Soup isn't the most glamorous course of a caterer's repertoire. It doesn't have the visual appeal of intricate hors d'oeuvre or tempt guests the way chocolate-y desserts do. But if done right, soup can excite taste buds. Here's how catering experts add interest to this comforting favorite.
Chicken noodle soup may be dear to many hearts, but that's no reason to avoid trying something new. These caterers have all types of creative soups simmering on the stovetop.
Robert Cano, president of RCano Events in Long Island City, N.Y., likes chestnut soup in the winter. “The soup has a rich, creamy body,” he says. “While most think it is finished with cream,it's actually the natural texture of the chestnuts.”
This summer, Trevor Zimmerman, executive chef and partner of Deuce Events in Glendale, Calif., served blistered corn soup in one half of a martini glass and zucchini soup with basil and Parmesan in the other. Poured side by side, they create “a great yin and yang effect,” he notes
Lisa Delisle, wedding planner and event coordinator at Avocado Traiteur in chilly Montreal, opts for an exotic vanilla-flavored Jerusalem artichoke soup topped with star anise-infused olive oil. She describes it as a “wonderful, white presentation topped with a colorful edible pansy petal.”
BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP, THREE WAYS
If butternut squash soup were a celebrity, it would be all over the gossip blogs. Not only are caterers talking about it, but they have their different takes on how to dish it to the public.
Zimmerman pairs his with a carrot ginger soup; the two soups share a square sushi dish on a bed of saffron sea salt.
Avocado Traiteur serves the fall favorite topped with cran-berry mousse and orange-infused olive oil in a cappuccino cup. Delisle says it's popular for “its intense play on color, flavor and temperature.”
RCano infuses its butternut squash soup with ginger, and kaffir lime creme fraiche adds an extra kick. “The creme fraiche is prepared by dehydrating the kaffir lime leaves; once dry, the leaves are made into flour and incorporated into the creme fraiche,” Cano explains.
THE BELLS AND WHISTLES
No matter how bold its taste, soup often can seem bland, especially a pureed soup with its single color and texture. To make soup presentations pop, simply think outside the bowl.
Delisle lists clear espresso cups as attractive containers for serving soup. For visual interest, Avocado Traiteur tops servings with violet pansies, perfumed oils and froth.
RCano likes to serve soups in sake cups, square shot glasses and test tubes as an amuse bouche. Large servings are ladled into glass mugs and demitasse cups. Other unusual serving vessels include hollowed-out lady apples, jack pumpkins and delicata squash rounds. Garnishes can go from a tiny grilled cheese sandwich atop a Grafton Village cheddar tomato soup to “drizzled oils, minced herbs, a floating crostini and sprinklings of frizzled sweet potatoes or parsnips,” Cano says.
Like Cano, Zimmerman is also a fan of gourds and test tubes, as well as martini glasses. And when he's not doing his yin and yang trick, he gussies up soups with micro greens, infused oils, Marcona almonds and shaved truffles.
NO SOUP FOR YOU
As comforting as soup is, sometimes it needs to sit out a party. Here's when:
Zimmer recommends considering the stairs situation and how far the kitchen is from the guests before putting soup on the menu. “You risk the soup spilling, waiters burning or falling and hurting themselves, or the soup getting to the guests cold,” he says.
Delisle avoids soup at banquets. “We prefer serving soups as canapes during the pre-dinner cocktail. This allows us to play on the colors and offer a sensorial tasting experience in smaller portions,” she explains. Delisle notes that “carrying out larger quantities of liquids to the tables for the banquet can be riskier, less elegant and offer less appealing options for interesting presentations with our first courses.”
To avoid the potential trauma of spills, Cano recommends forgoing soup “when serving on [Manhattan's] Upper East Side in an apartment furnished with Persian rugs and one-of-a-kind pieces.” And unless the soup is a gazpacho or a vichyssoise, don't serve soup if you can't keep it warm. A trick of RCano's for off-site catering is to rent candy stoves for heating pots of soup. Preheating serving pitchers and bowls in a warm proofer also helps, Cano notes, as do speedy servers who can get the soup out to guests “in warm bowls with a little vapor of steam.”