Soup is a funny thing. As witnessed by me--and my weary taste buds--in dramatic 50-soups-in-two-hours fashion, the definition is broad and the execution varied. (One way to disengage from the whole issue is to adopt my man's perspective: "Soup is bullshit.") I happen to really love soup, when it's done well, and yesterday's Our Kids Soup Sunday festivities had some standouts, some admirable risk-takers and some colossal failures.
Unlike certain high falutin' food critics who shall remain nameless, my friends and I were down with the common folk. We didn't get to sip mostly pre-vetted masterpieces--we tried them all. (Well, until the end when I passed on a couple; you can only try so many versions of tortilla soup.)
In the end, I came up with a couple rules of thumb for successful soup making. Here we go:
1. Texture, Texture, Texture: Two of my favorite soups--a vidalia onion champagne brie bisque and a cauliflower blue cheese bisque--mastered that balance of creamy and hearty. On the other hand, there were quite a few (and this might have been a result of sitting on the hot pot too long) that were verging on dip category.
2. Make Me Feel Fancy: Vendors extravagant enough to pump their chowders or bisques full of of fresh seafood or plump, flavorful meat seem to curry favor with my fellow diners. A garnish of seared scallop or poached lobster can go a long way. And special props to F. Scott's for their use of Benton's ham in their creamy masterpiece--with that stuff, a little goes a long way.
3. Appeal to Nostalgia: Soup is a homey food. Some of the most successful purveyors took a childhood staple and just made it taste really darn good (a stellar cheese broccoli entry comes to mind, as do a couple of takes on creamy mushroom).
4. Make Sure It Tastes Good: Though I appreciated innovation--lobster and white chocolate, crab and watermelon, apricot and lentil--so few of these cutting-edge soups tasted good. The balance of flavors was off or lacked that certain special twang. I'll take something tasty over something interesting any day.
5. Hot Soup Rules: If it's not hot (and it's supposed to be), then it's usually gross. Serving the soup to order makes it taste exponentially better.
Overall, Soup Sunday was an excellent event. I'll certainly be back next year--ready to sample 50 more.