Last month, I had the pleasure of sharing an event at Pegasus Bookstore in Berkeley California with Chef Tanya Holland. We’d not previously met, but quickly found our common threads, beyond each having authored a cookbook. We were both born in New York and have interests rooted in the cooking traditions of the South. We’re both members of Les Dames d’Escoffier, an international organization of professional women in the culinary arts. We are both keenly interested in the intersection of community and food.
You’ll learn that about her, once you visit her restaurant, Brown Sugar Kitchen. Located in a wedge of West Oakland, where 26th Street and Campbell intersect Mandela Parkway, her eatery has become a prime neighborhood gathering spot. A hospitable spirit pervades the open kitchen and dining room, where a diverse crowd sits down comfortably to plates of eggs and biscuits and bowls of shrimp and grits.
In 2008, it was considered a bold move to open BSK in this somewhat run-down industrial area. But when she found the pie-shaped building, Tanya had that immediate sense of “knowingness”—this was where she belonged. The chef created what she calls “an everyman restaurant,” mid-priced, to please a wide range of people. Drawing on her African-American heritage and her French culinary training, Tanya serves her interpretation of Soul Food, prepared with classic techniques, updated for modern tastes.
The restaurant took off, initially as a destination. It wasn’t long before other businesses and residences followed suit, furthering the revitalization. West Oakland is becoming a thriving community, and Tanya Holland has become recognized for instigating its renaissance.
The cornmeal waffle is indeed her signature dish. She was inspired by Marion Cunningham’s yeasted waffle. By adding cornmeal to the batter, she’s given it a southern spin, and made it her own. I had to order it. Having eaten many versions of chicken-and-waffles, I was anxious to try hers.
Wonderful. The waffle was crisp yet airy, the little “grit” from the meal lending a delectable texture and corn taste. Her apple cider syrup, a welcome departure from the traditional maple, had a pleasant tang. It’s an homage to her grandmother, who always served fried apples for breakfast.
An aside: Righteous fried chicken too–well-seasoned, buttermilk-brined, and skillet-fried to golden.
Now, I’ve made it myself. We had company in town–and a waffle brunch was in order. Her recipe, which I share below, was easy to prepare. You do need to plan ahead–the yeasty batter requires a minimum of 4 hours resting time in the refrigerator. It’s best to mix it up before you go to bed. That way, it’ll be ready for you in the morning. And, be sure to put that batter into a large bowl. It gets quite bubbly even in the fridge as the yeast does its work!
I love the waffle’s versatility–sweet, savory, somewhere in-between. Different grains, different preparations. Visit Cooking Light’s clever array of other terrific waffles here.
YEASTED CORNMEAL WAFFLES
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water
3 cups whole milk
1 cup cornmeal
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted and slightly cooled
vegetable oil for the waffle iron
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
In a small bowl, combine the yeast and water. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk.
In another large bowl, mix the dry ingredients: cornmeal, flour, salt, and sugar together.
Add the yeast mixture to the egg-milk mixture. Whisk in the dry ingredients, followed by the melted butter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight—or at least for 4 hours.
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
Remove the waffle batter from the refrigerator and stir in the baking soda.
Heat the waffle iron, lightly brush with vegetable oil.
Ladle the batter and cook until golden–about 3 minutes.
Transfer the waffle to a rack and keep warm in the oven
Repeat with remaining batter, placing the waffles in a single layer on the rack until ready to serve.
Makes 8-10 waffles.
APPLE CIDER SYRUP
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
4 cups apple cider
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup butter
In a large pot, combine the brown sugar, vinegar, cider, cinnamon, and butter. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the mixture is reduced to 1 1/2 cups. Discard the cinnamon.
Keep warm and serve. When cooled, refrigerate in a airtight container. Keeps for a month.