Tilikum Place Chef's Favorite Ingredient: Walnut Vinegar

Tilikum Place Café chef/owner Ba Culbert reveals her secret culinary touch

A fortuitous souvenir brought back from France by her sister led Ba Culbert, chef and co-owner of Tilikum Place Café, to one of her dearest ingredients—walnut vinegar. While not a fan of other flavored vinegars, Culbert immediately loved how walnut vinegar has a “subtle and nuanced flavor that keeps dishes light.”

Walnut vinegar is sold in various hues and potencies, though Culbert prefers the French brand she uses at the café (see “Where to find it,” below). Dark in color, with an aroma of toasted walnut and an underlying sweetness, it shows up in dishes throughout the year. In spring, Culbert uses a splash as salad dressing, omitting the oil entirely. ”It has a delicate flavor, and I like to keep things lighter,” she says. “Plus, oil tends to wilt softer greens like arugula or watercress.” In summer, fresh, local fruit, such as strawberries, peaches or melon, is served tossed with walnut vinegar. Winter sees the vinegar as a finishing acid for a piquant bite on celery-root purée.

“I find it less predictable and much more interesting than walnut oil,” Culbert says, noting the vinegar’s nuttier fragrance and earthy flavor profile. Of course, being a chef, she tried to make a home version, but it’s still a work in progress. “Mine is more bitter and not as delicate,” she confesses.

Why you should try it: “Walnut vinegar gives you a brightness and also a subtle flavor component that is very complementary to root vegetables,” Culbert says

How to use this at home: Skip the squeeze of lemon and try walnut vinegar for a sweeter vinaigrette. Arugula, goat cheese and orange segments tossed with walnut vinegar make a lovely salad. It also pairs well with roasted grapes or cheese.

Where to find it: Culbert uses white-wine-vinegar-based Edmond Fallot vinaigre de vin blanc aromatisé à la noix from Paris Grocery near Pike Place Market ($6.49 for 8 ounces. 1418 Western Ave.; 206.682.0679; parisgroceryseattle.com). Marx Foods also carries Sparrow Lane walnut champagne vinegar from California ($25 for 6.75 ounces. Lower Queen Anne, 144 Western Ave. W; 206.447.1818; marxfoods.com).

Get the recipe for Ba Culbert’s recipes for green bean salad and celery root puree here.