“The chef has to jump off the line,” says Phil Surkis as he greets me at Brown Sugar Kitchen, one of the West Oakland restaurants he co-owns with his wife, Tanya Holland. Most Bay Area folks know Brown Sugar Kitchen (BSK) as the down-home, feast-for-the-senses breakfast joint with a line. If you’ve eaten there, you know it’s worth the wait. People are driving miles and miles to eat what San Francisco Chronicle Food Editor Michael Bauer says is “The best waffle on earth.” Made in Oakland, baby.

In 2000, Tanya Holland became a celebrity chef and queen of soul food — in just her mid-30’s — and developed a real following as the co-host of the Food Network’s Melting Pot Soul Kitchen.

After years of training in France and honing her repertoire in New York and Boston, Holland moved west to become the Creative Director of Berkeley’s Le Théâtre. She is one of the few restaurant owner-chefs who has worked at every angle of the food industry: server, stylist, teacher, caterer and cookbook author. Next fall, Chronicle Books will release The Brown Sugar Kitchen Cookbook.

Holland, who opened BSK in 2008 followed by B-Side BBQ in 2011, came from a foodie family that loved to get together with friends and try out recipes outside their traditional Southern roots. As a teenager and college student, Holland had a David Goines poster hanging over her bed (#92, Chez Panisse 10th Anniversary). She says that she loved Goines’ warm style, elegance and simplicity. Eventually, Holland began to host vegetarian cooking parties, and over time and with incredibly hard work, her layers of flavor and quality ingredients caramelized into the versatile chef who this year earned the 2013 California Chef of the Year.

Highly sought after for Bay Area charity events and food festivals, Holland cooks and manages two restaurants less than a mile apart. She works on a dozen projects at once with television appearances, panels, presentations, and special events. A self-described eagle-eye crazy perfectionist, Holland is driven by consistency. “If the butter hasn’t melted on the waffle just so, my staff will hear about it,” she says.

Holland is also loud about Oakland and food justice. She’s been a poster child for Oakland’s entrepreneur-artist-activist community. This Sunday, Holland is the Chef Host of the first Taste of the Nation East Bay — Share Our Strength which works to eradicate hunger.

“I’d love to have a cooking school and excite young people about food and flavor,” Holland says, before heading back to the line.

Join This Event

Taste of the Nation East Bay tickets

October 20, 2013, Claremont Hotel, 41 Tunnel Road in Berkeley

VIP: $150, 3 – 7 p.m.

General Admission: $85, 4 – 7 p.m.

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