Cooking From the Heart
There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” —George Bernard Shaw
In many ways, cooking can be equated to love. We cook for our friends and family not just to put food on the table, but to express love in the dishes that they eat. We deliver hot chicken noodle soup to those who are not feeling well, to show them we care. We punctuate big holidays with lots of food and even specific dishes handed down over the generations. And when people are feeling their worst, whether broken-hearted or gravely ill, we like to think that there is nothing that a homecooked meal can’t fix.
To illustrate, I turn to one of Oklahoma’s biggest stars, both in sports and music. Many of us—not just in Oklahoma, but around the country—know of Wayman Tisdale. He was a man of many talents: specifically, basketball and jazz music. Tisdale, a basketball star at Booker T. Washington High School here in Tulsa, went on to play at the University of Oklahoma, where he was a three-time All- American and referred to as “the most dynamic, decorated and demonstrative player to ever hit the court at Oklahoma.” He then went on to the NBA, where he played 12 seasons for the Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns. He was a gold-medal-winning player on the 1984 USA Olympic basketball team. He played in the NBA until his retirement in 1997, when he chose to focus on his musical career. His career jersey number, 23, was retired by OU upon his retirement from the sport, but the number 23 would come back to honor him in the future.
Tisdale launched his jazz career in 1995 and went on to record eight albums. His final album, Rebound, was released in 2008, after he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, which he fought with chemotherapy until his death in 2009.
Tiffany Tisdale-Braxton, the second-oldest of Wayman’s four children, spent the latter part of her youth here in Tulsa, then went on to the University of Oklahoma. In 2009, she was a senior at OU, and her father was in the hospital, unable to eat food for weeks. She came to visit him at Christmastime and made him a dinner of salmon and rosemary potatoes. He gobbled up an entire plate of her home cooking. She made him another home-cooked meal a few months later and brought it to the hospital. Again, he enjoyed an entire plate of food. That night was the last time she saw her father before he passed away.
“I want to make my family happy with food,” she said. “My grandmother had a catering business when she was little and she loved to cook for family. I cooked with my grandmother, mom and aunts on holidays and for big Sunday dinners.”
Tisdale-Braxton has plenty of experience feeding hungry eaters, for she formerly fed the Washington Redskins professional football team’s offensive line the night before every game day. They craved her hearty comfort food—specifically Mexican and Asian dishes. At the time, she and her husband were spending half the year in Virginia and half in Houston, where he spent his days training elite athletes. During the offseason, she spent time in Houston feeding football star Trent Williams. Williams was put on a strict regimen by the Redskins to pare down his weight to help prevent any more injury. And Tisdale- Braxton, a former classmate of Williams at Oklahoma, tailored recipes and menus around the plan and started cooking full-time for Williams and one of his referrals, NFL running back Adrian Peterson, who also spends his off-season in Houston. Recently, the Braxtons relocated back to the Tulsa area to be near her large, extended family. She spends time on her mom Regina’s farm, where she helps her grow the home garden and gather eggs from the chicken coop. Thanks to the recent relocation, they have big plans for a larger family garden this year.
Tiffany is currently going through the Kitchen 66 incubator program with the hopes of starting up a private chef and catering business here in the Tulsa area. Her catering company, Tisdale 23, is named in her dad’s honor.
“I decided to name my company after him because he was very instrumental in always cheering me on to pursue my dreams, no matter what they were,” Tisdale-Braxton said. “All those times really inspired me and sparked a deep interest in me, making me want to learn more and dig deeper into the culinary world.”
Tisdale-Braxton’s cooking is sure to make a mark on Tulsa in the years to come. She also has dreams of someday opening a supper club–type restaurant featuring the Tisdale family comfort food cooking and a slew of memorabilia from her father. If she is even half as tenacious and driven as her father, it will happen, and I will be the first one in line.