Northeast Soup Challenge Finalists Culinary Q&A

Behind each of the stellar Soup Challenge recipes that have made it to the finals, there is a passionate home cook with wonderful stories about what led them to the kitchen. We asked the finalists about their favorite foods to make and eat (other than soup!), what are their go-to “Cool Kitchen Tools”, best cooking tricks and tips, and their most memorable meals. The responses all came from the heart. Good stuff!

Jasmin
Old Country Creamy Potato & Sausage Soup  
vs New England Clam Chowder

How did you learn to cook?

I learned to cook when I was still a kid. After my parents split up, my mom put me in charge of preparing dinner as she didn’t usually get home from work until late. I learned a few basic dishes and grew from there. Otherwise, I am mostly self-taught from cookbooks, tv etc. I do enjoy watching Food Network and learning new tricks from there. Also, I have watched a lot of great Youtube videos online showing different techniques and dishes.
What inspires you to cook?

I get inspiration from a lot of areas. Being a mom of 3 first and foremost I have the needs and tastes of my family in mind. My husband and I enjoy trying different restaurants and interesting cuisines, so I take a lot of inspiration from there as well. We also like to travel and I’ve definitely picked up new tricks and ideas from that, too.
Besides soup, what is one of your favorite things to cook/bake?

I enjoy experimenting with different ethnic food, or putting an ethnic twist on an otherwise familiar or standard dish.

Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

In cold weather, soups are obviously a staple. I make a really nice beef stew (sort of a simpler beef bourguignon) and a decent pot of chili.

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

My santoku knife. Worth every penny! I’m also very fond of my Microplane grater.

Any “not so secret” kitchen tips you are willing to share?

Make sure you have your ingredients ready to go before you start cooking, and don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things! Ask friends, family, colleagues from different cultures to share their cooking tips and secrets – you never know what you might learn!

Best meal you have ever had:

The tasting menu at Asiate in NYC. Awesome!

Robin
African Peanut Soup  
vs Caribbean Black Bean

How did you learn to cook?

Really just exploring by myself. I went to a boarding school for poor kids, and although there were plenty of opportunities to learn to cook for a group of 12 girls in a dorm, I was too busy with sports to be home in time for dinner! I became vegan in 2004, but then lived on Ramen noodles for my 1st year of college. Since then I have tried to be more creative with my cooking.  I use lots of cookbooks, and when I find a recipe I like, I continue to use it but just keep adding my own elements.  (My husband is actually the ‘cook’ in the household! I just have a few recipes I’m good at!)
Do you have a favorite go-to cold weather/winter meal?

I really enjoy a hearty soup in the winter; the African Peanut Soup OR my Peanut Butter Potato soup (another interesting flavor combo) with a Vegan grilled cheese on the side using delicious Daiya vegan cheese.

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

I would have to say my mini food processor.  I like to blend portions of my soup so it’s a bit creamier. And I hate to dice onions, garlic, or peppers, so usually toss them all in my “kitchen Ninja” and pulse it a few times, and voila, no chopped fingers!

Joan
Couscous Tabbouleh Soup
vs Lentil

How did you learn to cook?
I determined to get to know how to cook after receiving a Kitchenaid mixer for my 30th birthday. Also, as a theatrical designer, I spent a lot of time in Europe and discovered that those folks ate better than we do in America.

What inspires you to cook?

I am a confirmed francophile when it comes to cooking and return to France as often as possible, just to eat. I am inspired to cook well because I like to eat well. Julia Child didn’t hurt, either.

Besides soup, what is one of your favorite things to cook/bake?

I am a killer baker and pastry chef. I like the chemistry of what happens in an oven as well as the mystery and danger involved.

Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

Cold weather meals: Coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, lamb stew.

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

My knives and my mixer

Any “not so secret” kitchen tips you are willing to share?

Garlic: peel and lay on a cutting board; smash it with the side of a heavy knife. Sprinkle over a little sea/kosher salt and some freshly, coarsely ground black pepper. Smash again several times, rubbing it into the seasonings. Chop well. Now it’s ready to give itself up to flavor.

Best meal you have ever had:

Two best meals (there’s a theme here): Marc Meneau’s L’Esperance in St. Pere-sous-Vezelay, France; July 31st, 1994. Forty One Restaurant; Sydney, Australia. July 31st, 2004. Both were menus dégustation (a sampling of all the chef’s signature dishes) with perfect wines matching the perfect food. Enjoyed with friends and family–less of each in Australia, if you can believe it.

Chantal
Cheeseburger Chowder
vs Chicken Corn Chowder

How did you learn to cook?

From my Mom, but also lots of watching Food Network.

What inspires you to cook?

My desire to eat decent food within my dietary restrictions.

Besides soup, what is one of your favorite things to cook/bake?

Usually Italian.

Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

Shepherd’s Pie.

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

My griddler, Cuisinart, and my crockpot.

Any “not so secret” kitchen tips you are willing to share?

There are lots of easy food swaps that make traditional recipes healthier.

Best meal you have ever had:

My homemade Chicken Cacciatore!

Sharon
Spicy Egg Drop Soup
vs Caribbean Black Bean

How did you learn to cook?

My mother taught me how to cook but I didn’t have an interest in food/cooking until I was in middle school/high school.

What inspires you to cook?

I love to watch the food network and look through cookbooks.  I get ideas to develop my own recipes.  I particularly like to change recipes to make them heart-healthy.

Besides soup, what is one of your favorite things to cook/bake?

Blackened salmon, roasted vegetables, pumpkin bread, banana bread and apple cake.

Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

Minestrone soup with cheese or vegetarian chili with corn bread.

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

My hand-held soup blender.

Any “not so secret” kitchen tips you are willing to share?

It’s great to have a husband who’s always willing to run out for ingredients I need at the last minute and who is willing to clean up/wash dishes – I’m a messy cook!

Best meal you have ever had..

Some of the best meals I’ve ever had were on a Crystal Cruise, which was a gift from my parents and included my husband, two daughters, parents and brother.  Also, my mother is an amazing cook and I enjoy eating meals she’s prepared.


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