Residential & Dining Enterprises food plan for mind, body and soul

Give credit to RESIDENTIAL & DINING ENTERPRISES (R&DE) for coming up with the perfect mixture of sustenance for the mind and the body.

This time the occasion was Mardi Gras. The place was Lakeside Dining and the chef was none other than Tanya Holland, author and executive chef-owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland. Holland is one of a handful of chefs who, according to the New York Times, represents “a new generation of black chefs and cookbook authors … reinventing, reinterpreting and reinvigorating what’s thought of as African American food.”

Chef Tanya Holland and Stanford students
Chef Tanya Holland, left, and students at Mardi Gras dinner. (Photos: Keith Uyeda)

Holland is one of three consulting chefs who work with R&DE to bring Stanford students insight and understanding to the diverse food cultures in the United States. In addition to Holland, Mai Pham of Sacramento’s Lemon Grass Kitchen and Iliana de la Vega of El Naranjo Restaurant in Austin, Texas, are involved with the program. Pham guides Wilbur Dining’s Thai/Vietnamese concept Star Ginger @ Stanford. De la Vega shares her Oaxacan secrets with Stern Dining’s Cardinal Sage.

Holland is no stranger to the halls of academia. She holds a BA in Russian language and literature from the University of Virginia, as well as a Grande Diplôme from École de Cuisine La Varenne in Burgundy, France.

At this Mardi Gras celebration, sustenance for the mind came first. Early on Fat Tuesday, Chef Holland treated students and the R&DE Stanford Dining culinary team to a cooking demonstration in Arrillaga Family Dining Commons. During the informal talk, she incorporated the history of Creole and Cajun cooking with a sampling of her delicious shrimp and grits. In addition, Stanford alumnus and soul food scholar Adrian Miller, a 2014 James Beard Foundation Book Award winner for Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time, spoke about the history of soul food. His presentation took place at Ujamaa, an ethnic theme house where students of all backgrounds can explore black culture and heritage.

Chicken and Waffles
Chicken and waffles

Next came sustenance for the body. At Lakeside Dining, first came the buttermilk cornbread. Students gave Holland’s signature Red Skillet dish – crispy buttermilk fried chicken with cornmeal waffles drenched in apple cider syrup – a big thumbs up. Semilore Sobande, ’19, said the cornmeal waffles were nice and Holland’s smoked ribs served with pickled watermelon rind were spiced just right.

Other choices on the menu included crawfish étouffée, sautéed collard greens, roast beef po’boys, fried okra, smoked mashed yams and black-eyed pea salad.

“It’s a good sign that students are responding to this cuisine” while “learning about it,” Holland said.

Then came desserts. King Cake, bread pudding and bananas Foster.

King Cake
King Cake

By the time dessert had reached the tables, that party had started. The sounds of Stanford’s steelpan band, Cardinal Calypso, filled the dining room with an infectious Caribbean flavor. Stanford’s juggling club, Down with Gravity, provided entertainment. And sporting snazzy black-and-white wingtips, the Swingtime dance group performed the Lindy Hop, a still-popular dance born in late 1920s Harlem.

Over all the music, the singing and the shrieks of merriment, Chaz Lanval Wattley III, ’20, and friends could be heard laughing and talking.

“Mardi Gras and Chef Tanya’s soul food evoked this cathartic outpouring from within the African American experience,” Wattley said, explaining his enthusiasm.