Sunday, January 31st, 2010

A Chat with Soup & Bread Founder, Martha Bayne

It’s on! Soup and Bread, a cozy tradition from Chicago, is making its way to Brooklyn for the first time this Thursday. Over in the windy city, it’s a free, open-to-the-public weekly dinner at the Hideout bar and music venue, where staff, friends, cooks, musicians, and whoever’s willing donate pots of homemade soup to serve. It’s a culi-charity (has that been coined?) event designed to be low-key, easy to participate in, and fun for the community, especially in the middle of a freezing Midwest winter. And, it’s raised thousands of dollars for the Chicago Food Depository, by passing around a bucket for donations at each Soup and Bread.

Sound like something Brooklyn can get behind? Its organizers Martha Bayne and Sheila Sachs explain in their new cookbook:

Here in Chicago, Hull-House uses its Tuesday “Re-Thinking Soup” lunches as a catalyst for conversations about the social, political, and environmental issues that orbit food and urban farming. The local artists collective InCUBATE hosts monthly soup meals to fund small arts projects. And everywhere you look someone’s making soup to raise money and do some good.

So let’s join the fun on Thursday at The Bell House, from 6-9pm. It’s free to come and eat, and at this Soup and Bread, donations will benefit New York City Coalition Against Hunger. But why else come? Well, because some of the borough’s best chefs (and bloggers) will be donating their soup. They include:

Gabe McMackin, of Roberta’s Pizza
Jimmy Carbone, of Jimmy’s No. 43
Matt Greco, chef at Char No. 4
Ben Schneider, owner of the Good Fork (or someone from the Good Fork)
Grub Street Chicago editor Helen Rosner
Blogger Dave Klopfenstein, of Dave’s Kitchen
Millicent Souris
, now of the Roebling Tea Room
Jason Bitner of Cassette From My Ex, the book and the blog, and LaPorte, Indiana
Cathy Erway, of Not Eating Out in New York (and the upcoming book The Art of Eating In)

Bell House
owner and talent buyer Jack McFadden

Remember, it’s not a contest — no one’s cuisine will reign supreme — just a friendly soup-fest. The organizers will also be selling copies of their Soup & Bread Cookbook, featuring the best-of soup recipes from chefs around Chicago (proceeds to donate charity, too).

So intrigued was I about the series (which sounded a little similar to a soup kitchen benefit I co-hosted) that I had to stop Martha from making soup for a few minutes to ask her some more questions about it.

Why “Soup and Bread”? I thought the defacto big party meal was pizza. Any reason you chose to focus on soup?

There’s something just cozy about soup. When we started this up last year it was the dead of winter and the deep, dark depths of the recession. Soup, and the “soup kitchen” associations the project (intentionally) evokes, really resonated with people. Plus, soup is easy to make, and share, and yet infinitely variable — I think it inspires a lot of creative cooking from the participants.

armed with a ladle, Martha Bayne

What’s been the most rewarding thing about running soup and bread?

Beyond the community-building aspect, I feel very strongly that finding some way to reconcile the contemporary explosion of food consciousness and the utopianism of the sustainable food movement with the cold realities faced by people struggling to gain access to decent, healthy food on a day-to-day basis is *the* critical issue that anyone working in the world of food and urban food systems should be putting their muscle behind. The money raised by Soup and Bread is one small way of helping, and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t feel good.

You tell it! Now, how did you decide to start Soup and Bread?

After I left my full-time job in 2007 I got a bartending job at the Hideout to try and make ends meet, as freelance writing wasn’t quite cutting it. But, of course, as the new hire I was slotted into the not-terribly-lucrative shift of Wednesday afternoons from 4-9. The Hideout is, as the name hints, kind of out of the way; it’s an old working man’s bar on a grimy industrial street — our closest neighbors are a Home Depot and the Streets and Sanitation maintenance shed, where they park all the garbage trucks. In other words, we don’t have much happy-hour traffic. Most people know it as a music venue and don’t even think about going there before 10 PM.
So, I was bored, and lonely, and not making any money on these Wednesday shifts. But, one night I was shooting the shit with one of the owners and he started talking about how, back in the day, the Hideout used to serve breakfast to workers coming off their night shifts at the nearby steel mill. We don’t have a kitchen, but I guess they used to serve soup, or chili, or scrambled eggs, etc…out of Crock Pots. And he said that, and it was, like, *lightbulb*!
All of my epiphanies seem to happen in seedy bars, too. So what’s this Soup and Bread cookbook all about?

