Elmwood Memorial Hospital's cold avocado soup.From the early 1900s, when Louis Diat, head chef at New York’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, invented vichyssoise by combining potatoes, leeks and onions with cream, diners have enjoyed a growing repertoire of soups that bring refreshment in hot weather.
Traditional chilled favorites include borscht, the cold beet soup that originated in Russia and Poland, and gazpacho, a tomato-based soup rich in flavors. But many operators are creating new variations.
At Pfizer in Madison, N.J., for example, Chef Eric Schneider likes to offer customers a chilled cucumber soup in warmer weather. Last year, when he was working on summer menus, Schneider introduced a Grand Marnier ginger cantaloupe soup, which was garnished with a cilantro lime cream on top, which he says was very popular.
“I also do a chilled pickled watermelon soup with sugar and vinegar, simmered with the pickled rind and puréed,” Schneider says. “I julienne the watermelon with a mandoline and garnish the soup with it.”
Trying new things: Randy Sparrow, director of food and nutrition services at Indiana University Health in Bloomington, Ind., says he thinks his customers need to become better acquainted with cold soups, but once they have the chance to try them they quickly become fans. The health center serves 1 million meals annually between the café, patients and other facilities.
“When we do special theme days we might sell 25 or 50 servings of a cold soup,” Sparrow says. “We do cold fruit soups in the warmer months and we’ve run gazpacho as a special.”
Sparrow also offered a series of cooking classes, including one on cold soups, which helped make people more familiar with the concept and tried to change their perceptions. “Everyone is pretty open to new options, but sometimes they’ll admit that ‘it’s not as bad as I expected!’”
Sparrow’s customers are not as fond of some of the options such as a chilled squash soup and a pumpkin soup. “They like the fruit soups,” Sparrow says.
The residents of Edgewood, a continuing care retirement community in North Andover, Mass., where meal counts number around 400 a day, tend to favor gazpacho, according to Lou DiAngelo, director of nutrition. “Vichyssoise is also very popular, and we will do cold strawberry or cold melon too.”
Shonna Sherman, executive chef manager at Boylston Place, a high-end senior living facility in Chestnut Hill, Mass., makes gazpacho for the residents, who also like potato leek soup. “As the weather gets warmer, I introduce different soups, made from scratch
with fresh local ingredients. Sometimes, I’ll try a chilled fruit soup like blueberry with a dollop of sour cream.”
Mike Brimer, executive chef at Elmwood Memorial Hospital, Elmwood, Ill., says this summer he plans to offer a cold avocado soup, which customers enjoyed last summer. Brimer says the soup will reappear on the menu because it was perceived as a healthy option with lower fat than some soups.
“We do a tomato with basil that’s very popular and a crab soup with roasted red peppers,” Brimer says.
Chilled soups aren’t served only during summer months, Brimer adds. During the fall his farmers’ markets offer cold soups. “We did a cold pumpkin soup for one with a little coconut, cumin and coriander,” Brimer says.
Building an audience: Joanne McMillian, R.D., director of food and nutrition services at Saint Clare’s Health System in Danville, N.J., says after the success of a cold soup at a catering event she is planning to do more. “Scott Chapman, our executive chef, just did a cold strawberry champagne soup for a catering event,” McMillian says.
“We just changed our retail menus and will be doing a lot more cold soups,” Chapman adds. “We have vichyssoise, watermelon, gazpacho and regular melon soups. Our customers love the strawberry champagne.”
At Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., Director of Culinary Operations Martin Breslin also does a strawberry champagne soup along with minted melon, gazpacho, blueberry and orange, and chilled tomato.
“They love cold soups in hot weather,” Breslin says. “Chilled soups are so simple to make. One that I love is fresh tomato and extra virgin olive oil. It’s tomato, bread and olive oil. We also do a gazpacho with golden tomatoes and serve it with Maine lump crab, which makes for a great presentation.”
In suburban Cleveland, Jeff Potocnik, foodservice director at Lincoln Electric, a manufacturer of welding supplies that operates its own foodservice facilities, likes to do cucumber soup or cold melon soup with cantaloupe and fresh strawberries puréed with honey and agave. “We serve it in six-ounce cups with cold sandwiches,” Potocnik says.
At The New York Times cafeteria, in New York, Michael Smith, executive chef for Restaurant Associates, likes to offer a chilled roasted sweet potato soup with curried shrimp and sliced scallions and apple. “We do it with a stock that has a little spice from jalapeño peppers,” Smith says. “We also do heirloom tomato soup and a summer melon soup with thick Greek-style yogurt and mint, and a cucumber and avocado soup too.”
