It was minus 24 degrees outside and the wind was whipping the snow across the parking lot. But inside the Convention Centre it’s warm and almost too cosy. Yes, there were crowds. But that’s a good thing because Soupfest is a sociable, community-centered affair and the proceeds contribute to a very worthy cause, Living Rock Ministries.
Living Rock supports youth aged 13 – 25 who are at risk from a variety of factors — poverty, mental illness, addiction, disenfranchisement. A few of their programs include meal programs, a food bank, safe and relevant social/recreational programming, pre-natal and post-natal care, housing and one to one crisis support. The idea for Soupfest which started 12 years ago came from Gary Kristiansen as his Millenium project, “S.O.U.P. – serving our underprivileged people.”
There were 25 restaurants participating in Soupfest this year — mainly from Hamilton — but also from Burlington, Brantford, Paris and parts in between. Tickets were available at the door — $15 ($12 in advance) which buys you small bowls of four different kinds of soup. Not surprisingly, many of the restaurants involved in this project are our Go Cooking partners: My-Thai Restaurant, the Red Canoe Bistro, The West Plains Bistro and “best soup” winner for the last two years, the 4th Course Bistro at Copetown Woods.
Well, I knew that all of their samples would be good. My instructions were to try some new ones and see if I could find a winner.
And I did. Actually I found two winners; soups that I wished they would give me the recipes for. (No dice, alas.)
My first stop, right inside the door was at the Detour Cafe and Restaurant station where I started out with a “Potato and Caramelized Onion Purée with Aged Cheddar and Fried Sage.” (Maybe I didn’t really need a recipe, the title says it all?) Now potato soup can be bland and starchy, unless it has a lot of salt and spice. But here, the caramelized onion added the perfect tasty top note. Cheddar gave the broth richness. And the fried sage was a crispy accent on top. One of the best soups that I’ve ever eaten.
Detour is in Dundas, and I’m sorry to say that I’ve never visited the restaurant. It started out, apparently, as a coffee and lunch venue, but now seems to have a dinner menu. I definitely will be giving it a try.
The other really excellent soup that I tried came from a restaurant in Paris, Ontario. The soup, a “Flamed Tomato with Whisky Brisket Ravioli garnished with Three Cheese Whisky Chantilly” sounds a bit like “an embarrassment of riches.” But it had a smokey, rich tomato-y flavour and the brisket in the ravioli was also smoked, just to underline the earthy base flavour. The ravioli floated on top to add a bit of texture . All in all, an exceptional combination of flavours.
This soup came from a restaurant called Stillwater’s Plate and Pour which bills itself as “casual dining with a breath-taking view of the Grand River …”. The chef, Will Thompson, has competed on the Food Network’s Top Chef Canada, and if the soup is any indication of the quality of the restaurant, it would be worth the drive to Paris.
The other two soups that I tried shall remain nameless because the Soupfest restaurants are all kind and wonderful volunteers. One was what I might call a brave and worthy experiment that really didn’t quite work out. The other soup I tried was bland — a rather ghastly epithet to cast on a soup. Anyway, their names are cloaked in silence.
I should mention that entertainment was provided throughout the day, if noshing wasn’t enough and it was possible to add different kinds of bread, or rolls, or crackers, to your repast. I would have loved to try a lot of other soups, but the four bowls which looked small at first, were really very filling.
The climax of the event was a contest. Visitors got to vote for their favorites in various categories. Here is a list of the winners:
1st Place: – 4th Course Bistro – Lobster Bisque Soup (ONCE AGAIN!!)
2nd Place: – West Plains Bistro – Curried Cauliflower Soup
3rd Place: – Collins Brewhouse – Grilled Sweet Corn & Wild Boar Chowder
Most Creative Soup
1st Place: – Baci Ristorante – Expresso & Chilli Chocolate Covered Bacon
2nd Place: Collins Brewhouse – Grilled Sweet Corn & Wild Boar Chowder
3rd Place: Stillwaters – Flamed Tomato with Whisky Brisket Ravioli
1st Place: – Collins Brewhouse – Grilled Sweet Corn & Wild Boar Chowder
2nd Place: 4th Course Bistro – Lobster Bisque Soup
3rd Place: Mustang’s big ol’Grille – Chicken Quesadilla Soup
Best Grown Local
1st Place: – Detour Cafe and Restaurant – Potato & Caramelized Onion Purée
2nd Place: – Collins Brewhouse – Grilled Sweet Corn & Wild Boar Chowder
3rd Place: – Taylor’s Tea Room – Potato Leek Soup with Mickey McGuire’s aged Cheddar
The crowning achievement for the day, however, goes to the winner of the Chefs’ Choice Award. This soup has been chosen by three well-known superstar chefs: Chef Dan Megna from the Twisted Lemon, Chef Mark Farrugia from La Piazza Allegra and Chef Pamela Foster from Downton Abbey Cooks. Presumably, these chefs tried all of the soups — a rather formidable task in itself. Anyway, the winners are:
Chefs’ Choice Awards
2nd Place: Milestones – Milestones Roasted Mushroom Soup
3rd Place: West Plains Bistro — Curried Cauliflower Soup
The chefs’ recipes are understandably secret. So I’ll leave you a recipe for one of my favorite chowders:
Creamy Fish Chowder
from The Soup Bible
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 potatoes cut into cubes
1 litre (4 cups) fish stock
1 lb. skinless haddock, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
1 tbsp. snipped fresh chives
1 1/4 cups whole milk (or whipping cream, if you dare)
salt and white pepper
1) Cut the bacon into small pieces. Fry until fat is rendered.
2) Add the chopped onion and potatoes and cook over low hear, without browning for about 10 minutes. Season to taste.
3) Pour off excess bacon fat. Add the fish stock to the pan and bring to a boil. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 15 – 20 minutes.
4) Stir in the fish, the parsley and chives. Simmer until the fish is just cooked (3-4 minutes.)
5) Stir the milk or cream into the soup and re-heat gently. Season to taste.
If you like a stronger fishy taste, use cod instead of haddock. I find this quite rich enough without the cream, but try it and see how you like it. Bon appetit!