It began as a humble attempt to soothe nerves and support grassroots organizers in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. Still reeling from Trump’s victory, queer chef and cookbook author Liz Alpern gathered three of her foodie friends to whip up soup for a small group and raise funds for activists in their New York City community.
The first event, held in January 2017 at a coffee shop near Alpern’s Brooklyn apartment, raked in more donations—and lifted more spirits—than she could ever have imagined.
“People were already like, ’When’s the next one?'” she tells NewNowNext. “It just sort of stuck. And it hasn’t lost momentum since.”
Almost three years later, the spirit of that initial gathering lives on in Queer Soup Night, a recurring Sunday night party in which Alpern and her team—one social media intern and two close friends who run data collection and branding—invite LGBTQ chefs from all walks of life to volunteer their time, energy, and culinary skills. Alpern says many of its volunteer servers and greeters “have been here since day one.”
Guests are able to RSVP online for the events, which are free with two stipulations: First, attendees are asked to donate to whatever charity the party is supporting that night (though nobody is ever turned away for a lack of funds). Second, it’s a BYOS (Bring Your Own Spoon) affair.
The logistics of QSN have evolved significantly since its inception. Alpern used to make all of the soup herself, which she’s quick to admit wasn’t sustainable; now, she has a rotating list of LGBTQ chefs, venues, and QSN chapter leaders in cities like Oakland, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Portland to help make the parties possible. But no matter where they’re held, the ethos remains the same: good food, good company, and a good cause. And it doesn’t have to be a queer one, either. In the past, QSN Brooklyn has supported organizations that fight for justice for undocumented immigrants and young people in the criminal justice system.
People from all cultures, creeds, and corners of the world have a staple soup they turn to for comfort, so most QSN chefs choose to spotlight a dish that’s near and dear to them personally. QSN doubles as a platform for those chefs to expand their reach, and nearly every party, at least in the New York City faction of the QSN family, is a smash hit. The event has been featured in outlets ranging from Them to The New York Times. Venues vary in size and the location of the party changes, so attendance varies, but Alpern says the New York edition usually pulls in between 70 and 275 people. Whenever a QSN Sunday rolls around, the team is likely to fill the space to capacity.
It’s a testament to the warm, welcoming crowd the event attracts, Alpern says, name-checking QSN’s brand and data manager Kathleen Cunningham, who also serves as the primary greeter for Brooklyn-based events. “We always say that our fundamental principle is hospitality, so we want to break the mold of a cliquey, ’too cool for you’ queer party,” she says. “We have greeters at a number of different places, so you’re going to be met with a smile by somebody who’s going to tell you, ’Oh, when you get there, the soups are up there. This is what you do.'”
True to Alpern’s word, a QSN event held this month at Littlefield, a small bar and event space in Brooklyn, was as cozy a fall gathering as any. At 6:30pm on the dot, droves of queer guests lined up to enter the party, where greeters and representatives from the charity du jour, Drive Change NYC, discussed where all donations would go and handed out pamphlets with descriptions of the menu du jour, which included pumpkin bisque, beef stew, and a creamy chicken and rice concoction.
Alpern buzzed around like a proud mother hen, offering hugs and thanks to volunteers, chefs, and attendees, myself included. The space quickly filled up and alcohol was served, but nobody was visibly inebriated. Conversation flowed as easily as—well, soup. The focus seemed to be on forging genuine connections with other LGBTQ people—and, of course, savoring a delicious, homemade meal.
Above: Alpern (second from left) with chefs at a PDX QSN party.
Je’Jae Cleopatra Mizrachi, a queer artist and performer who also goes by Mx. Enigma, was a first-time QSN attendee at this November’s event. Going in, they felt “a little insecure” about the prospect of meeting strangers in such a big space, but the relaxed vibe helped ease their anxiety. They recalled a few memorable moments of connection, including a conversation with Alpern and a journalist-slash-comedian who is launching a podcast about queer porn.
“Most folks were warm, accepting, laid-back—just interested to have a good time,” they tell NewNowNext, adding that they were reminded just how intimate Brooklyn’s queer scene can be. Mizrachi is looking forward to the next event, but adds, “I would love smaller spaces, where folks can have engaging conversations about communal issues and the need for queer resilience in fighting for our rights.”
One night at QSN, and it quickly becomes clear why the event’s organizers refer to its habitual attendees as the “Queer Soup Night fam.” Alpern says her QSN parties are wholesome in more ways than one, especially in an era when the powers that be continue to chip away at policies that protect women, queer folks, people of color, and other marginalized Americans. It’s easy to feel vulnerable and alone these days, but QSN offers people from targeted communities a chance to show up and support activists and grassroots organizations working to help them.
For so many queer people, the concept of family extends beyond biological connections. QSN exemplifies that.
“The positivity and the friendliness of this—it’s so nourishing,” Alpern says, smiling. “Like food.”
Many of the chefs who’ve cooked for QSN have become some of her closest friends. “This queer thing—it’s not going to go away,” she says, recalling a moment of clarity she recently had in the company of other QSN chefs. “We’re all in food. We’re going to be in this for a long time, whether The New York Times stops writing about the trends or not. We’re in this.”