Cold soup challenges: At Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., Camp Howard, director of dining, says chilled soups can be “awkward in a quick-service type environment where customers serve themselves.” Howard notes that customers tend to think the soup has turned cold rather than the soup was designed to be served cold. He adds that the department tends to do more with cold soups in catering, where it offers shooters of cold melon, strawberry or oyster gazpacho soups. “The guests pick up a small shot of big flavor,” Howard says.
Cyndi Gloodt, general manager for Sodexo at Chicago’s Northern Trust Bank, agrees that cold soups don’t do well in self-serve situations. “They do better in table service settings where they can be nicely garnished and served with better presentation,” Gloodt says.
Chef uses his heritage to create soups for a tough crowd.
Cold soups can be a hard sell in a community where it’s sometimes difficult to convince customers that “there’s life after mashed potatoes and gravy,” says Krysztof (Kris) Sciuta, district executive chef for 80 Sodexo accounts including 300-bed Raleigh General Hospital in Beckley, W.Va.
Sciuta grew up in a Polish home where his parents brought the cold soups of their native land to America. As executive chef, he’s brought some of his upbringing to his customers with his mother’s zupa letnia, a traditional cold soup made with beets and cucumbers.
“When she came to this country she added peaches to it,” Sciuta says. “It’s got great vitamins and color and it’s attractive. I’ll serve it to groups, doctors or visiting VIPs for special occasions, but I haven’t served it in the cafeteria. Sometimes it goes over very well but not always. It really depends on the group you serve it to. You have to educate customers about cold soups because they are not a big hit here in West Virginia. It’s still a learning curve.”
Another recipe inspired from home that Sciuta uses for catering is a cold meat soup called gallaretta.
“My dad used to make it,” Sciuta says. “You take shredded carrots and meat pulled off the bone and cook it all down until it becomes a gelatinous soup with so much flavor. My aunts and uncles used to toast rye bread and eat it with bacon. I haven’t served it in the cafeteria, but I’d serve it to doctors’ groups or VIPs. I used to make it in a restaurant I worked in and it had an ethnic following.”
He’s also made a ceviche-style soup, which is popular at special functions, and other chilled soups with lower end cuts of meat for his customers.
Sciuta says he likes to serve fruit soups in the summer, made from anything in season such as peaches and strawberries, and enjoys layering different flavors to create a “yin and yang” effect. “We serve them in the cafeteria and everybody loves them, especially the peach soup.”
Freshness of the ingredients is essential to the flavor, Sciuta points out.
“The soup has to have that bite of freshness when you make heirloom tomato soup,” Sciuta says. “Otherwise it’s not the same and just doesn’t work. I’m inspired when I walk through a garden, and I like to extract flavor from ingredients. I’ve made soup with grapes and citrus and mint, or straight herb ones and served them like cocktails in glasses. I mentor high school students and take them to competitions. We won a competition using fresh West Virginia ingredients. We’re heading to nationals and we’ll be making a cold soup with local pawpaw fruit, which is a cross between bananas, mangos and pineapple that we purée and add Grand Marnier to. It makes a wonderful soup.”
Harold Kava manages the Plainview-Old Bethpage (NY) School District’s foodservice, where he’s considering introducing a line of cold soups as the weather turns warmer. Although the soups are new to the menu, they’ve been part of his repertoire for a very long time.
“I remember once working as a chef at a catering job for a summer beach resort on Long Island, N.Y., many years ago. It was about two hours before the event was to take place and the chef in charge realized that the guests were supposed to get soup in addition to the rest of the meal. While he was in a panic, I suggested that we make a cold Asian-style cantaloupe soup.
At first he thought I was crazy, but since he was desperate, he decided to go ahead with it. Having been influenced in my career by Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, I decided to go ahead with it.
I tried imitating something he would create. I made a cantaloupe soup with orange juice, lime juice and coconut milk with some cinnamon and ginger accents.
The key to this soup is easy. In fact, it doesn’t get any simpler. When you purée the cantaloupe and add the orange juice, you have to make sure you get the proper consistency. It’s thick, almost like a split pea soup. To this day, I still use this recipe during the summer months for catering.
Cold soups help prolong the soup season into the spring and summer. Even so, there are a lot of places that don’t do them. I used to have mixed feelings about them. At first people aren’t sure and wonder ‘what’s that?’
Now, I’m looking to push a line of cold soups in our schools this summer. I hope they will take off. Students have more sophisticated palates today. Our high school students are exposed to what’s out there in the market—they go out and go to delis and cafés near the school.
We have to compete. We now offer sushi in the high schools and that tends to keep them in the school and encourages them to buy from us. The cold soups could keep them in, too, and I want to try this cold cantaloupe one and maybe a cold cucumber soup and a carrot ginger one. We’d start with the traditional ones and then do these too.”
1 3/4 cantaloupes, peeled, seeded and cubed
2 cups orange juice
1 1/2 tbsp. lime juice
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp. fresh ground ginger