A local chef added one last-minute ingredient to her specialty chicken soup already simmering for the upcoming Empty Bowls fundraiser: recorded music, beginning, fittingly enough, with The Beatles’ tune “Come Together.”

As Carrie Douglas recently directed 20 new friends to simultaneously create their own version of the dish amid the accompanying soundtrack, volunteer cooks did indeed come together to literally stir each other’s portions, and stir each other’s altruistic tendencies. The proceedings unfolded recently in the roomy, C4 kitchen of The Courtyard Restaurant inside Columbus North High School.

The plan: Get about 20 gallons of donated soup on — all for Saturday’s 20th annual event that normally attracts several hundred people and raises more than $11,000 for local food banks.

This year, in honor of the special anniversary and with a beefed-up sponsor list, organizers hope to cook up $20,000.

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Chef Douglas, who wields humor as deftly as a spatula, urged her cooks, some of whom were fairly new to made-from-scratch dishes, to be extra careful in their prep work as they quickly chopped vegetables.

“I want you to leave here with all your fingers intact,” Douglas said.

Why volunteers help

She manages the kitchen holding 100 gallons of soup and chili each year at Empty Bowls. Ask her why she volunteers her time and thyme in her signature soup, and she will look at you as if you asked why her ovens are hot.

Because she knows that many in the community cannot afford even simple meals of eating out.

“I am privileged to build a career feeding those who can afford for me to feed them,” said Douglas, a C4 Culinary Arts instructor operating the Courtyard Restaurant inside the high school. “So I feel I should help feed those who cannot (do that).”

Some cooks in the recent class, sponsored by the Columbus Food Co-op and Empty Bowls, were veterans at homemade anything, such as Anuja Chandra. Earlier that day, the woman who has volunteered at the Empty Bowls event for years made vegetable lentil soup from scratch at home.

“I love to cook when I have the time,” said Chandra, a busy Realtor.

Others, such as longtime local musician and Empty Bowl committee member Beth Parkhurst, were beginners eager to learn their way around a recipe. Parkhurst laughed at her plodding, careful cutting of celery and more, acknowledging that she has plenty to learn.

“Everything seems pretty complicated,” she said.

Class member Sandy Oliverio stirred her soup when someone asked how things were progressing. She leaned a bit over her oven pot to allow the aroma to wash over her.

“It’s smelling good,” she said. “I’m glad we finally got past (slicing) those onions.”

That step was enough to literally bring tears to the eyes of Empty Bowls coordinator Sarah Grey and a few others. But Grey tweaked her recipe a bit, skipping the chicken for a vegetarian mix.

“I’m a little bit of a rebel,” Grey said.

Class member Jaye Lahee, a retired high school art instructor, weeks ago already had sculpted whimsical, ceramic bowls for the fundraiser, since diners can take home hand-crafted keepsakes. But there he stood in the class, mixing his ingredients as carefully as he might mix colors on the pottery wheel.

Nearby, Sandy McCoy, a local nurse, nursed her creation along.

“I would say this is more creative than relaxing,” McCoy said. “But in here, you definitely feel like you’re accomplishing something.”

Others echoed that sentiment, mentioning that they feel compelled to help the less fortunate by cooking or volunteering some way. Class member Cindy Kersey was among them.

“This is a really good cause to support,” Kersey said. “And one of my resolutions for 2018 is to become more involved in my community. And cooking is one of my favorite things to do.”

So she and her peers all were coming together. Right now. For those needing help.

Bowling you over to help others

What: 20th Annual Empty Bowls fundraiser for local food banks. Event consists of a meal featuring soup, chili and other offerings such as desserts, live music, and this year, contra dancing.

When: 5:30 to 8 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Central Middle School, 725 Seventh St., Columbus.

Entertainment: Banister Family Bluegrass Band and contra dancers from Bloomington

Cost:

  • Artisan bowl, all-you-can-eat soup, bread and drink for $25.
  • All-you-can-eat soup, bread and drink for $12.
  • Children 12 and younger admitted for $3.
  • Desserts are $2.

Advance tickets are available at Viewpoint Books at 548 Washington St., Columbus.

Information: Facebook page Empty Bowls 2018.

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.