Holistic Community

Meet Chef Eric Ernest, Executive Chef and Associate Director of USC Hospitality and the driving force behind its culinary vision and strategy. Prior to entering the university sector where his team prepares almost 30,000 meals a day, Chef Eric held the position of Executive Chef at various high-end restaurants, participated in international cooking competitions, and even worked under the tutelage of Wolfgang Puck and Lee Hefter. His eye for innovation prompted him to reopen the Hollywood Hotel, the SLS hotel, and to revamp the ever-popular Gladstone’s in Malibu, CA. Keep reading to learn how this master chef has incorporated California walnuts into his university dishes.

Why do you enjoy working with California walnuts?

California walnuts offer consistent quality, great flavor, and freshness to a variety of dishes. In addition, they have a distinct flavor and range of versatility compared to other nuts, allowing the team and me to create more dishes and pairings across all dayparts.

Where do you find inspiration for original recipes with walnuts?

With plant-based eating a growing trend, I am always searching for new meat-alternative recipes. Walnuts both add and replicate the texture needed in many plant-based dishes, while also adding to the flavor. When we served walnut “chorizo” tacos on campus earlier this summer, they went over really well and a majority of diners were interested in both eating them again as well as trying new plant-based meat alternatives made with walnuts.

Is your clientele concerned about healthy menu choices?

Absolutely! Conscious eating patterns seem to be the growing trend, especially with our diners and in our region. We are constantly challenged to come up with new and exciting dishes, particularly because so many students eat on campus daily. In fact, a recent survey of several hundred USC diners found that almost 40% of people consider the nutrition benefits of a dish the leading factor when choosing a menu item – coming in second only to taste/texture.

What restrictions do you face when cooking in a university setting?

Our restrictions are consistent with the rest of the food industry. Some of the major considerations are allergens, shifts in consumer preferences, and adapting to the increase of food and labor costs.

What is your favorite walnut dish? And what is your favorite walnut/food flavor pairing?

My favorite dish would have to be the walnut cream with rice or quinoa risotto. Every risotto dish needs that creamy texture, and walnut cream is a great dairy-free alternative. My favorite pairing would be candied walnuts with blue cheese. They pair incredibly well together.

Do you have a cooking tip for working with walnuts?

Since implementing walnuts into my dishes I’ve learned to lightly toast them prior to any application. It truly brings out much more flavor, a nice crunch, deeper colors, and a beautiful fragrance.

What do you feel is the next big industry trend?

I don’t think we’ll see plant-based cooking slowing down anytime soon. It will continue to explode and I suspect we will be seeing more options and innovations as it continues to grow.

What surprises you most about the dining habits of your students and staff?

It was surprising to see how quickly the students and staff adapt to healthy trends and plant-based cooking. It could be due to a combination of the age group and the fact that Los Angeles itself has had an abundance of health food options for quite some time.

Generated with Avocode.Generated with Avocode.