Story and photos by Mary Martin.
For the 12th year, Chef Brian Luscher will be serving up bowls of mushroom soup, made famous at the well-loved Grape restaurant in Dallas. Eleven other local chefs will join him, bringing their signature soups to supporters of The Stewpot, raising funds at their Soup’s On! Luncheon and Art Sale. And for Chef Brian, his effort is focused on something beyond soup and fundraising—he is simply looking to be a good neighbor.
Brian grew up in a decidedly working-class family in Chicago, where there weren’t many luxuries but somehow there was always room at the table for those who needed a seat. “When I was 10 or 11 years old, I went out to shovel snow from sidewalks for a little extra money, but when I got to the house where our elderly neighbor lived my dad told me not to take any money,” remembers Brian. “It was those kind of moments—bringing in her garbage can—when I learned what it meant to help. Because, especially in those harsh northern winters, everyone needs help at some point.” That core value to help those in need has continued with Brian, as he earned his degree from the Culinary Institute of America in New York, and eventually settling into his role as Chef/Owner at The Grape, with his wife Courtney.
It was Courtney who lead Brian to first visit The Stewpot, a ministry run by First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, creating a safe haven for people experiencing homelessness and extreme poverty in the center of the city. After learning more about the program and talking with its ardent supporters about how to create awareness, Brian offered up the idea of soup. Chefs could bring their favorite soup, keeping the concept and logistics simple. “When I am talking with another chef about participating in this event, I don’t have to explain what soup means,” said Brian. The warm winter event is now a staple in the diet of generous patrons, and local chefs who keep coming back to serve.
For 2020, Janice Provost, Chef/Owner of Parigi will join the Soup’s On! team again. “Every year, I send a note to Brian, saying please include me next year. Also, every year Chef Anastacia and I say we are not going to cry. And every year we cry,” shared Janice. “What the stewpot does is so important because it is not only feeding the client’s stomach, it is also helping them re-establish their dignity. Through education, healthcare, counseling, and even creative sessions, such as the painting and artwork, these folks are being encouraged, showered with love, and compassion; all of that is something each of us could practice on a daily basis.” Other chefs on this year’s roster include Nicholas Walker, Executive Chef at Virgin Hotels Dallas, Abraham Salum Chef/Owner at Salum, and Suki Otsuki Executive Chef at Meddlesome Moth.
The chef community has gathered around Chef Brian and his call to use privilege well and empower others in the process. “Chefs typically serve those who are experiencing some level of success,” Brian says. “But really it’s about rolling up your sleeves and making yourself uncomfortable to help others.” Outside of his volunteer work, Brian has transitioned from owning The Grape to leading as Director of Culinary Operations at 33 Restaurant Group. But he still sees the gritty realities of the restaurant world. “In our industry we work with people who are just a few paychecks away from harder times, and so many of the chefs I work with come from humble beginnings, working their way up from bussing tables and washing dishes.” It is this grounded perspective that reminds Brian and his fellow Soups On! chefs that providing tangible help to people in the community is more than just a good deed—it is building the very fabric of the city.
The Stewpot first began serving in 1975 and since May 2008, The Stewpot has been the sole meal provider at The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center, serving 1,000 meals per day, 7 days per week. And services continue back at their hub on the corner of Park Avenue and Young Street in downtown Dallas, offering health and wellness, youth enrichment, and art therapy programs. As part of the Soup’s On! event, artwork created by Stewpot clients is sold in a gallery setting, with all the artwork proceeds going directly to the artist. It is this kind of dignity and creative expression that connects with Brian. “It’s not just about a soup kitchen. It’s about the single mom working two or three jobs while living out of her car with her kids,” says Brian, welling up a bit. “How can you not want to help?”
After the soup is eaten, the bowls are clean, and all the leftovers are claimed, Chef Brian will continue working for the good of his neighbors. He serves on the Stewpot board of directors, and when he’s not planning his next fundraiser, you’ll find Brian talking with Courtney over bites at his favorite neighborhood restaurant, RM 12:20 Bistro, or checking in on other local chefs. “We can all do better,” Brian says. “There’s no amount of money that can completely solve homelessness, but we can have a direct impact on fellow citizens of Dallas.”
If you are interested in attending Soup’s On! on February 20, or volunteering with The Stewpot, visit thestewpot.org.
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