Sometimes, people find themselves repeating their steps to get in tune with their true calling.
In the case of native Washingtonian Tanya Waller, she once moved away from the city she holds dear only to return just a few months later. Then there was that short-lived time when Waller, 47, tried making cooking videos for YouTube, only to give up when no one appeared that interested.
But then it dawned on the affable and talkative mother of six that she’d never realize her calling if she remained nonchalant both in her love for D.C. and passion for cooking.
“I love me some D.C. and that’s why I came back,” said Waller, who attended McKinley Technology High School in Northeast. “I did 911 calls for the city’s communications system for 14 years, but I had to leave due to health issues. So being at home in 2014, I was watching YouTube when I started seeing [the late] Auntie Fee’s cooking videos.
“After watching her for a while, it was my sons who convinced who me that since everybody loves my cooking, I could do the same thing,” she said.
It wasn’t long before Waller relaunched on YouTube as “Soulful T,” providing simplistic instructions for her popular macaroni and cheese.
While that first appeared to be marginally received, Waller trudged on for about four more months, sporadically offering a handful of videos on how to concoct a variety of mealtime favorite meals. She listed among them her recipe for fried chicken and pancakes.
“At first the video responses were slow, and I thought I was doing something wrong, so I took a break,” Waller recalled.
Because of all she had going on in her personal life, she surmised, the videos weren’t garnering the wanted results.
“But when I got myself together and came back to YouTube in 2015 with my yellow cupcakes recipe, my videos really began to take off,” Waller said. “I’d said ‘let me try this again,’ and the responses were overwhelming. It’s been going nonstop.”
Now with more than 53,000 YouTube subscribers and nearly 600,000 views of her macaroni and cheese recipe, she fancies herself on the road to becoming a household name.
“The macaroni and cheese wasn’t my favorite, but now it’s my most popular video,” gushed Waller, who credits her mother, Jacqueline, with her penchant for whipping up tasty entrées and desserts.
“Growing up, I wasn’t one much for going outside to play with the other kids,” Waller said. “Instead I’d stay in the house and watch my mom cook. Soon, I was taking over.
“My mother was always complimented on her good cooking, although I think I might have actually improved on her macaroni and cheese and fried chicken,” she said.
In addition to the mouth-watering videos for fried fish, barbecued ribs, collard greens, shrimp gumbo, lasagna, cornbread and peach cobbler, which never fail to bring a thumbs-up from people across the country, Waller has a newly-published cookbook, “Cooking with Soulful T,” a T-shirt and apron line, as well as a weekly YouTube video log called, “On the Couch,” in which she offers down-to-earth commentary and advice on a range of topics.
Meanwhile, Waller, who’s raised six sons (ages 12 to 27) on her own, has lived in Southeast most of her life, having “stayed off and on in Barry Farms” with her mother before gentrification efforts began prodding residents to relocate.
Jacqueline, 66, said she also learned to cook from her mother.
When asked who was the better cook between her and her daughter, Jacqueline laughed heartily and said that, of course, that would be her.
But both mother and daughter are quick to credit each other.
While Jacqueline said both of their cooking “tastes great,” Tanya said her sons absolutely love their grandmother’s cooking.
“For one thing, my mother cooks every day and I tend to only cook for my boys on the weekend,” she said.
Waller said she takes pride in the fact that, despite having reared her children on her own in one of D.C.’s most poverty-stricken areas, none has been in trouble with the law and that her youngest son, Jackson, is an honor roll student.
As for what lies ahead, Waller expressed a desire to someday own a food truck.
“At first I want it based in the [D.C. region], and then become popular enough to put on the road to give people everywhere a chance to enjoy my food,” Waller said.
Loletta Robinson, Waller’s close friend of 17 years, said Waller deserves all the accolades she gets from her YouTube subscribers, family and supporters in D.C.
“I love Tanya and her mom — they’re good people,” said Robinson, 36. “I also love the cooking, especially Tanya’s maple and bacon cupcakes. The flavor is so good. I would love to see Tanya get her food truck and live her dream because she deserves it.”