Easy, Healthy Soul Food Recipes with a California Twist
Tanya Holland’s latest cookbook celebrates the rich past and present of Black foodways in the West, and dishes up new soul-food recipes that satisfy in any season.
Simply put, chef Tanya Holland is the queen of West Coast soul food. The accolades and honorifics are many: Michelin Bib Gourmands, frequent topper of top restaurant lists, fierce Top Chef competitor, host of the Food Network series Melting Pot. Honorifics aside, Holland has been a consistent deliverer of deliciousness at all of her Bay Area restaurants, from the multiple iterations of Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland and San Francisco to Town Fare at the Oakland Museum. While she was busy evolving this mini restaurant empire, she was also honing her skills as an educator and entertainer. Her first book, New Soul Cooking, penned when she was chef at Berkeley’s now shuttered Le Theatre, laid out a formula of forward-looking, lighter soul food some two decades before it became a nationwide trend. She went on to write yet another book, and hosted the podcast Tanya’s Table, on which she interviewed the celebrities who frequented her spots.
Like many casualties of the pandemic and the economy, the Brown Sugar restaurants are sadly closed, but like a gift, a new book that builds upon her influential oeuvre has arrived—and it’s a beauty. Tanya Holland’s California Soul: Recipes from a Culinary Journey West is a synthesis of all the thoughtful cooking, personal and cultural backstory, and heartfelt hospitality Holland is known for. We learn not only about Holland’s move to Oakland, where she found a city and culture more welcoming to an ambitious Black female chef than anywhere she’d been back East, but also about the broader context of Black foodways that preceded her.
Among California-ready versions of soul food, such as black-eyed pea dip spiked with smoked paprika and fresh thyme, or po’boys made with fried artichokes, you’ll find profiles of Black farmers, winemakers, and food businesses, along with “historical detours” that chronicle Black culinary history in the West. Taken together these make the volume a historical record as much as a cookbook. While I’d long been an admirer of Holland’s career arc, it wasn’t until a chilly winter night in Oakland a few years ago that I had the honor of eating at Brown Sugar Kitchen and getting a taste of Holland’s hospitality. Sure enough she was there. I asked her what a hungry and cold diner should order, and without hesitation she told me to get the oxtails and collard greens and a glass of hearty red wine, and, of course, she was right. In this excerpt from the book we’re happy to share with you a few wintry dishes below that deliver all that comfort firsthand. For more, pick up a copy of Tanya Holland’s California Soul: Recipes from a Culinary Journey West at your local independent bookseller.