Slurpin’ soup for fun and a good cause


The chefs of Pomodoro Cafe serve their Tomato Bisque with Crab Meat during the 2013 Souper Fun Sunday at St. Francis Catholic High School, in Gainesville, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013. Pomodoro's soup won the 2nd Place Judges Choice. The event was a judged soup cooking contest with more than 30 entries that benefited the high school Tech program . The Gulf of Mexico Blue Crab Bisque from Embers Wood Grill won both the Judges Choice 1st Place and the Peoples Choice Award.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, January 27, 2013 at 8:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 27, 2013 at 8:47 p.m.

Nearly 900 people crowded around tables Sunday, slurping tiny tastes of soup out of 4 ounce paper cups for the 6th annual Souper Fun Sunday competition hosted by the St. Francis Catholic High School.

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The chefs of Pomodoro Cafe serve their Tomato Bisque with Crab Meat during the 2013 Souper Fun Sunday at St. Francis Catholic High School, in Gainesville, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013. Pomodoro's soup won the 2nd Place Judges Choice. The event was a judged soup cooking contest with more than 30 entries that benefited the high school Tech program . The Gulf of Mexico Blue Crab Bisque from Embers Wood Grill won both the Judges Choice 1st Place and the Peoples Choice Award.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer

“Soup is just one of those great comfort foods,” said Heather Duiser, advancement director for St. Francis Catholic High School. She called the concept unique, saying the idea was first proposed by a group of St. Francis parents.

“It has just been getting bigger and better every year,” Duiser said.

Thirty-one establishments participated this year, including Sweet Mel’s, Dos Mamas, Cajun John’s Catering, Harvest Thyme Cafe, Newberry High School and Southern Charm Kitchen. St. Francis doesn’t require a fee for chefs to participate; they just asked for them to donate their time and their soup.

“It’s a great way for them to get their name out when they are brand new in the community,” Duiser said. She said the school typically looks for locally owned restaurants instead of larger chains.

Ember’s Wood Grill won first place as well as the People’s Choice award this year with their Gulf of Mexico Blue Crab Bisque. Ember’s has a history of raking in high scores at the competition. Last year, it won the judge’s first place award.

Owner of Ember’s Ryan Todd called the competition a “smart event” and a great opportunity for independent restaurants to have their products tasted by the community.

The unique feature of a soup tasting, he said, is that the tasters can really get a sense for the skill of the chef.

“There’s a lot of mediocre soups out there. Soup is one of those items that allows people to allow real cooking talent to rise and shine above everybody else,” Todd said.

To taste the soup, adults were asked to pay $15 and $45 for a family. Money from the soup fundraiser goes toward St. Francis’ technology programs. Free childcare was also offered for younger children.

A panel of local celebrities judged the soups, dividing the task in half and blindly tasting the savory concoctions to determine which bubbled to the top of the pot.

Storm Roberts, radio personality from WKTK 98.5 FM, has judged the event for the past six years. Roberts, who calls himself a “foodie,” proclaimed his love for soup, saying he eats it everyday.

Roberts believes the beauty of soup lies in its complexity.

“You just don’t make a soup, you build a soup if you are a good chef. You have to start and then layer the flavors, and that’s one thing that I look for when I am judging is a nice complex layer of flavors not just one flavor taking over everything. You really have to nurture a soup,” he said.

Despite the cozy connotations that come with eating warm bowls of soup on cold, winter days, Roberts said the warm Florida weather is no deterrent to enjoying the bubbling pots.

“In all kinds of weather, we all slurp together,” he said.

After judging soups from 12 to 1:30 p.m., owner and publisher of Home Magazine Scott Costello, said he needed a wheelbarrow to carry him out of the building.

Costello said he was impressed with the variety of soups offered.

“The spectrum of what you are eating, you could eat a pescatore seafood soup one minute and then you could eat a southern soup the next and then you could go and have a bisque or a chili. There’s such a very different feel to the different soups. It gives you an opportunity maybe to step outside your box,” he said.

Social science teacher at St. Francis Brian McAninch has attended the event for the past few years. McAninch has developed a strategy for tasting the majority of soups without getting too stuffed, too fast.

“It’s been a perfect amount to me the last couple years, because you just get this little tiny bit so I won’t necessarily try everyone, but I will at least go around the entire circuit once,” he said.

The gymnasium of St. Francis Catholic High School was filled with people eating soup as they walked from pot to pot, trying not to spill too much on the way.

Sixteen-year-old St. Francis junior, Megan Wallenhorst, walked around handing out chocolate cookies to anyone who wasn’t spooning soups into their mouths.

Wallenhorst said she has volunteered at the event for the past two years, and has watched it grow.

“I feel like there’s more people here this year. The word is spreading about it,” she said.

The highly organized effort was almost completely run by volunteers, with around 85 St. Francis students donning red shirts to help out with the event in exchange for service hours.

Duiser said it’s easy to get volunteers for the event, because of the importance the school places on helping out in the community.

“That’s just part of who we are as a school, is we all volunteer. It’s something that’s really important to our community,” she said.

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