I found myself asking this question at the pub this week.
I think the question had as much to do with being sooooo virtuous as to not have fries beside my big, fat, juicy burger as it did my craving of soup. I like to ease very gently into diet season, as you can see.
This is the time of year that I fixate on soup. I concurrently check the Weather Network and the soup quantity in the pantry. I can be buried under a mountain of snow, as long as I have soup. I’ve been told by those around me throughout my career that I am a bit of a Soup Guru. It has been suggested that I open a “soup only” counter a la Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi” (too limiting – I haven’t found a way to deep fry soup yet), and I have worked with folks who check to see if I made the soup before they order it for their staff meal. Not every pot is a masterpiece, but I think I hold my own. In fact, I can chronicle my culinary history in milestones of soup!
The only truly stressful moment for me as a student at George Brown college, was the final ‘black box’ test completing Culinary Skills – Basic. The fact that the exam has been the same since sometime in the 60’s notwithstanding, you’ll only ever blow a beef consomme when you’re being tested on it. I stressed, I hovered, I crossed fingers. I considered praying but any right minded God would smite me just for pestering about such insignificant a feat as clarifying stock. In the end, it worked. My consomme was one of the few that day that you could read the newspaper through. I was now ready for the real world.
My first professional cooking job was at the flagship Hudson’s Bay Company store in Toronto, at the Arcadian Court. I cut, chopped, cut some more, chopped, and observed. The first time I witnessed butternut squash soup for 480, I was speechless! I got to stir with a spoon which, in any other context, would have been called an oar. The sous chef had the honour of pureeing the soup with a wand blender about the size of an outboard motor. This was impressive, but I was beginning to think that in order to hone my skills perhaps I would need to work somewhere slightly smaller. Enter… Inn on the Twenty.
There was a recurring soup from the special events menu at Inn on the Twenty that is still one of my favourites. Whenever we needed the Yukon Gold Potato Puree with Ermite and Sourdough Croutons for a function, I was the guy. Not, of course, because of my immense talent, but rather because I was the low guy on the proverbial totem pole. Regardless, I’ll always remember the day the new sous chef came to me with a puzzled-but-pleasant look on his face saying “nice soup….duck stock?” to which I responded “Nope, water – the bride is a veg head and until you crumble the ermite, that (blankety-blank) soup is VEGAN man!!!”. That was the first time as a cook that I literally made someone’s eyes bug out. My first dish that made it to the menu at On the Twenty was fittingly, a soup. The last weekend of my first summer there , I was given lots of butternut squash and shitake mushrooms and told to have at it. I have no recollection of what it tasted like, but it tasted GOOD and that was all that mattered! I was proud and it was a milestone.
I’ve often joked that I left Rodney’s with 2 things – a slightly damaged liver and the mastery of chowder. I learned traditional East Coast chowders, bisques, Thai fish broths, and Cajun crab gumbo all at the expert hand of a Grenadian bookkeeper, Grace Noel. If I have just a fraction of Grace’s soupmaking talents, then I’m truly blessed. I spent the better part of 3 years beginning every morning making 3 chowders and peeking over Grace’s shoulder at the daily soup special. I can make Manhattan clam chowder while blindfolded and I found out the hard way that I can shop for, prep, AND produce quite passable corn and bacon chowder between hd’s and second app at an off-site gig if ever in a real pinch – but that’s an whole other story. Moving on.
I have to thank Chef Kevin Maniaci for the soup skills that I picked up in Port Dalhousie during my days at Twelve. I learned that with onions, stock, butter, and cream, you can turn pretty much any vegetable on the planet into an awesome soup. Also, the right blender and the right sieve can turn a $6 soup into an $8 masterpiece. The Twelve era is identified for me by velvety smooth soups, funky garnishes, and my blossoming love for the Vita-Mix. Which brings us to the present.
Fittingly, my first decision as a chef at The Good Earth was to serve a roasted chicken chowder at the Icewine Festival in 2006. There have been a lot of soups since. I’ve probably forgotten as many as I remember, but we keep making more. We are coming full circle now this year. As the Twenty Valley Winter WineFest fast approaches, we’ve decided to dish out…wait for it…could it be…SOUP! This year The Good Earth will be serving up a hot and buttery French onion soup to chase away the chills!!
This is one heck of a long winded way of saying “Come on out to Jordan Village this week-end, bring your woolies and save a couple of tokens for the French Onion goodness that will be doled out by your favourite earthlings”!!