Soup – The First Restaurant Food
When these cold winter nights come each year, nothing seems to satisfy like a hot bowl of soup. And with the cold and flu season hitting everyone that I know (including the author!), soup is, as the old jingle goes, “good food”.
I’ve always said that you can taste the chef’s mood in the soup and that is, for me at least, one of the best ways to determine the skill of the chef in a restaurant – how they take what is leftover and make something inspired and wonderful. Thomas Keller, one of my culinary heroes, said that it took him years as a professional to appreciate the subtle beauty that a skilled chef can elevate into such a humble dish as is contained in a bowl of soup. Like him, I feel that soup is an ideal way to begin a meal, no matter the weather – if it’s hot, give me an ice cold bowl of gazpacho or chilled summer corn soup. Of course if it’s cold like it is now, a hearty bowl of black bean soup or butternut squash soup sounds fantastic.
The word “soup” was derived from “sop”, which typically was a liquid served with bread with which to “sop” it up, or it was poured over the bread to make it more substantial. As time went on, the sop evolved to become its own dish, with vegetables and proteins, as a start to a meal or as a meal itself. I’ve always wondered why it is said that we “eat” soup, rather than drink it, especially the brothy varieties – however, if you’re like me, you’ve seen plenty of coffee cups in your restaurant, proof that the staff “drinks” the soup of the day!
Did you know that the first item ever served in restaurants was soup? Long before there were even menus, people that stopped at roadside inns were served only what the innkeeper chose to serve, often a broth or stew with meats and vegetables in it as a complete meal. The word “restaurant”, which means “to restore”, was first coined in France in the 1700’s, where one chef began to offer his liquid nourishment at his own shop as an elixir to chase away the exhaustion of travel. Over the door of his shop, he painted the word “Restaurant”. And the rest, as they say, is history.
You can find soups in every culture of the world, and historians say there is evidence of soups dating back tens of thousands of years ago. Some of the great soups of the world include French Onion, hot and sour soup, borscht, gumbo, minestrone, posole, gazpacho, miso, and of course the ubiquitous tomato. And where would we be on the Oregon coast without clam chowder?!
Soup was perhaps never put upon a pedestal until Jerry Seinfeld introduced us to the Soup Nazi, which is still one of my favorite television episodes of all time. But when my nose is stuffy and I need some home comfort, nothing will do like a bowl of homemade chicken soup!
-Chef Scott Neuman-