Chefs say the liquid gold provides great returns, and signals what is to come
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Kathy Hayden, who is a foodservice analyst for Mintel, says chowders are a great way to showcase regional flavors.
“With the exception of barbecue, chowders may be the most localized recipes in American food ways, and they are an easy way to cross state lines and add some regional tastes to any menu, which more operators are doing.
“Seafood bisques, gumbos, and San Francisco’s cioppino are other chowderlike creations that show up on menus far beyond their hometowns or states,” she says.
Aside from bringing in good returns on investments, soup prep can use leftovers, unused veggies, and other scraps from the kitchen.
Nick Anderer, executive chef at New York’s Maialino, part of the Union Square Hospitality Group, says, “When thinking about soups, you want to eat things that you are seeing at the market, but as a restaurant manager, you have to be thinking of things that are left over.”
For that reason soup becomes a great outlet for any trim from vegetables, meat, or fish. “When we made our vegetable minestrone, we used Parmesan rinds that were soaked in a vegetable broth with beans and fennel. That soup was totally born out of leftovers. It was like the kitchen sink soup.”
At Maialino, the best-selling soup is Stracciatella alla Romana, which is an Italian egg drop soup. The thin broth is laced with beaten eggs and such familiar Italian ingredients as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Italian parsley, semolina, and nutmeg. “This soup has had a longer run than most. We’ve had it on the lunch menu for 25 or 30 days.”
Anderer says that he has to view his dishes through an ‘Italian looking glass,’ but says, “at the end of the day we are in New York City and not Rome,” so it affects product availability. “We can’t get all the ingredients, so I am inspired by, but not restricted to, the Italian prototype.”
Nick Strawhecker, who is the chef at Dante Ristorante e Pizzeria, a full-service restaurant in Omaha, Nebraska, is even more challenged finding local sources for his Italian offerings. “Our mantra is working with local farmers as much as possible. We purchase cheese curd and stretch the mozzarella in house.”
His winter soup offering is Sunchoke (also known as Jerusalem artichoke) and Cippolini. Sunchokes, which are native to Nebraska, have a nutty flavor, and Strawhecker describes them as a cross between “a water chestnut and a potato.” At first the soup, which is garnished with pickled green onion, garlic, and olives, didn’t sell. “If something doesn’t sell, I change the verbiage on the menu and move it around.”
In the case of his sunchoke soup, he added the garnish descriptor and it began to move. During the spring, Strawhecker menus a Ribollita, a Tuscan-style country soup that is made up of white beans, Cavallo Nero (black kale), and day-old bread.
“It is a hearty, brothy soup with onions, tomatoes, and lots of olive oil and garlic. Our guests love it.”