There’s the $2 bowl of soup, and then there’s the same pottage pulling for $3.50. Just by splashing it up with a trendy topping, the difference between so-what and upscale is apparent.
“For the quick-serve restaurant, garnishing can allow operators to buy convenient product, customize it, and make it a signature item,” says Tom Frain, executive chef for Camden, New Jersey-based Campbell Soup’s Campbell Away From Home division.
That little extra dollop, drizzle, dice, or crisp is ever changing. Some operators look at healthful eating trends and expand their lines in that direction. Others focus on consumer’s desire for choices and customization. Guests also take out their wallets for bold flavors where toppings easily can pick up the slack.
Within each trend are overarching garnish goals. The classic approach to soup is to finish it off with a complementary topping. For example, if you have seafood bisque, finish it with chunks of seafood on top, says John DeShetler, professor of culinary arts for the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, New York. “What’s happening now, if you go further, we’re looking for a contrast of texture and flavors.”
Whereas the classic French onion soup plays host to bread and cheese baked on top, a newer approach might be to top the soup with fried onions for a texture contrast. Instead of a basic crouton on top of a soup puree, now it’s popular to change it to a rye bread crouton, a triangle, or crostini, DeShetler adds.
Cafeteria-style café Souper Jenny in Atlanta aims for flavor contrast in its soup toppings. The butternut squash soup is a bit sweet, so it gets a topping of blue cheese for its savory quality and toasted macadamia nuts or pecans for saltiness. “It’s the best of all worlds in one bite,” says manager Marcie Millard. The menuboard lists the toppings with the appropriate soups, and as guests pass through the line, the servers ask if they’d like the cheese and nuts on top of their soup.
Soup operations don’t miss out on consumers’ desire and need for healthy options.
“The focal point of our concept is our company tagline, ‘We care how well you eat.’ So in addition to the basics, we like to offer soup toppings that are better for you,” says Blaine Lively, director of research and development for the 84 Souper Salad units. Better-for-you toppings include sunflower seeds, fresh mushroom slices, and jicama slivers.
If the word “health” doesn’t work, the fresh and fragrant appeal of herbs might. Herbs add color and a breath of life to a bowl of liquid.
Herbs are where it’s at for The Herbfarm restaurant in Woodinville, Washington, and executive chef Jerry Traunfeld suggests using soft leaves chopped atop soup. It’s also important to cut and add them at the last minute while the herb oils are still fresh, he adds.
Chopped chives work well on nearly any soup for the onion flavor they impart, he says. He suggests other herb and soup combinations. “For tomato soup, basil is the most obvious choice, but mint would be a nice choice, and fresh marjoram would be excellent.” Since basil easily turns black, be sure to chop it just before applying it to the soup.