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4 Soupfest chefs reveal secrets of a great soup

14th annual Soupfest in Hamilton brings thousands through the doors at the Convention Centre all to support at-risk youth.

21 local restaurants are serving up delicious soups at annual Soupfest in Hamilton

Chefs at 'Butcher and the Vegan' serve Apple-Parsnip soup at this years Soupfest for Living Rock Ministries (Taija Marie Giberson)

Soup is synonymous with winter. Despite it being 2 C Tuesday, people arrived in droves to feast on a piping-hot bowl of soup at the Living Rock's 14th annual Soupfest in Hamilton. The fundraising event supports at-risk youth in the community.

An estimated 5,000 people came out to sample soups from 21 restaurants that have donated 200 litres of soup, said Julie Conway from Living Rock Ministries.

"There's a lot of culinary talent. It's a great opportunity for the public to really experience everything these chefs have to offer."

If we may tempt your tummy, here are a few selections from the event:

Earth Shake Chef Denise Robinson

Robinson prepared a vegan Massaman Soup. In literature it's known to be a Thai curry of Muslim origin. The aroma alone made it worth a try.

"We were planning to bring a different soup but this one kicked the other's butt. It's a nice stick-to-your-ribs fall, winter soup," said Robinson. 

Her favourite soups incorporate curry, but Robinson decided to use a variety of other spices to give the soup its kick.

"There are so many different flavours in there they won't be able to identify one specific flavour. They all marry together to make an awesome fulfilling, nourishing soup," explained Robinson.

The inspiration comes from her kids. "They're my taste testers," she said. All the ingredients are sourced locally and organic.

Harvest Food Truck Chef Daniel Abarca

This chef says he has a passion for cooking at the Living Rock Ministries. This year, he's at Soupfest cooking up a storm inside a food truck.

"It's Canada's first not-for-profit social enterprise… through the food truck we're having youth help us prepare and clean up and get the food ready for the truck," said Conway.

Chef Abarca created two soups, both served to anyone who makes a donation. "We are serving Wicked Thai soup with a twist and Citrus Tomato soup," said Abarca.

He started as a volunteer and was quickly attracted to the kitchen where he now works, cooks and teaches at-risk youth.

"I wanted to create something different," Abarca said of his creations. "We looked at the inventory and what we had to cook with and one of the main suppliers is Food Share Hamilton so we had plenty of canned tomato juice to work with."

He wouldn't give up his culinary secrets about the soups, but he did give us some hints. "It's a bit of ginger, coconut, tomato and the rest is just TLC, same thing with the Tomato Citrus."

Butcher and the Vegan Chef James Kayser

Chef Kayser has a passion for making seasonal, local and nutritious food so getting involved with Soupfest was a no-brainer.

"One of our staff is from their at-risk youth program so because of that they came to us and were hopeful we'd participate and why not, it's for a great cause," said Kayser.  "We are doing a winter soup - Apple and Parsnip with great local maple syrup and garam masala." 

At the restaurant the goal is to keep things seasonal by changing the soup every six to eight weeks. "The apples change through the seasons so it's interesting to get a different flavour, now we're into golden delicious so it's fun… it's apples, shallots, parsnips, vegan margarine, salt and pepper and then we roast some parsnip chips for the garnish," he said.

Does he hope to take home a prize? "I don't really care about winning, it's about making sure people enjoy the soup and it's about giving back, this is a great cause."

My-Thai Restaurant Chef Chutichai

Chef Chutichai created a Coconut Dessert Soup. "It's a pure and natural product including black beans, red beans and coconut meat," he said. "We tried to bring our traditional ingredients to expose people to our culture and it's easy to make."

"I like the challenge of creating dishes with less meat and finding ways to make things that are good for you… we've come every year and business increases which means people really appreciate what we make."

Each chef competes in four categories; Most Creative Soup, Best Display, Best Grow Local – voted by the public – and the Foodie Choice Award - which is judged by four self-professed foodies.

"We're looking for simply what is the best soup which comprises the aroma, the taste, the appearance, any garnishes, how well integrated the flavours are, how consistent the soup is, it's really quite complex," said Alex Bielak, one of four judges.

The taste test is completely blind, combining their top picks to award a first, second and third place prize in each category.

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