National Soup Month, which is January, is almost in the rearview mirror, but cold weather will still be in abundance for many more weeks. That’s a good enough reason to keep savory, soul-satisfying soups on your menu. The three we’re focusing on today go beyond the everyday. We talked to the three chefs who created them about what makes each one shine.
Oleksandr Bendas makes his Ukrainian mother’s borscht for the Garden of the Gods Resort and Club’s Grand View Dining Room. He is a chef de partie at the club.
“It’s my grandmother’s recipe that has been passed,” he said. “It’s part of the family.”
Unlike other versions of heavy creamy beet and cabbage soup, the recipe Bendas uses relies on a broth base that takes a couple of days to prepare.
“A lot of borscht like ones from New York City are cold soups with a lot of cream,” he said, “but I never saw it in Ukrainia.”
His soup starts with smoking meaty beef short ribs. The next day he adds the smoked ribs and cubed bacon to a big pot and adds chicken broth.
“This is simmered for about two hours,” he said. “The smoked ribs and bacon give the broth a lot of salty flavor.”
Then he dices potatoes, carrots and onions that he sautés in bacon fat.
“I shredded beets and add them to the other vegetables to sear,” he said. “I add tomato paste, sugar, salt and apple cider vinegar. The vinegar makes the beets more red. I also add a couple of smashed garlic cloves.”
The soup simmers until the vegetables are tender, then he adds some shredded cabbage and simmers the soup another five minutes.
“And it’s ready to go,” he said.
He serves the soup in hot bowls garnished with a stripe of boneless smoked rib, a drizzle of sour cream and sprinkle of chopped fresh dill.
“We serve the soup with toasted rye bread spread with cooled bacon fat, topped with a few slivers of red onion and a light sprinkle of fleur de sel,” he said.
The result is a surprising light, yet hearty soup and is hands down the most flavorful borscht we have tasted. And the rye toast with red onion seals the delicious deal.
All of the La Baguette cafes in the Springs have been serving scorching-hot French onion soup with a thick cap of crusty Gruyère cheese since 1984, when Earl Turnipseed opened his first eatery in Old Colorado City. He freely admitted in a 2006 profile in The Gazette that he religiously followed Julia Child’s recipe from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I.” Although he has sold three of his four stores, he encouraged all the new owners to stick with his recipes.
When executive chef Patrick Garnier purchased La Baguette French Bistro on North Chestnut Street in 2007, he brought some of his own tweaks to the soup recipe.
“The restaurant is renowned for the French onion soup,” he said. “It’s a long process. People who do it right blend some soup from several batches at different stages of simmering and mix them.”
He has four large pots of soup that are numbered one, two, three and four. Number one is the soup that is used for service after four days of simmering; number four is the newest batch.
“Each day we blend a little from each soup over the four days,” he said. “When number one is gone, a new batch of soup is started and that becomes number four. And the other soup numbers move up.”
To make the number four soup, every morning starts with peeling and thinly shredding 5 gallons of yellow onions. Then the onions are roasted with a pound of sweet butter and one cup of canola oil.
“This takes about one and half hours,” he said. “I tell my cooks you want the onions to get dark, golden brown. Not burnt, but dark, golden brown.”
When the onions are browned, they are put in a pot with 4 gallons of water, ¾ cup coarse ground black pepper and 32 ounces of concentrated chicken stock, and the simmering begins.
“We don’t add any salt,” he said. “The stock is salty, and when it cooks down it’s plenty salty.”
“Cook onions until they get really deep brown,” he said.
All four soups are brought up to a simmer daily and carefully blended to get the correct flavor. They each get darker and darker, and the onions continue to melt.”
By the end of each day, the soups are reduced by a third, iced down, labeled and refrigerated. The next day, the rotation starts again.
“It’s sort of like making sourdough starter,” he said. “By doing it this way, we have more control over keeping the flavors balanced. Some days the onions might be sweeter, and other days a little sharper. This balances the flavor of the overall soup. The soup is always consistent and always great.”
“Soup is definitely our thing at The Margarita,” said Cathy Werle, a chef at the north-end eatery for close to 20 years and in charge of making the daily soups.
The eatery, born in 1969, is known for its weekday lunch of a bottomless bowl of homemade soup, salad, bread and cheese spread.
“We are known to use butter and cream like it’s going out of style,” Werle said. “I make at least three different flavors a week. About 25 to 30 gallons a week for takeout. When we’re fully open, we’ll serve more hopefully.”
The most popular soups, she says, are the mushroom bisque, beef barley, and split pea and ham. However, Werle has been serving a smoked chicken tortilla soup that is edging out the heavier cream soups.
“I’d say our smoked chicken tortilla soup is the most requested right now. It’s a bit lighter with a dairy-free broth,” she said.
The recipe may look complicated at first glance with a long list of ingredients, but about half of the list will be used to make a special seasoning rub for the chicken thighs.
During the pandemic, the Margarita has had to make some adjustments, adding new dishes and trying new formats.
“But our homemade soups have always remained consistent, and we think customers love that comfort that a warm bowl of soup and fresh-baked bread bring to them,” Werle said. “We’ve added some new ones to the mix but make sure to keep our fan favorites in the rotation.”
Contact the writer: 636-0271.