Chef Tanya Holland of Brown Sugar Kitchen | Marin County Food Photography

Neely Wang Marin Food Photographer

Last week, I had the pleasure of photographing the October event hosted by Fresh Starts Chef Events, a project to support Homeward Bound of Marin, a homeless shelter in Marin County, California, providing food, shelter and job training for those in need. This month’s event featured acclaimed Chef Tanya Holland of Brown Sugar Kitchen and B-Side BBQ in Oakland, California. People come to Oakland to eat her organic, sustainable, local and healthier California-ized soul food, but mainly they come for her famous Fried Chicken and Waffles! Although I was disappointed she didn’t share her famous chicken and waffles recipe at the event, her other menu items made up for it!

Chef Tanya Holland Dirty Rice

Besides working at her restaurant, Chef Holland has also demonstrated her delicious soulful on “The Talk” on CBS, “The Today Show” on NBC, and she was the host and soul food expert for the “Melting Pot” on Food Network. She studied at the University of Virginia (almost becoming an engineer) and later at La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Burgundy, France. She gave up her vegetarian ways while living in France and enjoying its food, which she claims she’ll eat all of, except for horse. Chef Holland is a repeat Chef to Fresh Starts and shared mouthwatering recipes from her new cookbook Brown Sugar Kitchen: New-Style, Down-Home Recipes from Sweet West Oakland, which she warmly calls, “Her love letter to Oakland.”

Neely Wang Marin Food Photographer

The evening began with a delicious plate of corn fritters, buttermilk cornbread and the most heavenly brown sugar butter for spreading. I probably could have eaten that entire bowl of butter if no one was looking — it was that good!

Neely Wang Marin Food Photographer

Look at that yummy goodness!

Neely Wang Marin Food Photographer

The main dish on the menu was Blackened Catfish with Collard Greens and Vegetarian Dirty Rice

Neely Wang Marin Food Photographer

The fish was super flavourful and full of spice! Here is the fish right when it was placed in the skillet.

Neely Wang Marin Food Photographer

And here it is all nice and blackened!

Neely Wang Marin Food Photographer

Chef Holland chiffonading the collard greens, which paired nicely with the spicy fish.

Neely Wang Marin Food Photographer

The chefs and students preparing the plates in the kitchen, while Chef Holland gave her demonstration in the front.

Fresh Starts Culinary Academy

Chef Tanya Holland Homeward Bound

Neely Wang Marin Food Photographer

Chef Holland also shared her delicious Buttermilk Cornbread recipe made in a cast-iron skillet. For the past year, I’ve been saying that I need to try making cornbread in my cast-iron skillet after experimenting with various cast-iron skillet recipes like this blueberry dutch baby or this blueberry peach cobbler — now I have the perfect cornbread recipe!

Chef Tanya Holland

Buttermilk Cornbread Recipe

The evening was capped off with delicious Beignets with Jam. Truthfully, I will probably never try making beignets at home because a vat of hot oil is not something I prefer to mess around with, but you just can’t beat the taste of a fresh beignet right out of the fryer! Soft, warm sweet dough dipped in homemade jam — yum!

Neely Wang Marin County Food Photographer

Neely Wang Marin Food Photographer

Neely Wang Marin Food Photographer

One person from the audience asked if they could try one of the beignets she had just finished frying up, and by the end of the evening, the beignets slowly disappeared one-by-one as guests followed suit. I’ll admit I snuck one as well, and they were fantastic!

Neely Wang Marin Food Photographer

Here are the students’ version of the beignets — they looked a little more like donut holes, but still very tasty!

Fresh Starts Cooking

Homeward Bound Cooking School

Check back next month for Chef Heidi Khraling, founder of Insalata’s and Marinitas in San Anselmo, California. She’ll be serving Turkish yogurt dip and spoon salad, warm flatbread, italian fennel salad, and swordfish with salmoriglio sauce.

In the meantime, grab your cast-iron skillets and try this delicious cornbread recipe! Don’t forget to mix-up your own brown sugar butter, too!

Buttermilk Cornbread

1 egg
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melter, plus 1 tablespoon for the pan
3/4 cup cooked fresh corn kernels
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1. Preheat the oven to 425F. Put a 12-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven to preheat.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg and buttermilk. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar.
3. Add the flour mixture to the buttermilk mixture and mix with a wooden spoon; do not overmix. Stir in the melted butter. Gently fold the corn kernels into the batter until just combined.
4. Remove the skillet front the oven, and add 1 tablespoon butter to the hot pan. When the butter melts, brush it evenly over the bottom and sides of the skillet. Pour the batter into the skillet.
5. Bake until the cornbread is browned on the edges and a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean, 20-35 minutes. Let cool slightly and serve warm. Cornbread is best eaten fresh.


  1. Neely, a lovely set of images. Chef Tanya’s warm smile seems to indicate that she greatly enjoys what she’s doing, and the Buttermilk Cornbread sounds tasty. I should easily be able to substitute gluten-free flour and give it a whirl. Thanks for including the recipe.

    • Thank you so much, Tricia! Yes, you can tell she really loves to cook and feed people with love! Good idea to substitute gluten-free flour — I wonder what it would taste like with almond flour (i know, not true southern ;)

Have something to say? Would love to hear it!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s