As the temperature drops, the desire for soup heats up in cafés across the country. Soup is popular, no matter the season, but as the colder weather descends on the U.S., many operators ratchet up their soup menus.
At 505-bed Crouse Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y., Foodservice Director Jackie DeCecco’s staff serves three soups a day in the café, one of which is always housemade. “It’s a great way to demo our cooks’ expertise in making soups from leftovers,” says DeCecco, who notes that cook-caterer Deborah Bemis has been the driving force behind the leftover makeover. “It’s interesting to see the combinations that have been created, and it is also a great way to use leftovers. The cooks take all kinds of items and turn them into unbelievable, great-tasting soups.”
The hospital has a self-serve soup bar where customers also can pick up some extras, such as shredded cheese, sour cream, pepperoni and crackers.
DeCecco credits Supervisor Sam Shantillo with creating the soup station. “We placed the soup station in three different spots before we got it right for the traffic flow and ergonomic ease of use,” DeCecco notes. “We were able to raise prices when we brought in the new soup bar [because we had] more choices. Before, we always had two prepared soups but not always a [housemade] option.”
DeCecco plans to sell soups for takeout this winter. Customer favorites are tomato basil—which is so popular it’s on the menu three times a week—and vegetarian lentil. The tomato basil, as well as a special hearty chicken noodle, are featured on patient menus.
Hearty variety: At Yale University Dining, Thomas D. Tucker, director of retail development and operations, finds that hearty soups such as gumbo, chili, chowder and stews tend to be most popular, although Asian soups such as hot and sour and wonton are also well received.
“Many of our units feature soups and stews made with locally sourced vegetables and ingredients,” Tucker says. “Quite a bit of attention is being given to pairing soups and entrées—avgolemono (Greek lemon and rice soup) with Mediterranean dishes, French onion with ratatouille, etc.”
At Dow Corning Corp.’s self-operated facilities in Midland, Mich., soup consumption is driven by the weather, says Foodservice Manager Rick LaRoque. As the weather starts to turn colder, consumption begins to rise. LaRoque offers two housemade soups a day on the cafeteria’s four-week menu cycle. “We probably have 15 or 20 soups in all,” he notes. “We’ll do golden mushroom, vegetarian vegetable, seafood chowder, white chicken chili and regular chili, Santa Fe corn chowder, beef barley and chicken noodle. We do a cream-based soup, a broth-based one and a vegetarian option each day.”
Friday favorite: In Wayzata, Minn., Public Schools, Kim Harren, assistant supervisor for Culinary Express, says the department features soup every Friday during the winter cycle. “Favorites are definitely our housemade chicken noodle soup, as well as the chili,” Harren notes. “Of course, tomato soup is always a good one too.”
This year, she’s tweaking the regular tomato soup by adding cheese tortellini, basil and Parmesan cheese to create tomato tortellini soup.
At the University of Oklahoma, about half of the foodservice facilities offer soup, says Director of Food Services Chuck Weaver. “We do organic and vegetarian soups at one and creamed soups and a vegetarian option at the other. At our newest location we’ll do soup and sandwich combos. They’re well received but sell better during the cold months.”
Blending prep methods: Debbie Archibee, foodservice director for the Sandy Creek (N.Y.) School District, serves three commercially made soups twice a week: tomato, chicken noodle and minestrone. The minestrone is always available as a vegetarian choice. On Friday, however, students have their choice of three made-from-scratch soups: cream of potato and ham, cream of broccoli and cream of chicken.
Employee customers at Shelter Insurance, in Columbia, Mo., like lasagna soup, made with ground beef, cheese and tomato sauce, says Foodservice Director Bill Goings. “Cheeseburger soup, which we make with cheese soup, ground beef, onion and potatoes, [also] is very popular, and chili is huge in the winter,” Goings adds.
Jeff Leahy, chef manager for Bon Appétit Management Co. at Collective Brands Inc., Topeka, Kan., loves to use local produce in soups for the company’s 1,000 employees. For example, cooks combine butternut and other squashes with apples from a nearby orchard and fresh cream from a local dairy to create a “magnificent,” rich soup with flavors of fall.
“People like comfortable things that they’re familiar with, but they’re not afraid to try new ones,” Leahy adds. “We did a curried sweet potato soup that was inspired by a Moroccan recipe I’d read, and that was surprisingly well received. Our customers like the freshness of our food and we do lean to the healthier side and try to offer wide variety.”
Hospital’s new cafeteria led to an increase in the variety of soups on the menu.
Julie Spelman, director of culinary and nutrition services at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, Ariz., is teaching her customers about miso soup this fall.
She offers fresh vegetables in a cold table near the pot of soup and lets the customers fill their soup cups with an assortment that may include chopped green onions, shredded carrots, sliced mushrooms, chopped spinach and chopped broccoli. The soup is known for its health benefits, attributed to the soy paste (miso) base, which is reputed to help prevent breast cancer. It’s rich in antioxidants, vitamins and fatty acids.
