When Chef Tanya Holland visited Central Park Library on Feb. 1, she came bearing food and drink. Holland’s pork sliders, garnished with spicy coleslaw, carried a distinct barbeque flavor. Sweet chocolate and the crunch of pecans marked her black bottom bar bites. Offering a refreshing splash of tang was her strawberry lemonade. The recipes for these items can be found in Holland’s new cookbook, “Brown Sugar Kitchen.” Many fans of Holland know her as a Food Network host and soul food guru, and the owner of West Oakland restaurants, Brown Sugar Kitchen and B-Side BBQ.
“My cookbook came out in September and it’s been an exciting few months,” Holland says. “I create a lot of comfort food. In the cookbook, we have recipes and stories about our regular customers. My recipes were developed for home cooks so they’re very user-friendly… The best part of being a cookbook author is sharing recipes and getting people excited about new ingredients and new dishes.”
Mouth-watering soul recipes in “Brown Sugar Kitchen” include cornmeal waffles with apple cider syrup, black-eyed pea salad, buttermilk fried chicken, and down-home sweet potato pie.
“My dad was an engineer, and it is a feat of engineering to get the food out,” says Holland of running her restaurants. “We try to source locally as much as possible, and we go for sustainable and organic ingredients. We cook for [hundreds] of people each day. We have a woman who comes every day, unless she’s out of the country.”
Holland offers advice to aspiring chefs and restaurant owners.
“Do your homework and don’t try to do it all yourself,” she says. “Learn from others. Look at people who are successful that you admire. Approach them and ask them questions. Most people like to tell their stories.”
“I’ve heard Tanya interviewed on KQED’s Forum with Michael Krasny,” says Morgan Rose Pershing, a reference librarian. “I’ve been to Brown Sugar Kitchen, and I love it. I love their fried chicken and waffle, and their grits are delicious. And they have great biscuits. So I’m really a fangirl here.”
Holland’s visit is one of the four events part of the library’s February Food Fest, sponsored by donations made to The Santa Clara City Library Foundation & Friends.
“We know that people love food events, and cookbooks circulate so well in libraries,” Pershing says. “Cookbooks are in the top of our non-fiction materials, as far as what gets circulated. I found out there are many local chefs who have recently put out cookbooks. So we contacted as many as we could, and it turned out that four Bay Area cookbook authors are available. We are going for local chefs with new books. It’s important to highlight local talent.”