Spring 2012

The Disco of Ginger Rabbits & Tomato Bisque

Tanya Tandoc
Artist, dancer, restaurateur Tanya Tandoc fs '10
makes time to talk about one of her loves, food, on
KMUW. "She's an amazing and creative chef," says
Lu Stephens '95, KMUW program director.

Tanya Tandoc likes to make things.

At her Wichita restaurant, Tanya's Soup Kitchen, she's fond of whipping up exotic cuisine. When preparing for a performance with the Tornado Sirens or the Aloha Dancers, she loves designing and sewing belly dance and hula costumes. As cellist for local band Lucky Me, she relishes playing experimental folk-roots music. And when she's feeling really creative (or mischievous) she makes art.

"I've always made things," she says. "I was a busy little girl. I'm an even busier grown-up. There're so many things to do, and I love to create for the people who enjoy my personal form of disco." By disco, she doesn't mean the dance form. For her, it means je ne sais quoi — her "certain something" or unique personal style.

An independent spirit, Tandoc, after high school and three semesters of studying art history at the University of Kansas, went to San Francisco where she dedicated herself to the art of food. For two years she studied intensively at the California Culinary Academy and achieved certification at age 22.

She moved to Wichita in 1992, met Mary Wright, co-owner of the Old Mill Tasty Shop, and went to work at the iconic soda-fountain diner. Wright recognized the young chef's talents and introduced her to entrepreneur Rich Vliet '66, who was preparing to open a restaurant in downtown Wichita. When Larkspur opened later that year, Tandoc was on board as the pastry chef. By the time she left the restaurant three years later, she was the executive chef, making such an impact she was featured in an article in USA Today about national menu trends. "That was before the Food Network," she says. "I was trying to introduce Wichita to ingredients like goat cheese, polenta, tapen ade and spring mix. I was buying this expensive, incredible spring mix and having it FedEx-ed from California. People used to tell me that it looked like I'd raked my yard and put it on a plate. They were not impressed with my grass clippings."

It wasn't long before her culinary disco caught on. She began her own catering company and then launched the original Tanya's Soup Kitchen in 1997. Lines of hungry fans queued up daily to enjoy Chicken Noodle on Mashed Potatoes and herbed Tomato Bisque, but in 2004 the eatery was forced to leave its downtown location when the owner repurposed the building. Rather than relocate, Tandoc chose to close the doors. "I couldn't find a location that had character," she says. "Plus, restaurants eat your life. I had stopped playing cello. Stopped dancing. I hadn't painted. I hadn't done pottery. My job just didn't give me the time and predictable schedule I needed to do any of the things I enjoyed."

After catching her breath and recovering from the closing, she took a look at her life and concluded that it was time to do some things for herself. 

One was to return to her studies at university, this time to Wichita State. "I returned to school with ceramics in my head," she says. "It's obvious. I love food and I love to cook it and serve it. Creating bowls and cups just gave me the chance to make my culinary creations more personal and beautiful."

In addition to throwing and building clay, Tandoc paints in watercolor and gouache, works in mixed media and collage, draws in pencil and pastels, and is a fiber artist, too. A member of the recently formed Ginger Rabbits art cooperative, she is excited about working with the group. "It's a way we as artists can work collectively and actually afford to make art," she says.

After seven years of listening to pleas for her to bring back Tanya's Soup Kitchen, she opened the new TSK on east Douglas in 2011. Her experiences — and the support of her husband, co-owner Wayne Gottstine, and son, Evan, who work beside her daily — have allowed her to create more balance in her life. She now spends more time doing things she truly enjoys, including sharing her dining secrets as a food commentator on KMUW-FM and hanging out with her pets: Dr. Albert Schweitzer (a Boston terrier), Olive (a black pug), Orange Kitty and Grey Kitty.

"Without the elements of fun and play in my work, I don't want to do it," she says. "Right now I just want to make and make and make and make. My main goal in life is to keep making things — and to have fun."


The Disco of Ginger Rabbits & Tomato Bisque

Tanya Tandoc likes to make things.

Painting in Percussion

Named DownBeat's No. 1 Rising Star Drummer no fewer than five times, Matt Wilson sports an eclectic sense of humor that comes through in his musical artistry.