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Soup Uncovered

19 January 2006

Few foods answer the call for comfort as effectively as soup. A staple on menus year round, its popularity peaks with cooler weather.

This article first appeared in the 15 November 2005 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).

R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. To find out more about R&I, visit its website www.foodservice411.com.

Through fall and winter, staff at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles prepare 240 gallons of soup a week to meet rising demand across campus. Destinations for the output include catering and conference operations, and residential and retail dining.

"Staff and faculty see soup as a staple, a comfort item. For students, it reminds them of home," says executive chef Mark Baida, who lends across-the-board appeal to recipes such as Potato and Peppered-Bacon Bisque with the distinctive presentation and garnishes shown here.

With three different approaches, the same simple soup fits a spectrum of foodservice settings.

  • The best slow-cooked stocks start with cold water to draw flavour from vegetables and proteins. Baida prefers to roast base ingredients first for deeper, richer results.

  • Dried herbs, enclosed in sachets for easy skimming, should join stocks early in the cooking process; float fresh herbs such as rosemary, oregano, thyme and basil stems atop the liquid near the end.

  • Prepared stocks and bases jump-start the process. For the greatest ease, many cooks reach for fully prepared soups. Either way, they can be tailored with the addition of herbs, vegetables or garnishes.

1. Moveable feasts
In the workplace, on college campuses or heading home, busy lifestyles demand grab-and-go options that don't sacrifice satisfaction. Insulated containers with easy-to-remove lids set the stage for simple meals on the move. Freezer- and microwave-safe packaging further boost takeout appeal.

2. To the nines
A sprig of rosemary and house-made croutons complement rich potato bisque, dressing up the presentation for catering and fine-dining settings. For seasonal flair, executive chef Mark Baida swaps sweet potatoes for half the russets and golds in the recipe.

3. Middle ground
Fresh chives and bits of bacon highlight a simple but elegant plating that works across many segments. Experiment with garnishes such as drizzled olive oils, shredded cheeses and diced vegetables to keep choices fresh for guests, offering self-serve options where appropriate.

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