Stone Soup of Kindness
One of the greatest things for me about working in restaurants is that I love to eat, and eat well. Especially soup. I love soup; always have. For a chef, it’s the perfect quick meal. It can be eaten on the go and since in my younger days, especially, I rarely took the time to sit down for a meal, soup has practically saved my life many times over. Soup is comforting, nourishing, simple and yet full of complex flavors. It’s the ultimate food.
Years ago, as I dashed into the restaurant I was working in at the time, I remembered gratefully that the day before had been one of Chef Tony’s marathon soup days. On these days, he would set all of the large stock pots on the stove, as many as five or six, and calmly add ingredients to each pot. When he was done, we would have five gallons of each soup, all different and each amazing. There might be an oyster bisque that evoked memories of a childhood vacation in Cape Cod, and a sweet miso broth that personally brought back memories of my mother nursing me from a bad cold. Creamy soups with tender pieces of chicken. A spicy, paprika-laden Spanish broth soup with chorizo and black beans. A minestrone bursting with vegetables, herbs, beans and pasta. When chef had finished all of the soups he would funnel them into gallon sized glass jars and seal. He would make enough soup to last the busy restaurant a month at a time.
As I approached the back door that long ago day, I wondered which soup had been heated up that morning and headed straight for the expo station where the servers would ladle it out to the guests. A loaf of warm focaccia had just come out of the oven. Slicing off a nice thick piece, I slathered it with butter. Pulling off the lid to the soup well, I was excited to find the spicy Spanish soup, one of my favorites. There was a glossy red sheen on top from all the fat that had come out of the chorizo. I ladled myself out a big bowl, dunked the bread in it and began slurping and shoveling it in my mouth as I headed towards the back prep kitchen to see what type of magic was being created that day. As I rounded the corner into the prep kitchen, my eyes settled on my mentor Raimondo. He was standing over the two giant pots of water that were always there simmering. These two pots never left the stove. We always needed boiling water and though we turned them off at night, the first thing chef did in the morning was turn the burners back on.
Steam swirling around the top of the pots, Ray stood with a big paddle in his hand stirring, a cigarette hanging from his lips with an enormous ash threatening to fall in the pot at any moment. Though none of us smoked in the kitchen back then, Ray was an exception. None of us dared to tell Ray not to! We would have been met with a gentle “fuck you” as he grinned and kept stirring. “What ya making Ray?” I asked.
“Stone Soup!!” Ray’s voice boomed across the kitchen.
As a child I remembered my mother telling me the story of Stone Soup. A villager had set out to make a meal but had nothing to work with. He hung a large cauldron over a fire. Having nothing but water to add to the cauldron, the villager reached down to the ground and picked up a large stone. Feeling sad he had nothing else to create a meal with, he tossed the stone into the cauldron and set out to try and find something he could add to the pot. As other villagers began to pass by the cauldron, they peered in and thought… what a fool. He will never be able to feed his family with just a rock. But as the day progressed a few more things began turning up in the pot. A leftover carrot, a few cloves of garlic, some scraps of stale bread. People showed up with whatever bits and pieces they had laying around. When the man returned hours later, his head hung low because he’d only managed to scrounge up a few wild greens in the forest. But as he approached the cauldron he was struck with an intensely pungent aroma. He peered into the pot and found simmering there a beautiful mixture of vegetables, bits of meat, herbs, a potato, and some beans. The man tossed the greens he had foraged into the pot and the tears began to well up in his eyes. As he stood over the cauldron with tears of joy flowing down his face, the rest of the villagers began to gather. After a long silence one of the elders spoke up. “Today we have been blessed. Though none of us had much to offer, we all were able to contribute in some small way to this soup. Let us rejoice and be grateful for this meal. Each small act of kindness has brought us together and today we are one.”
Ray always knew in his heart how much we all need each other in the restaurant … and in life. Young or old, from the most experienced chef who could create gallons of soup effortlessly, to the dishwashers and busboys just entering the restaurant business; we all had something to contribute. As I peered into this giant pot of water that day I could see the stone rolling around on the bottom. I didn’t need to hear the story of Stone Soup, because I’d grown up with it. But for the rest of that day, as each employee showed up for their shift, Ray would tell them the story in much the same way as my mother had once done. “It is important that we all be kind to each other and help in any way we can. This is what makes us all a family. We can nourish our bodies as well as our souls if we only pay attention.”
After telling each person the story of Stone Soup, Ray would remind us that this stone was to never leave this pot. Ingredients might be added or taken out, but the stone must remain. And so remain it did. Our restaurant family thrived, we ate together, we laughed and cried together. We were kind to each other and with that kindness we all grew up. Life moved on and some of us passed, others got married and started families of our own. Eventually we would all go our separate ways, but the love and kindness we shared in that restaurant would remain with us for the rest of our lives.
Stone Soup was a foundational tale in my childhood and it only makes sense that I continue to believe in its wisdom today and that one of my great teachers, Raimondo, also believed in and shared it. My brother Ethan has carried the tale of Stone Soup into his own adulthood and spearheads a project that allows us to carry the heart of the stone of kindness into the world, in both old and new ways.
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Let us feed bellies with food, while feeding hearts and minds, with arts, culture, and connection.
Stone Soup Unlimited was created by artist Ethan Alexander Neville to promote the belief that if we can make one person laugh, or feed a person from a stone, we can do anything.
One day Ethan discovered a unique-looking rock on a Nova Scotia beach, which instantly compelled him to bring it home. Remembering the Stone Soup story he’d grown up with, and reflecting on the grounding bedrock beauty of the earth, Ethan named his find the Stone of Kindness. He began to photograph it in numerous unexpected situations and places, collecting portraits of people holding the stone while infusing it with the intention to create a harmonious and sustainable society.
The Stone of Kindness has been held, blessed, and magnetized by the great Buddhist philosopher nun Pema Chödrön, avant garde artist Patti Smith, musician Jerry Granelli, photographer Robert Frank, and visual artist June Leaf, as well as strangers and friends around the world.
Daring to dream large, Ethan and Paolo Neville believe that the Stone of Kindness can help feed people and nudge the world just a bit in the direction of the good. So they have embarked on a project called the Stone Soup Gatherings; art and photographic exhibitions where admission is simply a soup ingredient — a carrot, a pinch of salt, an onion, an herb. The admission proceeds will be used to cook a literal soup, a delicious, collective meal to nourish bellies, hearts, and minds. Proceeds from sales of the Stone of Kindness portraits will be donated to charity and to fund future Stone Soup Gatherings.
Through the ongoing photographic Stone of Kindness project, Stone Soup Gatherings, and investment in the arts and charity, Stone Soup Unlimited dedicates itself to the betterment of the earth and all beings through the practice of unlimited generosity, creativity, and mindful compassion.
To see more of Ethan’s work check him out on instagram @stonesoupunlimited