Relax. You won't go blind, and you're not the only one tuning in, by default or on purpose, to the Food Network. More and more people are finding something interesting, or soothing, or comfortably numb about watching the cable channel's endless parade of cooking shows. Some of the Food Network's top talents are so popular, in fact, that NBC even made a run at putting one of them in prime time last season. Emeril Lagasse's infomercial-style delivery of spicy food prep didn't work on the network, though; still, he and his fellow foodies have quite a following on cable. Tanya Holland is one of the sought-after. Her penchant for African, Creole and Cajun recipes is regularly featured on the "Soul Kitchen" segments of the Food Network's Melting Pot series, and she's coming to Plano on Friday and Fort Worth on Thursday for two free evening cooking classes at HEB's Central Market.
Chef and author Holland, who's about to release a cookbook called New Soul Cooking, apprenticed in France to learn traditional French cooking. Her background, though, is Southern and African-American. Born in Shreveport, Holland says her grandmother was a big influence on her becoming a chef and Louisiana cuisine is still a favorite. "I like to explain the distinction between Creole cuisine and Cajun cuisine," Holland says. "Creole cuisine refers to a cooking style that was developed with French, Spanish and African influences. The ultimate Creole dish is gumbo, a seafood- or chicken-based stew served with rice on the side. Cajun cuisine is a blend of Southern and French cooking that is more dependent on animal fat, mostly pork, and spicy. The most well-known Cajun dish is jambalaya, where the seafood, vegetables and rice are mixed together."
For many of her Melting Pot segments, and for the recipes in her new cookbook, Holland says, she uses many of the traditional ingredients of "soul food" with new ingredients to create more global cuisine. "It's a tribute to the rich heritage and traditions found in African-American culture and cuisine," she says, "with newer, fresh, seasonal ingredients and flavors."