The only time you look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough.
For the last 13 years, local chefs and restaurants have generously donated delicious soups for the annual Empty Bowl fundraiser for the nonprofit Hospitality House Community Shelter organization.
This year, however, Hospitality House Serves — the culinary job-training program at Utah’s Place — will be dishing up the soups. Utah’s Place is the physical shelter for homeless people run by Hospitality House. It’s located on Sutton Way in Grass Valley.
For the last few months, several dozen artists and artisans have been donating their time, labor and talent — as they do every year — to create hundreds of artistic, keepsake bowls.
Patrons of the highly popular event can buy a one-of-a-kind, handmade ceramic or wooden bowl to enjoy a community meal of soup and bread. It’s a community-spirited expression of solidarity with the hundreds of hungry, homeless people in Nevada County.
Because the event is so popular and because it sold out last year, a third serving has been added to the Saturday, March 14 event at Peace Lutheran Church in Grass Valley. Brunch will be served from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., lunch from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., and early bird dinner from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Every seating will feature musical entertainment and talks from current and former shelter guests. Children under 12 are free, but that does not include a bowl unless a ticket is purchased.
“We are beyond grateful to all the potters, woodturners, businesses, donors, volunteers and attendees for making this possible,” said Ashley Quadros, Hospitality House development director.
She confirmed it takes a small army of more than 100 volunteers to manage the event.
“I don’t follow recipes. I write my own,” said award-winning Chef Chris Fagan of Hospitality House Serves. Fagan was a member of the 1988 U.S. Culinary Olympics Team in Frankfort, Germany, and more recently, he’s a two-time grand champion of the Sam Choy Poke Contest in Hawaii.
Locally, he’s been the executive chef at Lake Wildwood and a chef to beat at the Rough & Ready Chili Cook-off. Also, he’s been team captain for the Interfaith Food Ministry at the Grills and Grilles BBQ contest and car show.
“I never thought I’d be teaching in a homeless shelter,” Fagan said. “I never thought I’d be making a difference in people’s lives.
“It’s been fun … and humbling,” said the executive chef, who has catered weddings and events for A-list celebrities in Hawaii.
For March 14, Fagan reported he and two students from Hospitality House Serves will be cooking up 100 gallons of soup: Tuscan sausage (with potato and kale); bean bacon and onion and gluten-free, vegan lentil.
Fagan and his crew will prepare the soups in Hospitality House’s kitchen using ingredients from Interfaith Food Ministry, SPD Markets and BriarPatch Co-op. Then the chef will supervise a team of HH volunteers who will serve the soups into brand-new empty bowls at Peace Lutheran.
Chic Lotz has been not only been making soup bowls for Empty Bowl since 2006, she brought the concept to Hospitality House. As she has in most years, Lotz is organizing more than two dozen volunteer bowl-makers from Nevada County to make at least 700 bowls.
“We never know how many bowls we’re going to get,” she said, adding that it’s not too late for potters and woodturners to donate high-quality, original bowls.
“It’s a great way for me to contribute with my passion for the good of other people,” Lotz explained. She said she and her students are making 100 bowls.
The magic number is 660 for a sold-out event, stated Quadros, who is the overall organizer of the Empty Bowl.
“We do expect to sell out, as we did last year,” she said.
In other words, buying the $30 tickets in advance is well-advised. Tickets are available at BriarPatch Community Co-op.
Tickets are also available online at hhshelter.org for an additional “ticket operation fee” of $4.05 per ticket charged by Vendini Inc.
Every seating has a fresh, curated set of new bowls, Lotz and Quadros emphasized. Diners at the early bird dinner have an equal shot at getting a collector-quality bowl as people who come to the brunch or lunch servings.
Why is this necessary?
The 2019 point-in-time count tallied 410 known homeless people in Nevada County. The boots on the ground will tell you that’s an undercount.
Not all homeless people want to self-identify or even know there is a count going on. Some are just “camping” — at least, that’s what they tell the kids.
Still, last year, Hospitality House “provided 40,871 meals; served 566 homeless individuals; sheltered 363 people; and helped 170 people reach housing destinations,” Quadros reported.
“By purchasing a ticket to Empty Bowl, you are directly helping someone receive not only sustenance like soup, but emergency shelter, customized case management, job training, mental health counseling, transportation and housing assistance,” she said.
Quadros concluded, “If you are unable to attend, we invite you to make a donation for Empty Bowl to stand in solidarity with our homeless community who need our support and compassion.”