Oakland chef Holland stars at Sunset Magazine event

INSIDEBAYAREA.COM: October 2, 2014

Oakland’s celebrity chef, Tanya Holland, knows how to party. She was a rock star at Sunset Magazine’s “Savor the Central Coast” last weekend — signing copies of her new Brown Sugar Kitchen cookbook, giving demos and speaking on chef panels.

Holland even performed a miracle in Pismo Beach — overseeing dinner for 200-plus without lifting a pan.

It was this Southern chef’s chicken and waffles that first got the attention of the organizers of this four-day food and wine soiree in San Luis Obispo County. Or was it her signature shrimp and grits? Or her sophisticated take on childhood dishes like sweet potatoes and collard greens?

Holland quotes a restaurant critic who once wrote that she cooks like your grandmother — if “your grandmother has a diploma from a Paris cooking school.”

Influenced by her parents, who started a monthly gourmet potluck with three white couples and three black couples in the neighborhood, she was attracted to Oakland because of its diversity. And whether she and husband Phil Surkis take credit or not, their restaurants Brown Sugar Kitchen and B-Side BBQ are widely considered the catalysts for Oakland’s celebrated dining scene.

“It’s just been a wonderful place to be because there’s so much potential,” says Holland, who loves the fact that her comfort food brings people together. She says people also appreciate authenticity. “Oakland really likes homegrown stories and that could be soul food, it could also be Vietnamese food, it could be East Indian food — so you have all that here, which is really great.”

But star status? Holland admits she’s been pleasantly surprised by Oakland’s embrace.

“I was one of the first — there was nothing there and I thought ‘Wow, this community is really underserved. I could put a restaurant here, and I think it would be valued.’ But I didn’t think that I would be the poster girl. I mean the city gave me my own day, I got the key to the city — it’s been kind of surreal.”

Like LeBron and Cleveland, Holland is finding she’s part of the psyche of Oakland. Her soul food is now part of our collective soul. But clearly, there’s enough love to go around. Her popularity is going coastal — and beyond.

To prepare for the “miracle” that fed the masses at this past Friday’s Savor event, Pismo’s Cliffs Resort sent a team of chefs to Oakland.

“They came up and did a tasting at both restaurants and asked a lot of questions and took notes, and they did a fantastic job,” says Holland. As one of the guests, I can attest that it’s true. There were more oohs and aahs than a magic show as chefs plated up steaming servings of Holland’s recipes.

In a region blessed by a bounty of local seafood, meats and produce, “Savor the Central Coast” featured a seemingly endless supply of local wines and innovative eats. And chef Tanya Holland put Oakland squarely in the conversation.


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