Brooklyn’s Perpetual Stew Is More About Community Than Cuisine

Brooklyn’s Perpetual Stew Is More About Community Than Cuisine

They wore floppy toques and were flanked by an array of ingredients: vegetable broth, chili peppers, bay leaves, potatoes, shallots, radishes, garlic powder, canned beans, carrots and more — all crowdsourced from their eager guests.

As their pots emptied, they made more stew.

But these weren’t chefs. And this was hardly a serious culinary exercise. This was, as the saying goes, a full commitment to the bit for the dozens who answered the call to show up with an ingredient at the Fermi Playground in Brooklyn on Tuesday evening and try the 41-day-old stew.


Annie Rauwerda, 23, started cooking a vegan stew in a slow cooker on June 7 and — with the help of her boyfriend, David Shayne, 27, and a close friend, Hajin Yoo, 23 — hasn’t stopped since. It’s a perpetual stew; Ms. Rauwerda and her friends eat most of it, leaving just a small amount of broth and other ingredients in the pot before they replenish it. They have repeated that cycle for over a month now, stirring an online buzz along the way.

At first, the gatherings, or “stew nights,” were small and intimate. Ms. Rauwerda invited her friends to the playground in Bushwick, where she lives, to commune over the special stew.

But as the infinite soup became an internet sensation — Ms. Rauwerda created a website for the project and promoted it on social media — the lines grew longer, and the portions smaller. With more than 100 people showing up for each of the last two weekly stew nights, the number of pots expanded, and shot-size Dixie cups were offered to ensure that those who didn’t crave an entire bowl at least got a taste.

The scene brought to mind the European folk tale about hungry travelers who drop a large stone in a cooking pot and offer to share their “stone soup” with villagers willing to contribute an ingredient.

“As you can see, there are several pots,” Ms. Rauwerda said, addressing the throng that had gathered around the smudgy silver slow cooker and a black cauldron. “All of which have been contaminated with the perpetual stew.”


Behind the congregation of mostly twenty-somethings from across New York City, a handwritten banner draped on a jungle gym proclaimed “STEWWWWW!”

Never-ending soup is not a new idea. One has reportedly been cooking in Thailand restaurant for nearly five decades. In August 2014, a chef, David Santos, started his own perpetual stew that he sold at his now shuttered Manhattan restaurant.

And Ms. Rauwerda noted on her stew website that a freelance writer had claimed in a 1981 New York Times article to have raised a 21-year-old pot-au-feu, inspired by tales of centuries-old “eternal” soups in Europe.

Such stews can be made safely if they’re maintained on high heat, above the “temperature danger zone” where pathogens can begin to thrive, according to Martin Bucknavage, a food safety specialist at Pennsylvania State University.


Ms. Rauwerda cautions that the stew’s flavor is a wild card, dependent on the ingredients offered by the public on any given day. On Tuesday, many of those who lined up for a taste said the stew had exceeded their expectations.


“I think it’s rich and flavorful and really hearty in a way that’s objectively tasty,” said Gabriel Strauss, 23, who biked to Bushwick from Manhattan. “I would buy this at a restaurant.”

Maria Martinez, 65, stumbled upon the free stew while collecting recyclable cans and bottles from the playground’s bins. She had no idea the stew was perpetual and figured the whole thing was a promotional event for a restaurant.

“It was good,” Ms. Martinez said in Spanish. “Spicy, with lots of vegetables.”

But with a perpetual stew, it isn’t really about the taste.

“I think the overwhelming takeaway from people is that it’s less about the stew, and it’s more about the gathering,” Ms. Rauwerda said. “I have certainly made a lot of friends. I’ve watched a lot of people make friends.”


She said she had first heard about the concept during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic and had thought it was “a fun idea.”

Ms. Rauwerda has a knack for the bizarre. She created a popular Instagram account called Depths of Wikipedia, where she spotlights Wikipedia entries on obscure topics for 1.2 million followers. Now, she spends her days inside her Bushwick apartment writing a book about Wikipedia — and, of course, tending to the stew.

But even a never-ending stew must end sometime. Ms. Rauwerda said she was planning one more gathering at the park before pulling the plug.

On Twitter and elsewhere, there were grumbles that the community stew is the kind of spectacle that could thrive only in a neighborhood like Bushwick, which has become synonymous with gentrification.

“I definitely want to be sensitive and make sure I’m not actively harming the community,” Ms. Rauwerda said. “But when it’s an open event and everyone’s invited, I feel like it seems like a net positive thing.”


Josefina Hernandez, 56, a native of the Dominican Republic who has lived in Bushwick for 29 years, noticed the commotion at the playground from her third-story apartment across the street.

Ms. Hernandez, who runs a cafe down the street, went to the playground on Tuesday to investigate. As she looked at a crowd that skewed young and white, she saw proof of Bushwick’s transformation. But she also saw something else.

“I know this is for fun, but this is beyond a soup,” said Ms. Hernandez, who saw strangers contributing ingredients to a communal soup as an example of the power of community collaboration. “The way I see this, it’s like we can change the world — if we want.”

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