Nashville's Soup Lady Wants to Bring You Locally Sourced, Life-Affirming Food

Aundra Lafayette is serving must-try soup at the Hathorne, farmers markets, and by special order.

To become synonymous with an entire culinary line in a city with as many diverse offerings as Nashville, you must be doing something right. That’s a claim Aundra Lafayette can make—the Soup Lady has become synonymous with all things soup in the Music City, dispensing wholesome meals to residents and travelers alike from her various haunts.

Lafayette contains multitudes—in addition to her status as a culinary guru and staple of Nashville’s farmers markets, she taught dance across the country and performed with the Nashville Ballet earlier this year. The movement and rhythms of dance inspire her approach to crafting her one-of-a-kind soups that enrich the soul and embolden the spirit. What goes into each bowl from the Soup Lady is a product of passion, experimentation, love, and craftsmanship.

Thrillist: Give me a brief overview of your history in the Nashville community.
Aundra Lafayette: I’m from Nashville and graduated from Pearl High School in 1966, which is now MLK. I started dancing at Fisk (University) at nine years old, and when I graduated from Pearl I moved to Philadelphia Dance Academy and taught and danced on the East Coast for 40 years. I moved back to Nashville about nine years ago, and my goal has always been to give back to the community all that I have learned, from teaching dance to making soup.

What inspired you as a cook?
My father taught me how to cook. We always had a garden, always ate good food. Good food goes together like good movement goes together—I don’t use recipes for this reason; I just think about good food and how it should be put together.

What influenced you to become the Soup Lady?
I was teaching dance at a boarding school in the Berkshires. There’s a place in Stockbridge, Massachusetts called the Red Lion Inn, and I used to go there at night to eat and I got into their soups and stews; when I moved back to Nashville, I knew I wanted to do something different, because I had taught dance for 40 years, so I got into the soup business.

My mom had a huge impact on me and she constantly encouraged me. All I knew was cooking the right soup, I had no idea about marketing or anything, but then and now I’m all about getting the word out to the people, visiting markets, and I always volunteered to help so I could learn more.

What makes your soup so special?
Well, it’s a process. People don’t think it takes a long time to make soup, but there’s so much that goes into it. It takes me a little bit to decide what I want to do, first. Inspiration might strike at any time, and I continue to learn about food, how it works together, the texture, the presentation. If you don’t have that, you don’t have good food. It’s really not much different than choreographing a performance—when the soup comes out like I want, it’s a perfect performance.

How do you source your ingredients?
I’m at the Sylvan Park Farmers Market on Saturday morning, and once I sell out of my soups, I go shopping. On Thursdays, I’m at Saint George’s Church in Belle Meade and I get more food from the farmers there. What I don’t get from them, I get at Trader Joe’s or the local turnip truck, so it’s all local food.

What does a typical week look like for you, between market and production?
Monday, I cook at the Hathorne, a restaurant on Charlotte Pike I have a partnership with. Tuesday, I take off because I do a lot of standing on Monday. Then I make my list for the market on Thursday, and I cook for most of Thursday and Friday for Saturday. Sunday, I don’t do anything to rest up for the next week.

How has the Nashville food culture changed since you started the soup business?
Everybody’s into food now! I’m glad, because food is a beautiful thing and everyone should teach their kids how to cook and how to eat—it’s sad, to hear a kid say they don’t like something they’ve never had. The food culture is so big now, and that’s why I do local food, because I know where it’s coming from and I know it’s good.

Be honest, which soup is your favorite?
People ask me that all the time! You know, they all look good to me but I really love my lentil soup, because I can do it so many different ways. And I love chicken noodle soup too, because I can make that five or six different ways.

Where can people pick up your soup?
Call me! I will make you an order and deliver it to you whenever you want. Some people think it’s only at the market, but every Saturday at Sylvan Park, I sell out by 10:30 am. And the Hathorne serves my soups at lunch every day during the week as well.

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Colby Wilson is a Thrillist contributor.