these options. We didn’t have many vegetarian choices on the menu when I started at Daily Grill in October 2019, but have since added five new options. We are currently working on some bowls and flatbreads that will add a diversity of menu options.

Are your customers interested in new menu items and menu trends?

Our guests typically go for tried-and-true American dishes and tend to order the same thing every time they come in. I think the key is melding new flavors with familiar ingredients, so it doesn’t seem too daunting to diners. It’s been a challenge to get them to step outside of their box and get them to try new items, but I have had success when taking a familiar item and updating it with a new twist. We recently introduced some new menu trends, and they have been well received.

Pre-COVID, what restrictions did you face when cooking in your restaurant setting? How has that changed?

The chain has been around since the 1980s and had not updated menu items for quite a while. In making changes to the menu, we had some resistance from our locations. We also faced some consistency challenges. The shake-up of COVID actually forced our locations to adapt at a fast pace so we are on track, which also gave us time to address our consistency of execution.

Where do you find inspiration for original recipes with walnuts?

I usually turn to walnuts.org as well as get inspiration for recipes from Pinterest. California Walnuts has been a great support and viable partner by keeping me informed of new trends and walnut innovation. It helps me see what others are doing outside of my bubble. For instance, Chef Juliet Greene is always a great source of inspiration, and she taught me how to utilize walnuts as an alternative to dairy. I really like pureeing walnuts with some vegetable stock to add to dishes instead of cream.

Why do you enjoy working with California walnuts, especially over another nut?

I really enjoy the versatility of the walnut. Walnuts can be used in savory and sweet applications as well as act as alternatives to animal protein and dairy. In fact, my favorite walnut dish is actually Walnut “Chorizo” Tacos. You’d never know that it’s completely vegetarian! I am also interested in playing around more with It’s Nature Walnut Crumbles, as I feel it would make it easier to create consistent, savory dishes like these tacos.

Are allergens a concern for you when working with walnuts?

Allergens are a concern, but not a driving force when menu planning.

What do you feel is the next big industry trend?

I feel with the current events we will need to look at more plant-forward items and blending. Reducing the amount of animal protein in dishes and amping up the protein using other plant-based proteins.

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