Tanya Holland marries her Southern roots with California influences

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Chef Tanya Holland pairs shrimp with a white barbecue sauce, a mayonnaise-based sauce popular in the Deep South. She adds avocado to give it California flair. Photo by Aubrie Pick.

Between 1916 and 1970 over 6 million African Americans migrated out of southern states to the North and West. Tanya Holland’s relatives were from Louisiana. Her grandmother’s sisters all came west while she stayed in Shreveport. Two sisters literally joined the circus, arriving in the Black community of Vanport, Oregon, where they eventually opened a small business, Lottie and Susie’s Place, that served fried chicken dinners, barbecue, and chitlins. When Holland was 8 years old, she remembers the long road trip she took with her parents to visit those relatives in Oakland and Los Angeles.

Holland’s first restaurant, Brown Sugar Kitchen, was in West Oakland, home of the Black Panther Party. She realized it was an underserved community, so opened a restaurant that was reflective of the people living there. “It was the first time in my life that I thought I could make a substantial impact through my work,” she says.

In her book “Tanya Holland’s California Soul,” the chef and host features profiles of the purveyors and winemakers she has met in her 20 years in the Bay Area and recipes that marry her Southern roots with California influences. 

Grilled Shrimp and Corn with Avocado White Barbecue Sauce

Yield: 4 main course servings, 6 appetizer servings

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

White barbecue sauce is popular in Alabama and a few other spots in the Deep South. It’s very different from the tomato- or vinegar-based sauces of the Upper South or the dark red Texas-style sauce. Normally white barbecue sauce is pale, thanks to its mayonnaise. But this one delivers the creaminess of that classic sauce with the richness and beautiful green color of California avocados.You’ll marvel at the way this pale sauce elevates fresh corn and grilled shrimp.


Avocado White Barbecue Sauce

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon grated yellow onion
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon grainy mustard
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound extra large (16 total) shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left on
  • 3 ears  of  corn, shucked
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed
  • Soak four wooden skewers in water for at least 30 minutes.


  1. To make the barbecue sauce: In a food processor, combine the avocado, garlic, onion, mayonnaise, vinegar, horseradish, Worcestershire, mustard, lemon, hot sauce, and sugar and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Reserve ¼ cup of the sauce to brush onto the shrimp and set aside the remaining sauce.
  2. Preheat a grill to medium-high heat.
  3. Thread four shrimp onto each skewer. Brush the corn with the oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the corn on the hottest part of the grill and cook, turning, until the corn is tender, cooked through, and a little charred in places, about 8 minutes total.
  4. Remove the corn from the grill to cool.
  5. Brush the shrimp skewers with the reserved ¼ cup sauce and season with salt and pepper. Place the skewers on the hottest part of the grill and cook until the shrimp turns opaque and pink, 1 to 2 minutes per side.
  6. Slice the kernels off the corncobs and place on a platter. Top with the shrimp skewers. Drizzle generously with sauce, and serve any remaining sauce on the side.

Reprinted with permission from “Tanya Holland’s California Soul: Recipes from a Culinary Journey West” by Tanya Holland, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Mac McDonald launched Vision Cellars in Sonoma with his wife in 1995. Photo by Aubrie Pick.

Gumbo Z’herbes with Dungeness Crab and Prawns

Yield: 4 servings

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 55 minutes

Most people equate gumbo with New Orleans, but my mother is from Shreveport, and she and her sisters all make their own versions. My go-to gumbo is based on my mother’s recipe, but I love making this vegetable-forward gumbo that New Orleans culinary icon Leah Chase made famous.


  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 yellow onion, diced

  • 1 shallots, minced

  • garlic cloves, minced

  • 1 jalapeño chile, seeded and finely chopped

  • 8 ounces  fresh  spinach 1 bunch fresh kale, large stems removed

  • 2 cups vegetable stock, fish stock, or clam juice

  • One 14-ounce can coconut milk

  • 1½ cups water

  • 1 pound fresh or frozen okra, cut into ¼-inch pieces

  • 1 tablespoon filé powder

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

  • 3 medium Yukon Gold or other yellow potatoes, diced

  • ½ pound Dungeness crab meat, cleaned

  • 1 pound head-on prawns or shrimp, peeled and deveined

  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

  • Cooked white rice for serving

  • Lemon slices for garnishing


  1. In a large soup pot, heat the vegetable oil and cook the onion, shallots, garlic, and jalapeño over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes.

  2. Add the spinach, kale, stock, coconut milk, and water and let simmer for 10 minutes, until the kale is wilted. Transfer the greens and 1 cup of the broth to a blender or food processor and puree. Return the greens mixture to the pot and add the okra, filé powder, thyme, and potatoes.

  3. Let simmer for about 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Add the seafood. Continue cookingfor 10 minutes, until the prawns are pink and the potatoes are soft. Season with salt and pepper.

  4. To serve, spoon the rice into shallow bowls, and ladle the gumbo over the rice. Garnish with lemon slices.

Reprinted with permission from “Tanya Holland’s California Soul: Recipes from a Culinary Journey West” by Tanya Holland, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

With a foreword by Alice Walker, “Tanya Holland’s California Soul” weaves together the culinary story of her family’s migration from Louisiana to Oregon and California. Photo courtesy of Ten Speed Press.