Martha Bayne Dishes on The Soup and Bread Cookbook

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It’s been a year since former Reader editor Martha Bayne started Soup and Bread, a weekly get-together at the Hideout where folks got homemade soup and bread in exchange for a donation to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Almost immediately Soup and Bread grew into Chicago’s most laid-back, nutritious party — one anchored by food from blue-chip Chicago writers like Mike Sula, Heather Shouse, and Michael Nagrant. A compilation of the recipes seemed like an inevitability, and tonight, Bayne hosts the release party for Soup & Bread Cookbook (which you can buy online here). We caught up with her to talk about recipes, food pantries, church cookbooks, and how to get Paul Kahan on board next year.

How did the whole Soup and Bread idea come together?
I got a job at the Hideout, and as a low bartender on the totem pole I got the extremely dull shift of Wednesday afternoons from 4 to 9, which is not exactly a moneymaker. I was talking to one of the owners about how we should have food, and somehowe we started talking about soup, because we didn’t have a kitchen, really, but we were like “oh we could have soup in crock pots!” It just kind of evolved from there — it’d be a fundraiser [for the Greater Chicago Food Depository] and it’d also be a way to get people in the bar on a slow day.

And then it became this amazing hit.
Yeah, it’s been really popular. I haven’t kept track of the number of people who were coming, but in terms of donations we raised $3000 dollars, we started with 3 cooks and by the end we had 10 and everything was getting eaten. I wanted to draw in people who were not necessarily regulars at the Hideout, writers and professional cooks - not to mention public school teachers, aldermen, everyone. I think it just kind of took off - it was just sort of stupidly simple. I really like the structural simplicity of it. A lot of people were like “can my band come play?” or “let’s have a reading” Or “can I come and do chair massages?” and I was just like no - let’s keep it simple, keep it on message, keep it on mission.

You mention in your introduction to the book that most of the recipes are available online - why take the plunge into print?
Because we wanted to! It was inspired sort of by the church cookbooks that your parents would have - recipes like Squash Ring from Mrs. Joe Smith. My original vision was that it’d be homely - you know, Xeroxed pages with those plastic claw binders, we’d make it at Kinko’s. But really the motivation was that A., I really like cookbooks, and B., it would be another way to make money - some of the proceeds from the sale of the cookbook are going to go to the Food Depository.

Do you have a favorite recipe in the book?
I love them all. The hummus soup was really, really good - and complicated. It seems really pedestrian and like peasant food, but the underlying broth there was really rich and complex. The one that was like merguez meatball soup with kale - John Westlund’s recipe - the broth for this soup was unreal, it was so good. Just really complex and smoky and spicy. It was very complicated. But really I love them all.

So what’s the plan for tonight?
There isn’t really a plan - we’re going to sell the cookbooks, and we have these beautiful 6x8 prints of [cookbook illustrator] Paul Dolan’s prints that our friend Alana Bailey silkscreened. We were going to have aprons made but we didn’t get it together to do that - maybe in a week! But the thing for tonight is that there will not be soup! There will be no soup at this party. There will be cider, virgin and hard, and Celeste Dolan, who’s a real friend of ours and a pastry chef in Chicago, is bringing cookies or treats. It’ll all be free. A couple of people from the Food Depository are going to be there with literature around about the hunger crisis in the city right now. It’s really unprecedented at this point, the food pantries are taking it so, so hard.

What can we expect with Soup and Bread, year two?
One of my goals for 2010 is that I’d like to get some more big names on board. I haven’t really started beating the bushes yet - partly because it’s been busy, but partly because I wanted to have the cookbook to show people. I mean you can’t call up Paul Kahan and say “hey want to make soup for this project you’ve never heard of?” But I also like having the regular people involved - not everyone who made soup in 2009 is in the cookbook.

Also, and this is not totally set, rather than giving to the Food Depository I want to target a different food pantry or soup kitchen each week, and give the money directly to them. I think the Food Depository is an amazing organization, but I also think that $300 is going to go a lot farther if you give it to the Albany Park food pantry directly. It just seems like the little bit of money we’re coming up with could go farther if we gave it directly to different shelters.

It’s kind of appropriate that you went with bread and soup as the theme for a hunger fundraiser, since they’re both inexpensive to make and very nutritious.
There was definitely a conscious connection there - there’s definitely the soup kitchen connotation there. I do feel very corny and earnest about Soup and Bread. It’s been actually very very fun and fulfilling as a project for me, just as a way of building community, or whatever. I’m really jargon-averse but I don’t really know how to talk about it without using buzzy social-consciousness words. I think it’s got legs, and I can’t wait for next January.

The launch party for the Soup and Bread Cookbook is tonight at The Hideout (1354 West Wabansia Avenue, (773) 227-4433) from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., free. Soup and Bread the series re-starts January 6 and runs every Wednesday through March 31, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Martha Bayne Dishes on The Soup and Bread Cookbook