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VPR Cafe: An Education In Soup From Three Vermont Chefs

Glenn Russell
Burlington Free Press
Vegan corn chowder, made by Trevor Sullivan at Pingala Cafe, was one of several soups food writer Candace Page learned how to make on her lcoal soup tour.

Soup can seem like a basic dish, until you tuck into a beautiful, complex bowl of soup that warms you to the core.

This conversation originally aired in 2015. Who doesn't love a second helping of a wonderful soup? 

Candace Page, food writer for the Burlington Free Press, recently went on a mission to learn how to make a great soup from some local masters. She choose three different Chittenden County restaurants to try to get a taste of different kinds of soup making, including Pauline’s Café, Pingala Café and Asiana Noodle Shop.

Pauline’s Café in South Burlington

At Pauline’s, Page learned from chef David Hoene that the key to a great stock is meat that has been caramelized by itself. Hoene roasts chickens with vegetables and a little water, ending up with a rich pan-sauce in which he caramelizes the vegetables that will then go with the water, chicken bones and trimmings into a large pot. After a few hours, he ends up with a very rich, golden broth.

To make the French onion soup that Page enjoyed, chef Hoene caramelizes onions, pours his stock on, then flames it with brandy and adds a variety of herbs. “So you get this layering of flavors,” Page says. “You end up with a soup that one woman in the dining room said is good enough to cure her of the flu.”

Credit Kevin Hurley / Burlington Free Press
Burlington Free Press
To make the French onion soup that Page enjoyed, chef David Hoene of Pauline's Cafe caramelizes onions, adds stock, flames with brandy and adds a variety of herbs.

PingalaCafé in Burlington

“The straightest path to a rich soup is meat and bones, and that’s off the table of course at Pingala,” Page says. Trevor Sullivan, the chef at the vegan restaurant, made Page corn chowder that was “fabulous,” despite the fact that it’s not at the top of her favorites list.

“And then, he [Pingala chef Trevor Sullivan] tops the whole thing with eggplant bacon. Yes, salty and sweet and crumbled on top of the soup. Better than bacon, I thought.” - Candace Page, food writer

Like Hoene at Pauline’s, Page says chef Sullivan concentrates on ways to make his soup savory and build layers of flavor. He starts with a vegetable-based broth, adding to it a variety of caramelized vegetables, and roasted corn that was also caramelized, making it crunchy and intensely sweet and salty. He also adds tomato paste and nutritional yeast, both which add umami to the soup, as well as “innumerable” herbs and spiced seasonings. “And then, he tops the whole thing with eggplant bacon,” Page says. “Yes, salty and sweet and crumbled on top of the soup. Better than bacon, I thought.”

Asiana Noodle Shop in Burlington

“I think of Asian soups as being different,” says Page. “And in some ways they are, because they tend to be clear broth with very fresh vegetables that have just been poached for a few minutes in the broth.” She explains that at the Asiana Noodle Shop, you can choose from six or seven types of broth and then select your meat, noodles and vegetables of choice, which will then be quickly poached in the broth.

“I spent the morning with Noppawan Charoenrat, who is the Thai-born chef there,” says Page. “And what I learned from her is that great stock doesn’t have to take forever, and she is very open about the shortcuts that she takes.” Page explains that Charoenrat starts with chicken, vegetables and fresh cilantro, and then uses a scoop of noor chicken soup essence in her chicken broth, hondashi in her soy broth (which was Page’s favorite) and miso paste in the miso soup. “That gave me hope as a home soup maker that I can be totally pure and never go to the grocery shelf, or I can sometimes get a flavor boost here and there,” says Page.

Credit Ryan Mercer / Burlington Free Press
Burlington Free Press
Noppawan Charoenrat, the chef at Asiana Noodle Shop, taught Page that great stock doesn't have to take forever.

Candy’s Basic Soup Lessons For The Home Cook

After her soup education, Candy took away several tips to try at home:

  • “I now will always caramelize my vegetables before I add them to soup. Even if you’re starting with a very good broth, that extra layer of browning and sweet, savory and salty really enhances the soup.”
  • “I am going to pay more attention to the use of fresh herbs. All three chefs didn’t just reach for dry herbs, but for fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme, and I think that comes through in the soup.”
  • “I did learn what I expected to learn, which is make a good, strong stock and you’re halfway to a great soup.”

The VPR Cafe is produced in collaboration with the Burlington Free Press and is made possible on VPR by Otter Creek Kitchenware.

Originally broadcast on Feb. 22, 2015.  

Franny was VPR's Director of Programming & Production.
Ric was a producer for Vermont Edition and host of the VPR Cafe.
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