One Sunday earlier this month before a matinee, as temperatures were falling outside and appetites rising within, Roy Harris, the production stage manager for In the Next Room, was patrolling a wide hallway in the basement of the Lyceum, pen and paper at the ready. He was surveying the tables where the show's regular weekend brunch was in full swing, and trying to keep a record of who brought what to this weekly potluck.
While Harris stood watch, I, and members of the cast and crew, grazed. I was especially taken with a hot, delicious soup, and when I asked who made it, Harris replied, "It's rock soup, and I did." Cut to: the following Thursday, just before an understudy rehearsal. Harris, one of the breeziest, most efficient men on Broadway, at last had a moment to give me the back story about the soup (for the recipe, see below) - the dish about the dish.
"Rock soup is based on an old fable," Harris said. "It's about a man who's poor and who comes into a village in winter. He starts making a soup, by putting the only thing he has - a rock - into a boiling pot of water. More edible ingredients get added from there. There are many variations of the recipe. I take mine from Rachael Ray, whom I love because she's good at making comfort food. I put in more chicken stock than she does, so the soup isn't so thick. It feels healthier that way, and I try to bring healthy things to the brunch."
Since my contribution to the Rock Soup Brunch had been a not exactly Jenny-Craig-approved fried chicken from Popeye's, I had to suppress an inner twinge of guilt as I pressed Harris on brunch's history.
"When I stage-managed Sisters Rosensweig in the Mitzi Newhouse in the early 1990s, we had a Thanksgiving brunch. When the play moved to Broadway, we did a second one; Michael Learned made two turkeys."
But the tradition became more regular in 2000, when Harris and his associate, Denise Yaney, started a brunch during a run of Moon for the Misbegotten on Broadway. "The show's stagehands had occasionally done a brunch, and Denise and I took it from there," Harris remembered.
Harris has spread his Sunday-brunch gospel ever since. "When Denise and I did Major Barbara in 2001, at the Roundabout, they had never done Sunday brunch before. We fixed that. It turned out that their wardrobe supervisor, Susan Fallon, is a terrific cook."
You don't have to be Escoffier-adept to add a dish to brunch. "I don't care if you bring a bag of potato chips," Harris says. "The important thing is to contribute."
Harris keeps his eye out for people who enjoy the bounty of the table but who never share anything. "You don't appreciate moochers," I say. Harris responds, simply, "No," though his Southern background (Alabama) and breeding prevent him from telling off moochers to their faces.
Harris will have many delicious new recipes in his "just-about-finished" new book, "Brunch Over Broadway." (Harris credits Andre Bishop, LCT's artistic director, with providing the title.) Unlike the last of Harris's four books, "More Recipes and Reminiscence," "Brunch Over Broadway" will be weighted more towards recipes rather than reminiscences by show people.
"This time," Harris said, "I wanted the food to be the star."
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.
My Homage to Rachael Ray
By Roy Harris
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 lb sweet Italian sausage (or chorizo, which I prefer)
2 baking potatoes, cubed
4 stalks of celery, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 15-oz can white beans, drained
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes, with green chilis, if possible
5-6 cups chicken broth
day-old bread, cut into smallish pieces
In a large soup pot, put the olive oil and the sausage over a medium heat. Cook for several minutes.
Add the potatoes, celery, carrots, onion, garlic, and salt and pepper. Cook until the carrots start getting softer.
Add the beans, tomatoes, and chicken broth and raise the heat. Just as it comes to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or so.
When serving, put the pieces of stale bread into soup bowls and pour the soup over it. Absolutely delicious.