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Interview: Soup and Bread's Martha Bayne

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Dec 12, 2011 8:00PM

Martha Bayne. (Image Credit: Lisa Williams)
Chicagoist's holiday gift guide will be posted tomorrow but I can tell you right now that Soup and Bread Cookbook: Building Community One Pot at a Time will be on that list. It's the second such cookbook by former Reader staffer Martha Bayne, designer Sheila Sachs and illustrator Paul Dolan. The new tome raises the ante a bit. Bayne frames soup not only as a simple dish to make, but as a force to bring people together and as a social tool for fundraisers, art and community building, and looks at the history of soup as a means to these specific ends. (Full Disclosure: I've had recipes published in both Soup and Bread cookbooks.)

I spoke with Bayne just before she set out on a tour promoting the new book that ends in Detroit Wednesday. Tomorrow night Bayne will be selling copies of the new Soup and Bread cookbook from 6-9 p.m. at Hideout's annual Holiday sale.

Chicagoist: Have you been surprised by the growth of Soup and Bread since its beginning?

Martha Bayne: We certainly had no ambitions to do books or a national tour. We started out pretty small and the growth over the past three years has been amazing.

C: When did you realize that he project had legs beyond Chicago?

MB: Probably when we went to New York in Feb. 2010. We were at Bell House in Gowanus to do an event and the New York media picked up on it, jumped on it, and there was suddenly this insane amount of press calling us “legendary:” we had only been at it for a year.

C: What was the spark for the second book?

MB: While we were in New York last year I was approached by a literary agent named Susan Ginsburg who said she was interested in shopping the idea of a book around. I came home and developed a book proposal and sent it to Susan. We re-worked it; she shopped it around to all the major cookbook publishers, who rejected it. They said it was “too regional” or there weren’t enough celebrities.

C: Really?

MB: I’m kind of proud of that.

C: How did Agate Publshing get involved?

MB: I’ve known Doug Siebold for years, going back to when he first started Agate. Doug came to me and asked, “What about us?” Another friend of mine at Theatre Oobleck is Agate’s business manager. It came together pretty fast, which I didn’t expect to happen. I wasn’t planning to do another book so fast.

C: What are the major differences between the first, self-published Soup and Bread cookbook and this new version published by Agate?

MB: The new book has more narrative to go with Sheila (Sachs’s) amazing design work and Paul Dolan’s illustrations. Each chapter has a different setup: soup swaps; soup kitchens. We took the concept of soup as a social justice or organizing tool as the base for the book and reached out to similar projects nationally. What I found was that everyone we talked to had their own soup story.

C: You originally started Soup and Bread to raise money for individual food pantries across the city. Did you see the larger concept of soup as a social justice tool early on? Or did that come with more research?

MB: Well, using soup to raise money to support hunger relief causes isn’t new. But as I did more research I discovered the concept can be used for a wide range of initiatives. Organizers can use it to focus energy on the causes they care about. Once I started thinking about how we were using soup, I was able to put it into a context of a larger theme. What Soup and Bread is essentially doing is a soup kitchen, once removed.

C: So what’s in store for Year Four of the Soup and Bread events at Hideout?

MB: We’re lining up cooks right now. Anyone who’s interested should contact me at