The cookbook was always part of the master plan. Last year, after each Soup and Bread, I asked the cooks to send me their recipes, and when they did I put them up on the soup blog, along with photos and recaps of each night, and miscellaneous anecdotes about soup. So I was collecting all this raw material as I went along. Then, in September, my friend Sheila Sachs and I sat down and hammered out a plan to turn them into a cookbook, and set up a Kickstarter page to raise money to counter the print costs.
Which hunger charities benefit from your events?

Last year all the donations from soup nights were donated to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the large regional food bank serving the whole metro area — and over 3 months we raised almost $3,000.  (Did I mention that a portion of the proceeds from sales of the cookbook go to the Food Depository as well? OK, then, I guess I have now.) This year we’re targeting neighborhood food pantries and shelters — a different one each week.
What are you most looking forward to/ excited about and or nervous about bringing the event to Brooklyn?

Getting enough Crock Pots! That was the big logistical hassle, but now a friend of ours –a former Hideout person who moved to Brooklyn a few months ago — is coordinating. So I think that’s under control. Other than that I just hope it doesn’t snow. We’re not flying out till the morning of the 4th (after doing Soup and Bread at the Hideout the night before) so we’re cutting it a little close. If we don’t make it, you’re in charge.
Ha! I’m praying for no snow! Actually, you have my word that if need be, I’ll run the show. Hope to see you there!

Soup and Bread: Brooklyn happens Thursday, February 4, from 6-9 at the Bell House, 149 7th Street, in Gowanus/Park Slope. It’s free, and family-friendly.

6 Responses to “A Chat with Soup & Bread Founder, Martha Bayne”

  1. Spiele says:

    Interesting story I’d love to try this place

  2. Carol says:

    Love your writing. We are not eating out in NE Ohio. Long ago one of our favorite places to eat called its lunch buffet a “salad bar” but had at least 10 crockpts lined up. Two soups, pork and sauerkraut, rice, baked potatoes, etc. Price about $5.00, Makes my mouth water remembering.

  3. CuriousEats -Lissa says:

    what a wonderful idea!

  4. molly says:

    that soup looks awesome! is there a recipe somewhere? may have missed it… maybe i’ll have to wait for the cookbook! thanks!

  5. Sharon Moore says:

    The soup essential is to make good stock. I make quarts of stock from the carcass of my T-day turkey and aromatic veggies and keep it in my freezer. Also, stock from lobster and shrimp shells with aromatics and a bit of tomato sauce and wine (stock up the shells in your freezer until you have a goodly bunch for making stock). Strain the broth, and add anything you like to either of these: chopped chicken, meat, sausages, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, rice and green veggies to the turkey broth; fish or shrimp plus fresh fennel, aromatic veggies as above to the lobster broth. For a change, flavor the soup with tamari soy sauce, mirin, shao shing rice wine; add sliced tatsoi or chopped bok choy, carrots, onions, whatever. If the soup seems thin, add approx 1TB flour to 2TB hot oil or butter in a small pan, whip to blend, add in a cup of the soup and turn the mixture into the whole pot of soup and stir like mad to consolidate. Also, a couple of tablespoons of cream added at the end helps to enrich and thicken the soup.

  6. Diane says:

    Comparing it to the hated 1980s Poll Tax, he said:” Everywhere you look, they’ve got the same problems we have david cameron in A&E’. It was Mr Cameron – fresh from the fraught G20 summit in St Petersburg, Russia, was heading as he walked along the train. He urged activists to gather to watch Prime Minister’s Questions after Labour MP Joan Walley.

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