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Soup puts the heart at ease, calms down the violence of hunger, eliminates the tension of the day, and awakens and refines the appetite.
- Auguste Escoffier, "the king of chefs and the chef of kings" (1847-1935).

Of the many thousands of food writers crowding the Internet, Pat Solley is probably the wittiest. And what she doesn't know about soup, the world's favourite winter food, just isn't worth knowing.

Pat, an American living in Washington DC, is a world authority on soups. Her website discusses the subject in all its aspects - soup jokes, news, songs, and literary references. It must be only a matter of time before an astute soupmaker makes a takeover offer for her unique site. By the way, January has been named Soup Month in the U.S.

Apart from home-made and canned soups, the world is fast developing a taste for gourmet soups, sold from shops (kitchens?) in major cities. The trend began a few years ago in New York, with the Soup Nazi (popularised by the Seinfeld TV show).

Gourmet soup shops opened all over Manhattan, including one called The Soup Nutsy, which for two years employed Pat Solley as a consultant/copywriter. Nowadays , nine branches of Daily Soup and rival chains such as Zoopsoups serve broths, chowders and other hearty dishes to hungry New Yorkers.

In London, numerous soup shops have opened, mostly in the area between Regent and Carnaby Streets. The best known, Soup Works, has four outlets, all in the West End - two in Soho, one in Covent Garden and one in Goodge Street - offering a wide range of gourmet soups. It, too, has an amusing and informative website.

Nick Sandler is Soup Works' Executive Chef . "Nick's lifelong quest to create the perfect soup derives from a powerful adverse reaction to the unspeakable vegetable broths his mother force fed him in childhood," says one of his colleagues.. "Although he is only really interested in soup, he does manage to get in a little mushroom foraging, rock climbing and fishing."

Soup Works also offers these candid thumbnail sketches of its chiefs, who seem to be a great bunch:

  • Bruce Isaacs, Managing Director: "Bruce is the boss, and he wears the glasses to prove it. His list of restaurant credits is as long as your arm... and his main hobby appears to be procreation."
  • Johnny Acton, Marketing Director : "Johnny got into soup via the obvious route of driving a mini-cab in Camden and writing obituaries and travel features for The Times. He rates Nick's Chicken, Sweet Potato and Coconut as the finest soup he has ever tasted, and a particularly rank seal fin stew consumed in Uummunaaq, Greenland, as the worst."

"Soup culture" is experiencing a boom in Germany, too People queue while waiting to be served bowls of hot soup, which they often consume without sitting down.

Soupkultur claims it can serve a bowl of soup in less time than its competitors in the fast-food business take to slide a bag of chips over the counter. In addition to Soupkultur, Berlin has the Suppenboerse (soup bourse) and the Suppen Cult. In Munich, the Suppenkueche (soup kitchen) has enjoyed good business for more than 20 years.

"Soup fans are a diverse group.," says Heidemarie. "Soup bars were never meant to provide just another upscale lunchtime option for yuppies. Bankers, lawyers and management employees dine alongside students, homemakers and pensioners."

Contrast this with the ritzy Chalet Suzanne, Lake Wales, Florida., which claims its soups and sauces are famous from the Earth to the Moon, as its Soup Romaine was taken to the Moon aboard the Apollo 15 and Apollo 16 flights, and the Russian cosmonauts also carried it for the space link-up of Apollo and Soyuz.

"Fly-in for breakfast, lunch, dinner or for a romantic weekend on our private lighted airstrip," invites its website (a lighted airstrip seems an unlikely spot for a romantic weekend).

"Served in a unique setting of five quaint rooms on many levels overlooking the lake, Chalet's cuisine is unparalleled. Every corner of the dining area is aglow with antiques, stained glass and old lamps from far away places..."

Their traditional six-course dinners comprise broiled grapefruit, Soup Romaine, lemon sorbet to cleanse the palate, salad, entree served with homemade potato rolls and seasonal vegetables.

Diners can order Chicken Suzanne, Shrimp Curry, Maine Lobster Newburg, Lump Crab with Herb Butter, Crab Sasse, Broiled Shad Roe, Maine Lobster Thermidor, Lamb Chop Grill (12 oz.), Filet Mignon (9 oz.) or a vegetarian dinner... and a choice of desserts.

Chalet Suzanne has won awards for its food and wine, and an Uncle Ben's 10 Best Country Inns of the Year award. Its 30 guest rooms all have different designs and decor.

"We offer volleyball, horseshoes, bird-watching, shopping at the gift shop and ceramic shop, swimming and fishing," says Suzanne. "We have a small row boat that guests can use on our small Lake Suzanne. We also have 70 acres for walking, cycling and jogging. Enjoy free sunrises and spectacular sunsets daily.

"Nearby attractions include "Spook Hill" (four minutes away)... Drivers are amazed to find when they park at the bottom of the hill and put their car in neutral, it starts to move slowly backwards...uphill! "There are several legends about Spook Hill - an Indian chief protecting his people, an irate alligator, a pirate captain - but no one can explain it." (Party-poopers say it's an optical illusion).

Let's return now to Pat Solley's everything-about-soup site. In addition to thousands of recipes, anecdotes and countless other items, Pat collects and displays links to hundreds of fascinating examples of Soup in the News. Her home page highlights such bizarre items as:

  • A new film being shot in Scotland, Fly Me To Dunoon, will feature a New York magazine artist who drowns his exotic fish in chicken soup.
  • Prison guards in Lanarkshire complained about the fancy Christmas menu, including cream of tomato soup, set out for the inmates. "It makes us sick having to serve lovely food to criminals while we miss our Christmas meals at home with our families."
  • Former Venezuelan Ambassador to the United Nations Dietgo Arria confides that his most challenging gastronomic experience was a bowl of camel hoof soup in China.
  • Congolese diamond miners reduced to caterpillar soup. Kenyan Olympic marathoner hails udon noodles and miso soup. Stephen King describes assailant as "empty tomato soup can."

Who would want to read that sort of stuff? you may ask. Me and a million others!

The Story of Augustus, Who Would Not Have Any Soup

(Struwwelpeter, by Heinrich Hoffmann)

Augustus was a chubby lad; Fat, ruddy cheeks Augustus had;
And everybody saw with joy The plump and hearty, healthy boy.
He ate and drank as he was told, And never let his soup get cold.
But one day, one cold winter's day, He screamed out--
"Take the soup away! O take the nasty soup away! I won't have any soup today!"

Next day begins his tale of woes; Quite lank and lean Augustus grows.
Yet, though he feels so weak and ill, The naughty fellow cries out still--
"Not any soup for me, I say: O take the nasty soup away! I won't have any soup today."

The third day comes; O what a sin! To make himself so pale and thin.
Yet, when the soup is put on table, He screams as loud as he is able--
"Not any soup for me, I say: O take the nasty soup away! I won't have any soup today."

Look at him, now the fourth day's come! He scarcely weighs a sugar-plum;
He's like a little bit of thread, And on the fifth day, he was---dead!




Story first posted April 2001

Copyright 2001

Eric Shackle

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