"The Cellar Restaurant is here because Rev. Kelly Hudson of George Street Church is a friend and because this is a good cause," said Chef Chris Brown.
Hot Soup Hot Jazz on April 15 was the charity event and it was for a very good cause - helping the marginalized, the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the self-destructive, the abused. The thousands of dollars raised went to The Jimmy Pratt Outreach Centre of George Street Church and Choices for Youth. Both organizations have been working for years to assist adults and youth in need. Like Chris Brown and every other individual involved, I was proud to play a part.
It all began in the spacious conference centre of the Delta Hotel. Several hundred people were in attendance for the first annual Hot Soup Hot Jazz Gourmet Soup Competition and Silent Auction. It was a fundraiser in two parts, the second being a fabulous after-soup jazz concert at George Street Church featuring the Jimmy Thomson Trio, the remarkable 22-year-old jazz singer Katie Hopkins, and the Brad Jefford Group.
I was asked to organize and join the panel of soup judges that included chefs Gerry Crewe, Roger Andrews and Fred Reardon.
We had our work cut out for us. Nine restaurants and organizations had entered soups ranging in diversity from Thai soup, tortilla soup and sherried mushroom to Newfoundland pea with salt meat. While folks mingled, drank soup (each competitor had a table where soup was served from large electric tureens) and studied auction items like a Christopher Pratt hand-painted lithograph, we judges studied, stirred, sniffed, swirled, chewed and tasted one soup after another.
Bennett Cerf once described good manners as "the noise you don't make when you're eating soup." If that's the case, then good manners were notably absent from the judges' table. (Was that a soup stain on the end of your nose Roger? Just kidding.)
In the end, my fellow judges and I decided on the Honey Brown Wild and Tame Mushroom Soup created by Chef Mike Barsky of Bacalao on LeMarchant Road.
Bacalao is a relatively new restaurant that specializes in salt cod dishes. I thought for sure they would have entered a salt cod soup of some kind. Perhaps they thought that would have been too predictable. Then I thought, maybe they wanted to stand out in some way.
In fact, standing out was exactly what Barsky had in mind. In a telephone interview the next day, he gave me his reasoning.
"I gave it a lot of thought and decided we should try something that nobody else would attempt. So, I thought, mushrooms! Why not? But we were a bit taken aback when we realised that Sundance had done a mushroom as well."
Barsky's wife and business partner, Andrea Maunder, told me the entire Bacalao staff was over the moon.
"We're all still pretty excited around here. We're hoping lots of people will stop by the restaurant now and try our delicious soup."
Barsky agreed, "Yes, we have it on the menu here and people just love it. Lots of times I'm afraid I haven't made enough and that we'll run out!"
The majority of judges thought Bacalao's Honey Brown Wild and Tame Mushroom Soup stood out in its level of deliciousness for several reasons. The addition of Quidi Vidi Brewery's Honey Brown ale gave the soup a subtle flavour boost but also delivered character from the bite of its hops. Butter, olive oil and cream gave flavour and richness, although not so much cream as to take the edge off the taste and textures of the finely minced mushrooms. Finally, a dash of truffle oil (the fungus, not the chocolate) was the piece de resistance that grabbed the nostrils and screamed, "Try me! You'll love me!"
While we judges were deliberating, the throngs attending were assessing as well. Some folk placed ballots in a box to select a "People's Choice." The balloting was close, but the Delta's Thai soup made it in a photo finish, to use racing vernacular.
Heather McKinnon of the Delta's management team was pleased.
"It's absolutely great. The soup was actually created in our own kitchen some time ago. According to first cook Mitch Abbott, his secret ingredient is molasses and what really separates this soup when prepared by him is the consistency he achieves when adding the tomato and chili paste."
If you are a soup lover, I guarantee you'll love both winning soups. Obviously, they'll taste best when made by their creators, Barsky and Abbott. For that treat, you'll need to visit their respective dining establishments. However, both gentlemen were generous enough to allow me to share their recipes with Telegram readers who might like to make the soups themselves. Here they are.
Karl Wells is a restaurant panellist with enRoute and judge with the Cuisine Canada/University of Guelph Culinary Book Awards. To reach him, log on to his website: www.karlwells.com
Honey Brown Wild and Tame Mushroom Soup
Chef Mike Barsky, Bacalao
Recipe serves 6
4 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. olive oil
8 oz. each of fresh cremini, white and shitake mushrooms, sliced
2 oz. mixed dried mushrooms, soaked for 60 minutes in hot water
2 shallots, minced
1 leek, white part only, sliced finely
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. flour
1 bottle Quidi Vidi Honey Brown beer
4 cups homemade chicken stock
1/4 cup 35 per cent cream
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Drizzle of truffle oil to garnish each bowl
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, sautÉ shallots and leeks in olive oil and butter. Add herbs - leave them on the stems, you'll remove them later. When shallots are translucent, add garlic. Add all mushrooms and cook till brown. (Once browned, remove a few mushrooms and reserve for garnish.) Add flour, salt and pepper, cook for 3 minutes. Add beer and stir, while also scraping the bottom of the pot to release any bits stuck to the surface. Reduce liquid a little. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add soaking liquid from dried mushrooms - best to strain in case of sand. Remove herb stems. Add cream and purÉe with stick blender - leave some texture. Taste and adjust seasoning. Garnish each bowl with some reserved mushrooms and a slight drizzle of truffle oil (available in specialty aisles.) Serve with garlic and herb crostini or bread. (For crostini: slice French bread thinly. Spread with butter containing chopped thyme, rosemary, crushed garlic, salt and pepper. Bake on sheet in 400 F oven for 10 minutes.)
Mitch Abbott, The Delta
Recipe serves 20
2 1/2 litres chicken stock
2/3 litre 35 per cent cream
3/4 litre canned crushed tomatoes
5 oz. diced onion
2 1/2 oz. diced green bell pepper
2 1/2 oz. diced red bell pepper
7 1/2 oz. diced boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 oz. molasses
2/3 tsp. Sambal Oleck chili paste
2/3 tsp. chili powder
1-1/4 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. minced basil leaf
1 tsp. minced fresh cilantro
1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
Salt to taste
Cracked pepper to taste
1 tsp. lemon zest
Liquid honey to taste
Soy sauce to taste
2 1/2 cups Uncle Ben's long and wild rice
Sweat peppers, onion, mushrooms and garlic until tender. Add chicken stock, cream, crushed tomatoes and molasses. Bring to a slow simmer and add rice and chicken. Next add basil, cilantro, chile paste, Worcestershire and lemon zest. Simmer until rice is tender. Finally, add remainder of seasonings to taste.