Manor Grove's 3rd Annual Soup Cook Off took place yesterday and the people--and judges--have spoken. "Soup's On" raises funds for the century-old, Kirkwood-based long-term health care facility and the event is held each February at the Kirkwood Community Center. The first year 400 people attended; last year, 800; this year, despite a steady rain, the number was closer to 1000.
The 22 competitors were, as I like to say, a mixed bag 'o nuts: mainly restaurants, plus a caterer, a market, a grocery store, and even reps from the Culinary Arts dept of a local high school. Several brought multiple soups, bringing the soup total to 34. Here are the results, coincidentally awarded in Olympic fashion:
Judge's Awards: Gold Ladle: Frazer's Smoked Salmon Chowder
Silver Ladle: Canyon Cafe's Poblano Chicken Chowder
Bronze Ladle: Provisions Gourmet Market's Tomato Bisque
People's Choice Awards: Gold Ladle: South Technical High School's Raspberry and Chocolate Swirl
Silver Ladle: Fandango's Bar & Grill's Cajun Chicken Corn Chowder
Bronze Ladle: Canyon Cafe's Poblano Chicken Chowder
1. This is the third year in a row Canyon Cafe's Chowder won a judge's award--it took the gold the last two years. In the three years of the competition, this soup has won a ladle in 5 of 6 opportunities. (It also garnered a mention in SLM's Best Soups and Sandwiches feature from December 2009.) Is the soup that good? Yes, it is.
2. And who the heck is South Tech? I asked the same question. High marks to the Culinary Arts department at South Technical High School for even entering such a competition, and higher marks for providing two of the day's more unusual soups: their Ultimate Bacon Cheeseburger soup had easily distinguishable flavors of beef, bacon, and cheese, plus a hit of dill pickle at the end. Garnished with threads of lettuce and a squiggle of ketchup, it was the soup that brought the biggest smile to my face. The one that won the popular vote, however, the deep-colored Raspberry and Chocolate Swirl, studded with surprise bits of chocolate brownie, brought the biggest wrinkle to my brow. With the consistency and taste of a respectable ice cream topping, it would have been better served atop some Haagen Dazs or spooned over a wedge of Hank's Cheesecake...after a bowl of legit soup.
3. High marks on my score sheet went to the only cold soup, though, the Gazpacho Blanco with Lobster Salpicon from Jilly's Cupcake Bar & Cafe, a creation of Chef Dana Holland; it was thin and silky, and cool not cold, with substantial bits of lobster. Adjectives in my margin: creative & well-executed, went for the fences, cool = cool.
4. I tallied high numbers as well for Hanley's Grille & Tap's Grilled Chicken White Chili, this version made with shredded (not chunked) meat and few beans. Again, from my margin, backhandedly: pleasantly un-gloppy.
5. The Corner Pub & Grill's Guinness Beef Stew, medal winner in both categories in 2009, failed to place in either in 2010.
In general, the competition was far more difficult to judge this year. In prior years, many soups were easily dismissed after the first half-spoonful. Not so this time around.
After Canyon Cafe's strong showing the last two years, I was not surprised so many chefs came armed with chowders; what did surprise me was that none of them opted for the ultimate people's choice, Chicken Noodle Soup. Maybe next year. How 'bout it, Canyon Cafe? Up to that challenge? -- George Mahe