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Chicken, Waffles, and Smashing the Patriarchy | Mother Jones

Chicken, Waffles, and Smashing the Patriarchy | Mother Jones

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How chef Tanya Holland turned her “little utopia” in West Oakland into a soul food empire.

Fried chicken and waffles is a festive dish steeped in the history of the Great Migration, the 20th century fanning out of black people from the former slave-holding states the south into cities in the north and west. The combination delighted palates at nightspots like Wells Supper Club in Harlem during that neighborhood’s famous renaissance.

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In the hands of renowned Bay Area chef Tonya Holland, owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen, it’s as subtle and delicious as anything you’ll find in a white-tablecloth culinary temple. Tender meat punctuated with a spicy crunch; crisp pastry that gives way to a soufflé-like interior; and it’s all wrapped up with soft butter and syrup to create one ambitious forkful. The dish embodies Holland’s aesthetic: impeccable technique and great ingredients applied to classic dishes of the African-American diaspora, served up in a convivial setting.

Holland moved to the Bay Area in the 2000s, intending to open a French bistro and ply the skills she had picked up at the La Varenne culinary school in Paris. But investors weren’t there for it, so she settled on a more casual concept: a kind of soul food diner. On Jan. 15, 2008—Martin Luther King’s birthday—she opened the original Brown Sugar Kitchen in a low-slung brown building on a gritty stretch of the Mandela Parkway in West Oakland, a legendary black neighborhood.


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