Written by Scott Jones
Photography by Beau Gustafson
I’m sure you’ve all heard of the Soup Nazi, but even if you’ve never seen a Seinfeld episode starring the curmudgeonly character, it’s hard to deny this soup savant’s place in American pop culture. Likewise, you may have never seen Robert Redford’s turn as Tom Booker in The Horse Whisperer, but you probably know of Booker’s remarkable, logic-defying gift for connecting with horses.
Where’s all this going, you ask? Well, if you take the genius of the Soup Nazi and pair it with the mystic powers of the Horse Whisperer, you get Monty Todd, the guy behind Spoon & Ladle Soup Co. I affectionately refer to him as the Soup Whisperer. I’m telling you, Monty has mad skills.
I first ran into Monty last fall at the Jazz Cat Ball where he was competing alongside some of Birmingham’s top chefs. As one of the judges, I watched in amazement as patrons swooned over his oysters Rockefeller soup. (For you Seinfeld fans, think Elaine’s first bite of the Soup Nazi’s crab bisque—that eyes-closed, I-gotta-sit-down-it’s-so-good kind of thing.) Even one of my good buddies, who was also competing that night, described Monty’s soup as “amazing” and said that he and his staff couldn’t stop eating it. Spoon & Ladle Soup Co. took first place.
Cut to this spring and the Schaeffer Eye Center Gumbo Gala. I had the honor of judging the professional division alongside three of the state’s top chefs: Clif Holt (Little Savannah), Austin Davis (The Bright Star), and Jim Smith (Alabama Governor’s Mansion). As the four of us blind-tasted through dozens and dozens of gumbos—running the spectrum of interpretations—we quickly realized that one entry was head and shoulders above the rest. We only knew this special gumbo by its assigned number, but after the final scores were tallied, Spoon & Ladle Soup Co. was announced as the winner.
That was the soupspoon that broke the camel’s back—it was time for a face-to-face with this mysterious soup magician. Turns out, his pathway to the stockpot couldn’t be more unconventional (which makes his story all the more fascinating). For starters, less than two years ago, Monty walked away from a 23-year career as Birmingham Budweiser’s sales manager to follow his passion for food.
Here are a few more tasty tidbits from our lively sit-down:
Q. Were you a weekend warrior cook during your years at Birmingham Budweiser?
A. Weekend warrior? Heck no! I’m the everyday warrior at our house. I do all the cooking. I love it. But Sunday family dinner is our biggest meal of the week—I pull out all of the stops. Plus, I cook everywhere I go—I’m the camp chef for my hunting buddies and I’m the tailgate chef for our tailgate crew.
Q. Did you grow up with a strong cooking influence?
A. I developed my passion for cooking while spending summers with my maternal grandparents in their rural west Alabama home. Cooking with my grandmother was the best—she prepared three fabulous meals a day using fresh ingredients from the huge garden that I helped my grandfather tend. While my grandmother’s meals weren’t necessarily fancy, she had a magic ability to capture the perfect blend of fresh ingredients with other unexpected complex flavors. I spent every moment I could watching, asking questions, and developing my cooking skills. Then during the school year I honed my craft helping my busy single mom put dinner on the table for my three siblings and me.
Q. Had you cooked professionally before joining Birmingham Budweiser?
A. Yes, but it all started with a bartending job to pay my college bills, which eventually lead to a mix of bar and management positions in numerous Birmingham icons. I ended up at Dexter’s on Hollywood, one of Birmingham’s early fine dining restaurants. While there I had the opportunity to fully expand my wings. It was there that my true love of great food, fine wine, and excellent service was developed. I trained under two chefs, ultimately covering them on their days off, developing new dishes and creating the day’s menu.
Q. Why soup?
A. For me, it’s not as much about the soup as it is the kettle—the soup kettle is my palette. I can’t imagine a better way to experiment with the layering of fresh, healthy ingredients and unexpected flavors. Not to mention that soup is the perfect comfort food—nothing warms the soul or puts a smile on someone’s face faster than a big bowl full of comfort.
Q. How does your soup making process/production happen?
A. All of our soups are made from scratch in small batches using my own original recipes. Currently, I make four different soups each week—two on Monday and two on Thursday. Each week’s selection is inspired by the season and customer requests. Currently, our soups are available at the Cajun Cleaver (Hoover) and Pepper Place Saturday Market.
Q. Is it true that you were told that soup would never sell in the summer?
A. Yes, that’s true. There are two camps on soup—those who only eat it during cooler weather and those who thoroughly enjoy it year round. I’m grateful Birmingham has more people in the latter camp. Our sales continue to increase, even as we roll into summer, particularly with all the fresh produce from the farmers allowing us to capture all the vibrant flavors of the season.
Q: What gets you out of bed in the morning?
A: Watching a customer’s smile grow from ear to ear when they sample my soup or hearing someone mention that Spoon & Ladle is creating a buzz at the Pepper Place Saturday Market and they had to come check us out.
Monty’s next stop? “Retail,” he reckons. “We want to start by selling our soups in local grocery stores, then expand into other markets.” My response? Have spoon, will travel! Stay hungry, Birmingham.