Bay Area chef Tanya Holland is drawing on the comfort of a home-cooked meal around the kitchen table – and a microphone – to show that people have more in common than they think.
“I get excited when I can learn something from people and connect with them in a way they might not expect,” says Holland, owner and executive chef of Brown Sugar Kitchen, the Oakland restaurant famous for its creative interpretations of soul food.
Holland, who kicked off the second season of her podcast “Tanya’s Table” with episodes featuring Ayesha Curry on Jan. 19 and Danny Glover on Jan. 26, has an impressive lineup to come, including singer Bonnie Raitt on Feb. 3, Olympic skier Jonny Moseley on March 9, and activist and former Black Panther Ericka Huggins on March 23.
Holland enjoys getting to know each person’s unique relationship to food. She says, “I don’t even know the ideology of half these people, or what their religious beliefs might be. That’s not important. We have discovered that we have more similarities than differences. We have to unite.”
The goal when making “Tanya’s Table” was to create a kitchen table atmosphere where guests and listeners feel comfortable and at home. And the episodes, which typically run about an hour, don’t necessarily focus solely on food.
“I want it to feel like a conversation and not an interview, so it feels like organic topics will happen, just like if you were sitting at a kitchen table,” says Holland, who’s no stranger to celebrity. She has authored multiple cookbooks, hosted a recurring segment on the Oprah Winfrey Network and competed in Season 15 of “Top Chef” in 2017.
Approached last summer to do a podcast, Holland’s first episode of “Tanya’s Table” was on July 28, 2020 featuring Questlove. In the first season of the show — which is produced by MuddHouse Media and can be heard on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Stitcher — Holland spoke with Tyler Florence, Alice Waters, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ledisi and Kevin Youkilis (he owns Loma Brewing Company in Los Gatos), among others.
Creating a podcast in the middle of a pandemic was an adjustment for Holland, whose specialty is gathering people together for a good meal. She says, “Doing a podcast, you don’t get that other sensory experience that you get off a person when you see their smile and feed off of their energy.”
But she found a silver lining, in that the world began to work remotely. “The bonus is that a lot of people who I wouldn’t normally be able to access have been available,” she says.
It isn’t an accident that the second season of “Tanya’s Table” comes at a moment when people are missing sharing meals with loved ones and the nation’s political division hangs over every interaction like a shroud.
“It chimes in with where we are at this point. The timing was great with the inauguration,” Holland says.
She hopes listeners will get more from the project than the standard conversation they may expect. “It’s really just about finding those simple things that we have in common and realizing that we can all get along.”
“Tanya’s Table” guests
Feb. 2 — Bonnie Raitt
Feb. 9 — Phil Rosenthal
Feb. 16 — Alicia Garza
Feb. 23 — Elizabeth Falkner
March 2 — Lars Ulrich
March 9 — Jonny Moseley
March 16 — Maneet Chauhan
March 23 — Ericka Huggins
March 30 — Lizz Wright
April 6 — Festus Ezeli
April 13 — Edouardo Jordan
April 20 — Karen Akunowicz