Walnut Community

Velvet Taco

Meet Chef Grant. As the Director of F&B for Velvet Taco, he is overseeing the aggressive expansion from 9 open restaurants to 40 over the next three years. But Chef Grant hasn’t always been on the corporate side. As a chef, he has worked at multiple AAA 4 and 5 Diamond-rated restaurants and cooked for numerous Hollywood A-listers. The James Beard Foundation also invited him to be the Guest Chef at the renowned James Beard House in New York City.

Where did you find inspiration for the taco recipes with walnuts?

I attended a wonderful event called Camp Walnut, which was a three-day immersion program presenting everything one would ever want to learn about California walnuts. It incorporated farm tours, inspiring walnut dishes, and finally concluded with an Iron Chef-style team-cooking competition. One of the highlights for me was learning how to use walnuts as a meat alternative in the form of a meatless chorizo.

What do you enjoy most about working with California walnuts as an ingredient?

California walnuts provide such a silky, smooth texture along with some great health benefits and fat content.

What goes into the process of coming up with a “WTF”?

I always focus on the season I am preparing for when working with product at its peak seasonal flavor, along with what is trending in fine dining or what I believe could be an item ahead of trend. There’s a lot of white paper ideation followed by trial and error in the kitchen. I also host a twice-a-year event called Tacopalozza. It’s a three-day collaboration with my culinary peers creating WTFs. We present a formal tasting with our President and a carefully curated group with creative palates. It’s a content rotation all year long. I am usually working on two of them at the same time, given that we offer 52 WTFs a year.

What made you choose to use walnuts over another nut?

The softer texture. It lends the nut to a “meaty” texture when rough chopped and cooked.

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

Their willingness to try some of the crazy, exotic items we have used in our WTFs over the years. From cow brains to camel, to water buffalo to alligator, to caviar and so many more.

Are your clientele concerned about healthy menu choices?

We definitely have a large vegetarian following, along with health and wellness conscious patrons. So offering my healthy options from a roasted chicken taco to a poke taco in a lettuce cup are valued menu items.

What restrictions do you face when cooking in a fast-casual setting?

Very few as we make everything in-house from scratch. Our only real restrictions are staying away from items that might extend our cook-to-order time.

What is your all-time favorite walnut dish and/or flavor pairing?

I love a great chutney with walnuts. But my all-time favorite is my mother’s carrot cake that she started making when I was a kid. Even now when she comes to visit she knows she’s going to have to make it for me.

Do you have any specific cooking tips for working with walnuts?

You should always toast your nuts! The flavor you get from toasted walnuts is outstanding.

What do you feel is the next big industry flavor trend?

I think you’ll see a lot of African influence – specifically Ethiopian. Along with more
international city/town focused flavors and dishes rather than just regional.

To learn more about Chef Grant read his full bio here.

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