​​Get To Know: Tiana Gee

Featured image: Morgan Demeter
The chef and lifestyle host celebrates her multicultural heritage through her pop-up restaurant that blends Filipino and soul food.

One can say cooking is in Tiana Gee’s DNA. 

“As a kid, I was just drawn to food,” the rising Black and Filipino American chef from Los Angeles tells Sweet July. “It’s always been something that’s excited me.” 

That early culinary curiosity was fostered by her maternal lola (Tagalog for grandmother) and her paternal grandma from Alabama. “I’d spend a lot of time in the kitchen with my lola and my grandmother,” says Gee. “I’d ask questions like, ‘What’s that? How’d you do that?’” 

Now Gee shares her multicultural heritage with the world through SoulPhil, her pop-up restaurant that brings together the best of Filipino and soul food flavors. For Gee, this is the realization of a longtime dream. She recalls, “When I turned 18, someone asked me, ‘What would you do if you ever opened a restaurant?’ What came up was SoulPhil. There was no question this is what I would do because this is who I am. This is my way of expressing myself.” 

SoulPhil made its debut in 2021 at Kwame Onwuachi’s Family Reunion food festival. Since then, SoulPhil has appeared at restaurants throughout Los Angeles such as Open Market, Redbird, and Lasita, as well as The Breakers bar in Brooklyn. And another big milestone is imminent: The restaurant will mark its first appearance in the Bay Area on May 5, with a brunch at The LINE Hotel in San Francisco, coinciding with the local POC Food & Wine Festival.

Photo: Morgan Demeter
Photo: Xavier DuBose

Sweet July caught up with Gee to learn more about her journey to SoulPhil, the mentor that inspires her, and her goals for the future. 

What is it about Filipino and soul food cuisine that makes them a perfect blend?

Tiana Gee: There are a lot of similarities in the richness and comforting aspects of both cuisines. There are a lot of bold flavors from the South and the Philippines and I think they both have extreme levels of comfort. For example, eating cornbread at my grandma’s and then having bibingka [a Filipino coconut rice cake] at my lola’s is how I came up with my macapuno cornbread. I take cornmeal and flour, but I add coconut milk instead of buttermilk. Then I serve it with coconut butter. 

How were you introduced to the legendary chef Marcus Samuelsson, whom you’ve referred to as one of your mentors?

TG: I met Chef Marcus through a program called C-CAP (Careers Through Culinary Arts Program), where he serves as Co-Chair. I volunteered at an event where I got placed at Chef Marcus’ booth. Through C-CAP, I got my scholarship to go to a small, Filipino-owned culinary school called ACE (Academy of Culinary Education). When I first met Chef Marcus, I was like 18 years old. Five years later, I moved to Harlem and was his sous chef at Red Rooster. 

What did you learn from your time with Chef Marcus?

TG: I’m still mentored by him and we’re still close. I learned about really embracing your identity and your culture. I learned a lot about soul food when I first worked for him at Red Rooster. He has this whole Swediopian (Swedish and Ethiopian) influence. It’s inspiring to see other chefs celebrate their heritage and their flavors.

A SoulPhil kamayan (Tagalog for "hands") spread Gee curated for Black History Month. A kamayan feast is a Filipino communal meal eaten with one's hands instead of utensils.
You’re also a private chef. How do you juggle all your different projects?

TG: There is so much going on. Last night, I did a private dinner for SoulPhil. I also have my YouTube channel Cookin’ with Tee, which I created when I turned 18. It was the first real thing I ever invested my time into because it is truly my passion to entertain and share my love for food. I think being an entrepreneur in general is all about balance, investing in your dream and hustling. 

What are your future plans?

TG: My goal right now is to pour into SoulPhil, but my main dream in life is having my own food show and becoming a food/lifestyle creative. I have my “Cookin’ with Tee” channel and have branched out into travel blogging. It’s really inspiring to me. I want to be able to curate a show around that.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


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