This article was featured in the February/March 2023 issue of EDM
By Kathy K. Martin
Photography Credits: The Valley Imagery & Productions (Chef Erika photos) and Chi Kalu (food photos)
Chef Erika Lipe of SoLa in Oxford elevates food to multiple levels to satisfy diners seeking a world of flavors and fusion. She does it all with her signature fresh, healthy, and fun philosophy. “My cooking philosophy aligns directly with my personal philosophy,” she explains, “which is respect your elders and play the hits.”
A cook-from-scratch family
Born and raised in Batesville, Lipe learned to cook among a family of cook-from-scratch cooks and restaurant lovers. Her travels around the world further developed her style of cooking. “Much like Picasso’s abstract style came after he had really mastered realism, you need a proper understanding of the basics to be able to riff on it elegantly,” she says.
Lipe believes that healthy food has been misrepresented over the years. While growing up in the 90s, she recalls the fad of so called healthy “lite” and fat-free processed foods that turned out to be some of the unhealthiest options. “Restaurants like SoLa cook from scratch and use whole foods – that’s good for you,” she explains. While the calorie count may be higher in some foods, she says that cooking with the best olive oil and providing gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan dishes upon request provides the balance that people need. “Vegan cooking has been something I’ve enjoyed all of my professional life,” she says. Lipe considers it a fun and rewarding challenge and appreciates it when diners with dietary restrictions call ahead first so she can plan and prepare a special meal for them.
While growing up in Batesville, her grandparents operated a grocery store, and catered events, farmed the land, cured meats, and entertained frequently at their home. And they did all of this on almost a daily basis, Lipe says. Her parents were also food enthusiasts, and she remembers as a child taking in the atmosphere of many dinner parties and interesting restaurants.
Lipe recalls dining at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House in Dallas with her family when she was about five years old. “The waitress took me back to the kitchen to warm up while my parents enjoyed their meal,” she says. The whole experience was exciting as she took in the sights of all the leather booths and stainless steel among the hustle of the steakhouse.
Beginnings at Java Jive
Her first industry job came in high school at her mother’s café, Java Jive. “The gathering place in our home was always the kitchen and now we had this extra kitchen on the downtown square,” she says of how her job just became second nature as she treated customers just like guests in their home. Ironically, the café’s location later became Capers, the first full-service restaurant where she served as chef.
After a stint in New Orleans, she moved to Oxford in 2007, where she worked in kitchens around the town square until she met the Valentine family in 2014. She partnered with them to open The Wine Bar. That restaurant struggled with an identity for some years, she says, until they rebranded it into SoLa. “We feature a small, but finely curated, rotating menu and still keep ties to the specials that our Wine Bar clientele had grown to know and love.” For instance, guests still enjoy Spaghetti Night and Ramen Night. Lipe jokes that she fondly refers to the restaurant as the house that spaghetti built. That dish, which features her grandmother’s sauce recipe, remains the most popular dish.
An international fusion
With the motto of “Twisted Cuisine, Lifted Spirits,” SoLa also features many international fusion dishes such as a ducky dumpling and Wagyu Beef Carpaccio appetizers and spiced salmon and Veal Piccata entrees. Sunday brunch features dishes such as chicken and waffles, smoked salmon toast, and fried green tomato tacos. Along with her spaghetti, which respects her grandma’s recipe, these dishes are Lipe’s way of “playing the hits” that keep guests coming back.
We hope your enjoy these recipes courtesy of chef Erika Lipe:
Silky Tomato Bisque
1 Tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted
Two (2) 28 oz. cans of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, such as Cento, blended extra smooth
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 stick butter
1 small diced white onion
Salt and white pepper
Melt butter, sauté onions and shallots.
Add tomato purée, wine, dry seasonings, and simmer for 15 minutes.
Add cream and simmer 2 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Garnish with grated Parmesan and olive oil or serve with a really buttery grilled cheese.
Vegan Tuna Salad
This recipe is for a delicious chickpea salad that you can eat any way you like. Mine isn’t actually vegan, because I use Duke’s Mayo, but you could easily substitute vegan mayo.
1 can (14 oz) chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and partially smashed with a fork (I like to leave a few whole ones, but just kind of bust them up so they absorb the juices)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 – 1/3 cup of mayonnaise (I use Duke’s)
1/4 cup celery (about 2 small stalks, leaves ok too), chopped
1/4 cup red onion (about 1/2 small), chopped
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt & pepper, to taste (I like lemon pepper or curry powder or a Mexican multipurpose seasoning like adobo)
Chopped pickle or a Tablespoon pickle relish (optional)
Fresh jalapeño, chopped (optional)
Mix everything together and let chill for a few hours. Keeps for a week.