The station is located near an area in the new $10 million-plus cafeteria that focuses on natural, organic and good-for-you foods. “The miso soup goes with the theme,” she says. At first, Spelman says it was necessary to put up a sign instructing diners what to do. “We explained to them that they should fill their cup with the vegetables and pour the hot stock over them,” she says.
The new facility has larger soup kettles—holding three gallons instead of two—so they require less frequent refilling. “We designed the new cafeteria so that no one has to walk around the customers in the middle of service to refill soups, because that can be dangerous.”
The miso soup is one of many new soups added to the menu. “We now have about 40 new soups, and they’re all made from scratch,” Spelman explains. They range from a lentil and red pepper soup to Thai spinach coconut, which Spelman describes as similar to a cream of spinach soup made with real coconut and coconut milk. “It has a little bite too; it’s hot and sweet like Thai food.”
To introduce the new varieties, she keeps small cups by the soups to allow customers to sample them.
Prior to the new cafeteria’s opening, the hospital used to serve chicken noodle and beef barley soups daily. “Now, we’ve put them into the rotation,” Spelman recalls. “Some customers miss having them both all the time, but we wanted to give more variety.”
The new soup station also has more space to display condiments. “We have things like tortilla strips for the posole soup, which our customers love,” she notes. “Posole day is a big day in our cafeteria. Our chef is originally from Bolivia so he’s very responsive to the tastes of our Latino customers.”
Henry Ford’s foodservice touts soups as more than simply nutrition.
From its beginnings, Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in suburban Detroit has focused on healthy fare and, in particular, rich and flavorful stocks believed to have curative powers. Frank Turner, executive chef and director of food and nutrition, prefers to make his soups from scratch, poaching the chicken for chicken stock and making the hospital’s own vegetable stock as well.
“We have 70 soup recipes and we serve six soups a day. We rotate most of them and leave two as ‘standard’ soups. Often, we’ll synchronize them with our room service soups. After 2:30 p.m. every day, three soups are offered self-serve in the cafeteria. We put them out with a nice, warm double-baked bread. Soups are a great way to use recoverable scraps.
One of our standard soups is a chicken consommé made with old French techniques. It’s a technique-driven, clear stock that’s chilled. We add small, diced vegetables, lean ground meat, tomato or a little wine and egg whites, whipped very, very slowly. We simmer it and the meat and vegetables all start to cook and form a ‘raft’ that starts to float. It allows us to strain out every possible impurity, leaving a clear broth. We add a Chinese herb, astragellus, used for thousands of years as a wellness ingredient to stimulate white cell activity—it’s chicken soup on steroids. We serve it with vegetables and noodles. The other ‘standard’ is shiitake mushroom soup that’s loaded with fiber and is super healthy. It’s been credited with fighting different early onset symptoms of various diseases.
At Henry’s, a foodservice outlet in the hospital, customers will kill for our African peanut soup on Wednesdays. It’s a thicker soup. They also like chicken paprikash, lemon chicken with rice, sweet potato with leek and bisques. They’ll ask us, ‘where’s my cabbage tomato dill soup?’ if it’s not on the menu or give us flack— ‘where’s my favorite?’
Soup is a great way to eat, and people in hospitals usually don’t have good appetites because they’re sick. Soup is easier on the digestive system and lets you absorb nutrients so you get more out of it.
Today’s patients’ and guests’ tastes have changed thanks to the popularity of the Food Network. Culinary awareness has really grown and continues to grow.
We have a demonstration kitchen where we will give out recipes. It has its own 83-seat auditorium. The look and feel of the kitchen are extremely approachable and send a clear message that food is part of your health and life. That’s where I like to share recipes. We charge the public to attend and do multiple demos. The demos are two-hour classes, and we serve everything we cook—usually between seven and nine recipes.
My three personal favorites of the soups we serve in the café are shiitake mushroom barley, lemon rice chicken with spinach and the African peanut soup. On the patient side, we always have the clear chicken consommé and one other soup that changes with the menu cycle. The room service menu has a number of mushroom-based soups—they’re full of phytochemicals.
We do a number of low-sodium soups and we use ingredients like parsley that are rich in chlorophyll, zinc and dietary fiber. Soup is a great way to get fiber. A fourth of a cup of lentils, for example, gives you a big percentage of fiber. It cooks down, but it’s still there with lots of minerals and vitamins. Our clientele loves it.
We treat soups like a sales opportunity. At Henry’s we have seven different stations and one is dedicated to soup. It has signage with the day’s special offerings and it creates its own buzz. You can hear people talking about what today’s soups will be.
Soup is a good moneymaker, too. Ours run around $3. And health and wellness are hot topics. Hospitals have to treat food with respect. After all, doctors take a pledge to do no harm. Shouldn’t foodservice personnel too?”