Aundra Lafayette’s incredible soups blend art and life into beautiful food

By Stephanie Stewart-Howard | Photography by Ron Manville

Aundra Lafayette has transformed herself into Nashville’s “Soup Lady,” and her reputation grows by leaps and bounds every day. Lafayette gained renown as a dancer, dance teacher, and teaching artist with TPAC. Dance also inspired her culinary arts, and her audience now finds itself begging for soup.

She’s built her small business as cash and carry—you order what you need and pick it up. Now, after the holidays, she tells us her vegetable- and herb-rich detox soups sell like mad. With no salt, meat, or dairy, you can manage your detox with soup plus added servings of raw vegetables, fruit, and plenty of water. (It’s what everyone forgets when they detox, she says: plenty of water.)

For February particularly, she’s cooking up something special for Black History Month, a glorious mélange of red and green peppers, black-eyed peas, basil, lemon, hot sausage, spinach, olive oil, chicken broth, and spices. It’s delicious, warming, and good for you, soothing the soul and filling the stomach. It’s also beautiful, set out in a bowl. And that is the nature of Aundra Lafayette—soothing, gifted, beautiful.

Devotion to healthy eating came from a dancing life. Aundra says she never gets sick, never gets a cold, and part of that is owed to eating right and well. She began dancing at age 9, taking classes at Fisk, and hasn’t stopped since, training with the likes of Alvin Ailey Dance Company, Philadelphia Dance Company and others and teaching across the country. She’s taken her students to perform in Russia, taught in a New England therapeutic boarding school, at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, ArtsReach Studio through the Kentucky Center for the Arts, and Hume-Fogg High School, as well as through TPAC. Her boundless resumé as dancer, choreographer, and teacher is impressive.

“Girl, go with what you feel—that’s what my father said to me about cooking,” says Aundra, telling the story of her first cooking expeditions as a teenager. The admonition to make use of her natural, artistic instincts has always served her well.

“I call what I do cooking from the soul,” Aundra says. “I choreograph a soup like I choreograph a dance, you see? And I have the freedom to do what I want to do, just like I do in dance.” When she began making her soups available in 2009, some of our Nashville Arts staff became fans instantly, as did other local journalists, who began promoting her made-to-order culinary creations. (A container costs you perhaps $10, depending on ingredients.)

When Aundra says she’s cooking for the soul, she’s also cooking for the body, to make you healthy as well as sated. The term “healing soup” comes up again and again in her conversation; she takes healthy food seriously. She’s researched the nutritive value of the ingredients, including the herbs. “I’m targeting disease as I’m cooking,” she says, showing me a copy of a beautiful book called The Healing Foods that details the value of particular herbs, spices, and plants. Diabetes, obesity, heart disease: she crafts soups that impact them all.

Ultimately, she hopes to have a food truck, perhaps with a soup bar, rather than a brick-and-mortar restaurant. For now, she’s concentrating on building a clientele and diverse menu—though she may have a few surprises to share in coming months. And she continues to dance. There are few limitations to Aundra Lafayette’s plans for the future.

To find out more about Lafayette’s available soups, visit www.facebook.com/lafayettesoupcompany or email lafayettesoupco@gmail.com.

Heart and Soul Soup

1 bag of dry black-eyed peas
1/2 stick of butter
1/4 cup of olive oil
2 tomatoes (any kind of your choice)
1 leek
Chopped bell peppers (colors of your choice)
1 package of smoked sausage (your choice)
Spinach
A medley of herbs (rosemary, tarragon, basil, and cumin)
Leaves of basil
1 lemon, sliced
Cook the dry beans first; slowly add the other ingredients. Finally add your own comfort, passion, and love. Happy eating.
– Soup Lady

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