Walnut Community

This issue’s featured chef is Venecia Willis, Sr. Culinary Operations Manager for Protein Bar & Kitchen. Before joining Protein Bar in November of 2017, Chef Venecia spent her early culinary years overseeing the culinary department at Roti Modern Mediterranean. The classically-trained, Chicago-based chef now heads up the Culinary & Supply Chain sector, curating new menu items, standardizing culinary techniques, and implementing new cooking methods among other responsibilities. Along the way, she’s discovered the versatility of California walnuts and has started including them in current menu items.

Where do you find inspiration for original recipes with walnuts?

Walnuts are so versatile and nutrient-rich, it’s easy to create new exciting recipes. From creating plant-based meat alternatives to protein shakes, we have explored it all. We find our innovation through our customers’ feedback and market trends.

Are allergens a concern for you when working with walnuts?

We offer several nuts and seeds within our restaurants. We have a thorough allergen-handling policy and our team members are great at ensuring consumer safety.

Is your clientele concerned about healthy menu choices?

Absolutely, that is why people come to Protein Bar & Kitchen. We are able to provide healthy swaps for everyone, no matter their lifestyle or dietary need. We deliver a protein-packed menu that promises 15 grams of protein per item. Incorporating California walnuts has helped us achieve this promise.

What restrictions do you face when cooking in your restaurant setting?

We are limited to the type of equipment and space in several of our restaurants. When Protein Bar & Kitchen started, it was just a protein shake concept – the food menu was an afterthought. So we have to be creative when it comes to creating new menus and expanding our variety with fewer SKUs. A great example of this was the Walnut Chorizo, as we already had all the ingredients in-house.

What is your favorite walnut dish?

I would have to say our Harvest Salad that featured a Honey, Sriracha Walnut as the protein.

Do you have a cooking tip for working with walnuts?

Keep an eye on the walnuts when toasting or cooking. Due to the high level of healthy fats, they can burn or over-toast quickly. Also, storing them in the freezer helps keep them fresher, longer.

What makes you choose to use walnuts over another nut?

The versatility. They can be sweet, salty, savory, pungent, sour, or smoky. Great for adding healthy fats, texture, crunch, and/or creaminess.

What is your favorite walnut/food flavor pairing?

I love walnuts with chocolate and walnut cream with mushrooms.

What do you feel is the next big industry trend?

Plant-based proteins will continue to grow as more people become more aware of the issues. Using ingredients like walnuts allows one to have plenty of healthy fats in their diet without adding highly processed oils.

What surprises you most about the dining habits of your diners?

Lack of knowledge about healthy fats and highly processed foods. It is our duty to educate the public about what we are serving.

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