Bringing dinner guests into your home for a bowl of soup typically means that there is some kind of occasion. Sipping on warm, fresh soup strikes a chord with guests because almost everyone can recall some kind of food memory related to a specific soup made from their childhood. This past Wednesday, we joined chefs in Brooklyn restaurants who shared their soup and storytelling with a Sylvia Center audience.
For Peter Shelsky, owner of Shelsky’s of Brooklyn: Appetizing and Delicatessen, the soup he prepares for friends is his mother’s Matzo Ball recipe, which he recreated for us in his profoundly magical Jewish deli in Brooklyn, along with his partner Lewis Spada. “It’s a gateway recipe,” Lewis Spada said as the other chefs in the room nodded. “If you know the rules of making soup, you can make many other things.” Meaning, if you learn to cook soup, then it can lead you down a path of self-sufficiency. It’s for this reason, that soup was a perfect entry point into a discussion about the students and families we serve at The Sylvia Center.
The chefs’ stories underscored the idea that every family has a soup dish that they make during hard times, for celebrations, birthdays, holidays, etc. Most often, these soups are made with common, simple ingredients that are brought to life through the laughter and company in the kitchen. “My tortilla soup was ten dollars to make; Look! It fed 40 people,” Denisse Lina Chavez, of El Atoradero Brooklyn, said of her traditional Tortilla Soup that was perfectly spicy and full of flavor. She described her cooking as fundamentally “without chemicals,” because as she exclaimed proudly, “we just need herbs and vegetables to make the food taste good.” Every chef, when describing their recipe, emphasized the nostalgia associated with a bowl of soup growing up.
“When I was a kid, my mom would make a traditional southern Chicken and Dumpling soup. We also grew up eating a lot of Gumbo – every kind. I grew up in the South; these recipes are what I brought with me to New York,” shared Adam Lathan, one of the gentlemen behind Brooklyn’s newest southern hot spot, The Gumbo Bros.
Learning to cook — especially learning to prepare soup — not only helps you feed your family for one night, but it can also be stretched over multiple days. “Soup can lift you up on a cold day, heal you, you can make it stretch — even menudo can cure a hangover,” Matt Fisher, the grill master behind Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue, said with a smile. With simple, fresh ingredients, a soup can come to life out of a seemingly empty fridge. “For my mushroom barley soup, I started with water,” Peter Shelsky elaborated on the point. Many of the chefs felt strongly that their families, too, had created something out of nothing at some point in their lives — demonstrating the power of a simple skill: knowing how to cook.
We are so proud to have partnered with all of these amazing chefs. Their stories emphasize the importance of programs that The Sylvia Center is providing to students and their families. To hear about more events like Soup to Build and stay in touch with The Sylvia Center, sign up for our newsletter or follow us @SylviaCenter.