What a treat to spend a few hours at Fresh Starts Chef Events with Tanya Holland, one of the Bay Area’s hottest – and busiest — chefs. The French-trained chef and owner of Oakland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen and B-Side BBQ has been featured in a slew of national magazines in addition to her many TV appearances – and with good reason.
Chef Tanya launched a renaissance in her Oakland neighborhood with California-flavored soul food. Anyone who has tasted her cooking will agree – including the full house at The Key Room — that this chef takes Southern cuisine to a whole new level.
She’s particularly excited about her brand-new cookbook, “Brown Sugar Kitchen: New-Style, Down-Home Recipes from Sweet West Oakland,” with a foreword by East Bay resident and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon, along with pieces on several of the restaurant’s regular diners. More than just recipes, this cookbook captures the essence of the chef and her restaurant.
She says the book was written with home cooks in mind. And she stresses most recipes “are simple, but do require putting love in them.” Along with high-quality local, organic (as much as possible), sustainable ingredients, of course. She emphasizes the value of knowing your ingredients and buys only from known, trusted purveyors.
For this meal, Chef Tanya cooked up Blackened Catfish, saying “catfish has come a long way.” She followed with Vegetarian Dirty Rice, Collard Greens, Buttermilk Cornbread and Beignets with Jam, all the while talking about finding her calling, her culinary training in France, her path to restaurant ownership and her style.
Meanwhile, Fresh Starts Culinary Academy students prepared all of the dishes behind the scenes to serve to 100+ guests and Chef Rachelle Boucher assisted as emcee, taking questions from the audience.
Some in the audience were surprised that Chef Tanya recommends rice bran oil, which she considers a “cleaner oil” for frying. But she admits “there’s no substitute for butter.” The food did not disappoint – it’s no wonder her eateries serve 400 meals each day.
The evening ended with two culinary students receiving graduation certificates – and some inspirational words — from their Fresh Starts Culinary Academy instructors. It was a taste-good, feel-good event for all who participated.
Chef Tanya generously provided this recipe — it’s spicy, so be prepared to adjust as needed. And remember, it requires a little love… — Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos by Neely Wang.
Blackened Catfish — Serves 4
For the catfish:
2 pounds catfish filets
1/2 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
For the blackening spice:
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Thoroughly mix all ingredients for the blackening spice.
Generously season catfish filets with blackening spice and set aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and cook fish on fleshy side for
about 4 minutes or until blackened, but not burnt. Turn fish over to other side and
continue cooking for about 2 minutes.
Turn fish again and add 1/2 tablespoon butter to pan and 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice.
Turn off heat and baste fish with lemon and butter. Serve immediately.