Celebrated Local Chef Tanya Holland Provides Good Eats for Gaels

Saint Mary’s students, faculty, and staff got a tasty surprise when they stopped into Oliver Hall for lunch on a recent Wednesday afternoon. Celebrated East Bay chef Tanya Holland joined The Good Eating Company to produce a special menu as part of the food provider’s Week of Welcome.

Holland, who is recognized internationally for her approach to “modern soul food,” might be known to some as a former contestant on the hit Bravo show, Top Chef. Local foodies might know her as the driving force behind popular Oakland restaurant Brown Sugar Kitchen. And, Holland is an acclaimed author whose third cookbook “Tanya Holland’s California Soul: Recipes from a Culinary Journey West” hits bookshelves in October.

So, what stood out about her first visit to Saint Mary’s?

“I like the energy of being on a college campus and I love the history with this school. I’ve heard so many great things,” Holland said. “It’s such a beautiful setting, the kids seem very respectful, and it’s a very diverse student body. It’s great.”

Holland’s own history, which she writes about in California Soul, led her from her time as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia into a culinary career that landed her on the West Coast. The book explores that journey, as well as the migration of African-Americans from the South to California.

As a first-year student at UVA, she shifted to typical college life by purchasing a campus meal plan. By year two, she moved in with roommates who relied on the staples of college life—boxed mac and cheese, ramen, and tuna fish.

Enter Chef Tanya.

“I grew up in a family that entertained through dinner parties and cooked food from everywhere, so I knew how to cook,” Holland said. “So, I started hosting dinner parties. In the beginning it was just pasta but then I made some brownies and then I got some more cookbooks. The next year, I moved into a house with more people cooking and then the following year I had more cookbooks and I had a neighbor who liked to cook. So, it just really evolved.”

Fostering that love for culinary exploration is just one of a number of common threads shared by Holland and Good Eating Company. Besides being a great resource for recipes, California Soul also focuses on supporting local purveyors, growers, and makers. That commitment to sustainability has served as a hallmark for Good Eating Company, and represents a major shared goal between GEC and Saint Mary’s.

“GEC is thrilled to partner with Chef Tanya Holland and incorporate her California Soul ethos into our company,” said GEC Western Culinary Director Amy Lee, who helped execute the menu and joined Holland on the line for service. “Under her guidance, these teaching events allow us to develop long-lasting skill sets and techniques that our culinary staff can share with the guests we serve.  The relationships we foster with high caliber chefs and local farmers allow Good Eating Company to do what we do best – make simple food, done exceptionally well.”

So, what was on the menu during Chef Tanya's visit to Saint Mary’s?

Diners were treated to an offering that spoke to Holland’s style of cooking. While some may have come for the mac and cheese or creole meatloaf, those willing to try something new would have also enjoyed creamed dinosaur kale and okra.

Holland’s visit was just one of the first special events in Good Eating Company’s plan for programming moving forward. Keep an eye on the Saint Mary’s Events calendar for more special events and takeovers as the semester goes along.