This special blog post comes to you from Ana Nicole Rodriguez, a High Line neighbor who grew up in West Chelsea and now works as an editorial intern for Food Arts Magazine. We invited Nicole to join us last weekend to document the second annual Social Soup Experiment on the High Line, an event presented by Friends of the High Line as part of High Line Food, a program that brings interesting, sustainable food to the High Line.
What is a park if not a space in which to bring people together?
That community sentiment, along with a focus on seasonality and local food sourcing, is precisely what inspired this year’s Social Soup Experiment. Dining need not exceed the simplicity of wholesome ingredients and smiling faces. A large spoon, two long wooden tables decorated with apples, and a group of more than 250 hungry neighbors is all you need to make the High Line’s “restaurant without walls” possible.
This year’s “neighbors” came from all over the country and the continent, as far as Canada and as close as West 20th Street at 9th Avenue. Seven visitors from Montreal stopped by before heading out to see an off-Broadway play. An Ohio photojournalist with a shy, yet charming smile passed by while conducting research on urban green rooftops. Two lawyers traveled downtown from Harlem, and other New Yorkers living in Brooklyn and Queens braved the weekend subway schedule to help themselves to a bowl of soup.
Legend has it that the soup recipe was first created to mark the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s telescope discovery. Prepared by Mona Talbott, the executive chef at the Sustainable Food Project at the American Academy in Rome, the soup contained pinto, kidney, black beans, and chickpeas, and bore a hint of rosemary that offset the otherwise earthy flavors. Mixed into the soup was farro from Cayuga Pure Organics in Brooktondale, New York, which added a touch of texture to the delicate beans. Served alongside the soup were plates of bread from Sullivan Street Bakery and local apples.
With a person to your left, another to your right, and yet another facing you, it is impossible to be anything but social. The soup, of course, was a popular conversation point at the table, with many guests discussing plans to make it at home, thanks to the printed recipes placed on top of each table setting. (If you missed Saturday’s event, you can find the recipe in Zuppe, Talbott’s second cookbook named after the Italian word for “soup.”)
Everything was, as one guest wrote on a High Line Food comment card, “just right.” After an hour of conversation and food, guests began to exit while a musician nearby played soft jazz tunes. One young visitor took in the scene, noting that everyone seemed to be leaving with their bellies full and happily “soup-ed out.” As two young parents departed, carrying their sleeping three-week-old child in their arms, they whispered to me, “This is her first visit on The High Line.”
I am sure they too await next year’s gathering with the smell of soup lingering in their minds.
The High Line Social Soup Experiment was presented by Friends of the High Line in partnership with Chef Mona Talbott, the Union Square Hospitality Group, the Grow NYC Greenmarket, and Cayuga Pure Organics. The Social Soup Experiment is part of Friends of the High Line’s calendar of public programs to build a diverse, inclusive community around the High Line. To learn more about Friends of the High Line’s public programs, and to receive news and updates about future food-related events, sign up for the High Line Email Newsletter, like the High Line on Facebook, or follow @highlinenyc on Twitter.