Something to remember, as we enter a new year: Yesterday's history, Tomorrow is a mystery and Today is a gift, that's why it is called "the present". [Via]

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Soul food, California style

Tanya Holland, chef and owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, visits with Stefanie Parrott and her 4-month-old son, Clyde, and Rivkah Medow (just out the picture) and her 6-month-old son, Isa.

What today's soul food is missing, says Holland, is a charismatic spokesperson, "someone who can advance and explain and contemporize" the cuisine in the way that Charles Phan of the Slanted Door has done for Vietnamese food or Chicago's Rick Bayless for the Mexican kitchen.

"Part of my MO is to try to evolve it a bit," says Holland, whose year-old West Oakland diner draws a racially mixed crowd for sublime cornmeal waffles with upmarket accompaniments like Blue Bottle coffee and Blue Chair Fruit Co. jam. Her butter, milk, yogurt and eggs are organic; her chicken is free-range. The restaurant's garlicky collards and kale aren't simmered for hours with fatty smoked pork; they're briskly wilted in a saute pan with a blend of canola and olive oils.

Holland was raised in Rochester, N.Y., by food-loving parents who were both from the South. After college, she spent a year at Peter Kump's esteemed New York cooking school and then studied at La Varenne in France.

Her book, "New Soul Cooking" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2003), encourages readers to serve food in European-style courses and embraces ingredients like star anise and goat cheese. Recipes like sweet potato blini with bourbon-cured salmon, and chopped dandelion greens with warm sherry vinegar dressing, show her inclination to use familiar Southern and soul-food ingredients as prompts for creativity.

When she began to plan the restaurant, recalls Holland, "it felt like the most authentic thing for me to do was to take my heritage and bring my training to it." So although her menu includes soul-food standards like fried chicken, po' boys and buttermilk biscuits, it also makes room for a daily quiche - she calls it a vegetable tart - and a composed salad such as a salade nicoise. On her Web site, Holland aptly labels her style - a merging of soul food with French and Bay Area sensibilities - as "mosaic cuisine."

"I don't really fit into a box, and I don't want to be placed in a box," says the chef. "That's why my terms keep switching. I'm still trying to find words that don't pigeonhole me." When some customers taste her quick-cooked greens, they tell her the dish isn't what they expected.

"And I think, 'It's not supposed to be,' " says Holland. For complete article, click here