Phoebe Bright peels potatoes for cream of potato leek soup with applewood smoked bacon.

I have often wondered why every restaurant I go to has soup on the menu. It seems to me that it is almost a required menu staple, a must-have to be complete. We all dine out, right? You, too, must admit that some kind of soup is almost always on the menu at you favorite dining place.

Why, as restaurateurs, are we required to have at least one, if not two, choices of soup for our guests? Heck, there are even places that only serve soup. Remember the “Soup Nazi” in Seinfeld?

It might sound silly but I do ponder this question about the required soup almost on a daily basis. More days than not, I find myself pressed for time to get all the items that are on our menu prepped and ready to put together. The task of soup-making, no matter what the day, is always on my to-do list. Unlike other kitchen prep tasks — such as making pasta, chopping vegetables and butchering the meats to name only three — soup takes thought and time.

Soup simply just isn’t one of those menu items that you whip up in a moment’s notice. And, to many, the very nature of soup can also be perceived as the main course in itself, as opposed to just merely an appetizer. So, when I think of my soups, I always remember to give them my full attention. To make a super-duper soup, I have to dedicate a good chunk of time. Depending on the season and the weather, I first decide what kind of soup would be appropriate. Then, I visit my walk-in refrigerator to see what’s beckoning me. Many ideas of complimentary ingredients show their true colors, if you will, when I look around my fridge.

Truthfully, making soups, at times, can be a great way to use up odds and ends of food that I might otherwise throw away because there just simply isn’t enough of the item to do anything else with. For example, when I make tomato soup, I will use the tomato ends and cook them down with the rest of the soup. Asparagus is another vegetable that may not be as fresh as I would like it to be to stand on its own. So, instead of casting the unwanted asparagus to the side, I make it into a cream of asparagus soup that can be served both warm and chilled.

At the risk of tooting my own horn, I have been told by many of our guests how much they had enjoyed the soup that particular evening. Questions like “How did you do that, Phoebe?” or “What’s that herb that I am tasting?” are quite frequent. I often peek out in the dining room, clandestinely, to watch our diners taste their soup. I love when a certain expression appears on their face as they relish the flavor while, at the same time, trying to figure out my secret.

That truly makes me smile, by the way.

Well, to be very candid, there really isn’t any secret. People find soups difficult to make because they make it complicated. Mandy, my business partner, never finds herself in my kitchen. I sometimes wonder if she knows where it is! (Just kidding, Mandy.) The point that I’m trying to make is that Mandy makes a killer chili. She goes to our local grocery store with her neatly handwritten list of ingredients, thus beginning the process of her chili-making day. She then goes home and starts concocting her chili (which, in my opinion, is a type of soup.) The first time she made her chili it was perfect. It truly had a great balance of flavors — not too spicy but not too sweet. It was simply yummy.

When she attempted to make the chili again, she started adding unnecessary ingredients in the attempt to top what she had made previously. That’s when trouble begins and I told her so. Folks, just not Mandy, think that not only making soup but anything food-oriented is complicated. They reason that the more done to the meal the better it will be. That’s simply not true, especially when making soup.

Soup is simple and straightforward. Most soups require a mirepoix: a sautéed mixture of diced vegetables, carrots, celery and onions. After cooking these ingredients down, the sky’s the limit. Some of our most popular soups are mushroom, tomato, black beam, curry carrot ginger, French onion and butternut squash. I have recently made a potato leek soup with applewood-smoked bacon and a fan of locally grown apple wedges as a garnish. The combination of textures and flavors are delicious. But, before I give you a recipe, I think it would be fun looking at the history of soup.

Soup is as old as the history of cooking. When food was not plentiful, dumping whatever was around into a big pot and boiling it was cheap and filling. I have recently been watching Game of Thrones and the characters always seem to be eating some sort of soup. The simplicity of making soup made it attractive to both the rich and poor alike, and the simple ingredients made it easy to digest for both the healthy and the sick. As a kid growing up, whenever I did not feel well my mother always presented me with a bowl of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. Those remain some of my fondest memories. Some historians believe soup served as the foundation for the first public restaurants in 18th-century Paris. Whatever the origin, each culture seems to have adopted its own soup. Russian borscht, Spanish gazpacho, Italian minestrone, but the basics remain the same.

I hope you enjoy this soup.

Mandy Hotchkiss and Phoebe Bright are co-owners of the Blue Paddle Bistro in South Hero.

Cream of potato leek soup with applewood smoked bacon

  • 4-5 leeks chopped
  • 4-5 celery stalks chopped
  • ½ pound of bacon chopped
  • 18-20 russet potatoes peeled ,cut in quarters
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • a few dashes of Tabasco sauce
  • 2 cups of chicken stock
  • 1 quart of heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon of oil
  • Sat and pepper to taste
  • ½ cup of white wine

Get a soup pot warm, add oil, bacon, leeks and celery. Cook until translucent.

Add wine, cook more, stirring the ingredients.

In a separate pot, boil the potatoes. When soft, add the potatoes to the other pot. You don’t want to add too much of the boiled water because it would make your soup too starchy. After combining the two pots into one, blend together with an emulsifier adding the cream and chicken stock.

Salt and pepper to taste. You may also add Tabasco and nutmeg.

You may add chopped apple at the end for garnish flavor and texture.

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