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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Soup to Nuts Serves Up Liquid Goodness on Mission Street Corners

Posted By on Tue, Jul 12, 2011 at 3:42 PM

click to enlarge Patrick Bostwick operates Soup to Nuts on Valencia Street
  • Patrick Bostwick operates Soup to Nuts on Valencia Street

In his chef's whites, standing on the corner of Valencia and 21st streets in the Mission behind a pot of bubbling soup, Patrick Bostwick talks about his relationship with the neighborhood.

It's mostly good for Bostwick, who started the Soup to Nuts food stand in February. (It's actually just soup, with a piece of baguette; there are no nuts.) The owner of Vanilla, Saffron Imports a few doors down on Valencia invited him to set up in his doorway anytime. Bostwick has regulars who stop to give him $5 for a cup of soup. And he tries to give back to society by feeding the local homeless people.

But the day before we interviewed him, Bostwick had to pack up his crock-pot and beat a hasty retreat.

click to enlarge French lentil soup
  • French lentil soup

"When people call the police, it's very scary to know that everything I've worked for can be gone in 30 seconds," Bostwick says.

Bostwick, 34, has already given up a lot to make soup every day. He was a corporate headhunter making a six-figure salary in San Diego before quitting to attend culinary school.

"I sold everything to go to England to work with Gordon Ramsay," he says. "I got to England with one suitcase."

We ask if Ramsay is as big an asshole as he seems on TV. "Yes. Huge head, though," Bostwick says, holding his hands far apart. "Really huge head. Everyone relates to him. I thought I would do well because I'm kind of an asshole too."

That's rather hard to believe if you've walked past Bostwick on Valencia. Always impeccably dressed and polite, he offers free tastes of soup to anyone standing on the corner. And there's the free-food-for-homeless thing. We watch as he offers a bowl to a somewhat disheveled man, who declines because he's on the way to "see a man."

"All the homeless who walk by here get the same soup opportunity you have," he says. "They just don't have to pay."

It's hard to see how Bostwick could make money at this, even though he says he sells 50 bowls a day. "I'm living off my savings, which are diminished. I live a very meager life," he says. "I just do this for fun. I'll show you." He turns around and bends over, and we wonder exactly what he plans to show us. "I have holes in every one of my jeans and that doesn't bother me," he says. Whew.

He decided to make soup because his mother was a professional chef in Detroit, and her mushroom soups were his favorite. He makes just one soup per day and sells it until it's gone. Most of his soups are vegetarian, but Saturday is usually clam chowder day. "It costs me $100 in ingredients to make chowder," he says. "I dump a lot of fresh clams in there." But on the Saturday when we interview him, he has switched to French lentil soup because of the previous day's arrest scare.

It's very good soup. The chunks of carrot and lentil have enough firmness to give it texture. The soup itself has a slight spiciness and a nice fennel note that reminds us of fancy soup topped with a dash of Pernod. We've tasted his soups before and liked them, but this is the first time we've had an entire bowl, and it disappears fast.

Bostwick uses biodegradable containers and plans to start recycling his spoons. His footprint is very small; when he runs out of soup and packs up each day, you'd never know he had been there.

"Eventually I might have to go back to my corporate job. It pays really well," Bostwick says. "But I love making soup."

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W. Blake Gray

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