Southeast 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. Many finalists learned to cook from their moms and grandmothers and are inspired by their families. We asked about their favorite dishes, go-to “Cool Kitchen Tools”, and more. Each Southeast Soup Challenge finalist brings a unique perspective to the competition and we are looking forward to meeting them soon at The Art Institute of Atlanta!

Debi
Mama’s Greek Penicillin
vs Nana’s Chicken Soup

How did you learn to cook?

I learned how to cook in my family kitchen between 10 and 12 years old.  I learned baking from my Grandma Gupton and meals I learned from my mother, Greta Gupton.  I remember my first attempt at cooking was scrambled eggs.  I used my younger brother and some of the other guys on our street as taste testers.  I was a bit heavy handed with the salt shaker to say the least.  Over the past 40 years, I’ve know that I’ve greatly improved.

What inspires you to cook?

My family is my best inspiration.  I love cooking big meals for big occasions.  I also like cooking with family.  I cooked with my mom and my grandma when I was growing up and as an adult, then started cooking with my daughter, which I still enjoy doing.

My inspiration for “Mama’s Greek Penicillin” came from re-creating a comfort food for my daughter, Lindsey.  My daughter had cancer when she was 11 years old (Ewing’s Sarcoma PpNet).  When we would come home after a round of chemo, she would want her favorite soup-Greek Lemon Soup- and we would go out to eat it together.  After a while, I learned how to make it for her, and then she would only eat mine.  Even now, when she gets sick (now 24 years old), she wants a pot of my soup.  I’ve made it for others since then; I’ve been told it works miracles!

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

I love cooking Italian and Greek food.  My daughter says that no one makes a sauce as good as mine and can’t even touch my lasagna.  My favorite thing to bake is cakes. I make a killer chocolate cake with jam filling and chocolate butter cream frosting.  Although it’s been awhile, I love baking bread too – it makes your house smell like home! And I enjoy eating as much as I enjoy cooking.

Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

Soups and chili are my go-to cold weather foods.  I entered a small amateur general cooking competition last Fall and I won the overall competition with my Fiesta Chili.  That’s what inspired me to enter your competition.  I used to bake bread to go with my soups, but haven’t in awhile.  I would like to get back to that in the future.

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

I love my Cuisinart Food Processor, it’s one of the original models from the 80′s. I use it for so many different recipes.  And I love gadgets – seeing what they can do and what I can do with them.

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

Preparation is everything!  I like to gather all of my ingredients, then do all of the chopping and then all that’s left is the cooking.

Best meal you have ever had:

My best meals are always at home with my family and friends. It doesn’t matter what you’re eating, as long as you are all sitting together around the table, talking, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. Family is very important to me, so “with whom” will always be “with my family”.

Angela
Comfortly Southern Turnip Green & Ham Soup
vs Nana’s Chicken Soup

How did you learn to cook?

I learned to cook at a young age. One of my earliest memories is sitting on the kitchen counter watching my great-grandmother cook at 5 or 6 years old. My mother taught me to cook and as my interest grew, she would let me help in the kitchen. As I developed my own tastes and recipes, she has always been there to give feedback or answer questions.

What inspires you to cook?

Love of my family inspires me to cook. My husband has different tastes than some of our family members. This gives me the opportunity to try new recipes. Bringing the family to the table for fellowship inspires me to create recipes and develop my cooking skills.

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

My favorite thing to bake is sweets. I love to try new cookies, cakes and bread pudding recipes.
                                                                    (Angie)
Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

I love to cook my special 21-ingredient chili and cornbread croutons. Even in cold weather I serve it with a lettuce and tri-color pepper salad and a margarita pie or apple pie. 

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

My favorite appliance is my Cuisinart mini-chopper. It is so versatile! I use it to mix salsas or combine ingredients, etc. as well as chop.

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

I ”borrowed” the garbage bowl tip and peeling boiled eggs from Rachel Ray. I keep a bowl on the counter just for trash while cooking and this helps on time. For the boiled eggs, I do not allow them to get cold. I rinse the boiled eggs in cold water then drain. I put a cover over the pot and shake it around to crack and loosen the shells. Then I peel while still warm.

I do not force new recipes to develop- if one comes to mind I will write it down, look it over, then decide if I want to try it. Sometimes I just have to get into the kitchen and try a recipe while it is still in my brain before I write it down. I keep a notebook and pen in the kitchen to record any notes on recipes I am cooking.

Best meal you have ever had:

The best meal I have ever had was at Hudson’s on the Dock. My husband Woody and I moved to Bluffton, SC from Woodstock, GA. When we first moved here, Woody’s sister and her husband treated us to Hudson’s on the Dock, which is known for fresh seafood. I had fresh shrimp, a baked potato and “7 day cole slaw”. It was the best. Not only was the food scrumptious, but being with family around the table made it really special.

Debbie
Creamy Italian Roasted Pepper Soup
vs Yankee White Bean

How did you learn to cook?

My Mom taught me the basics of cooking when I was growing up.  Have been self taught since then, picking up tricks and new techniques, etc. from food magazines and television.

                                                       (Debbie’s Mom & Dad)

What inspires you to cook?

I just love to cook, always have.  Think it is because I love to eat!

                                                                   (Debbie)

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

Don’t even have to think about that one – macaroni and cheese!!!

Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

Not one specific meal, but something that is hot and comforting, like a macaroni and cheese, a thick and hearty soup, or a chili.

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

My 7-inch Santoku knife

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

Cook with fresh ingredients when you can.  I was amazed to see/learn the difference fresh herbs make over dried herbs.

Best meal you have ever had:

My Mom’s Thanksgiving Day dinner!

Josee
Wonton Meatball Soup
vs Sweet Chicken Curry

How did you learn to cook?

At age 6 or 7 in Canada with my grandmother

What inspires you to cook?

My love for food and local fresh produce and fresh seafood inspires me in the kitchen.

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

I like to make quiches, homemade artisan bread, fish (freshly caught by me!) and I love to grill just about anything.

Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

Rosemary Lemon Roasted Chicken with roasted potatoes and root vegetables

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

Lemon juicer, thongs and cookie scoops and of course my kitchen aid mixer

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

Adding lemon zest to just about anything will bring freshness to your dishes

 

(Josee and Mom)
Best meal you have ever had:

Coquilles Saint Jacques (stuffed scallops) at my mom’s house with my family. 

Cheryl
Chicken Gnocchi Soup
vs Chicken Corn Chowder

How did you learn to cook?

My mother insisted we learn to cook, sew and play the piano.  I enjoyed cooking the most!

(Cheryl’s Mom)
What inspires you to cook?

Traveling. When I visit a new place I love to try the cuisine of that destination .  I then enjoy recreating my favorite dishes from my travels.

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

I enjoy cooking Italian inspired dishes as well as mexican influenced and Thai.  I love the exotic flavors.

                                                                  (Cheryl)

Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

Soups and stews without a doubt!

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

I also cannot live without my bamboo chopping board.

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

Cook with your heart and whatever you make or bake will turn out!

Best meal you have ever had:

in Ravello, Italy on the Amalfi coast.  It was my fiance’s birthday and we took a day long cooking class at a home overlooking the coast. It was magnificent and every bite was divine!


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