As the heat wave passes over Vancouver, back to school hovers around the corner. Inevitably cooler weather will soon follow, and your iced café becomes an extra hot latte and your salad becomes a soup! While it may not be what you crave on a hot day now, a hearty bowl of soup is a serious staple for fall eating.
But soup takes time, so you can count on your local Soupmeister in North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Quay to dish up the best of the best every time because its all done in house.
This serious soup expert was born, raised, and educated at Masters level in Germany and has now been in soup business in Vancouver for more than 15 years. Ralf Dauns, recently expanded his market location in January 2010 to include more kettles than ever – allowing up to five different soups prepared and served each day during their peak months (September to May).
So before the soup season kicks into high gear, I sat down with Ralf across from his shop in the market, to learn more about his experience, great soup, and a bit about community…
What are your most popular soups? We have a few staples like clam chowder, seafood chowder, Italian wedding. …Some soups fall out of favour and some come back or some ingredients are not available. [It also depends on] the market price, usually the higher the price the lower the quality – so you want to make good quality.
What is your favourite? I like soups with beans and meat, for example, the Sicilian connection: prawns, sausage meat, different beans, a little parmesan cheese, its almost like a chili. It depends on the time of year and what mood you are in.
Do you oversee every batch of soup? Yes. Between [my sous chef] and me we taste the soup. Sometimes we bring in the younger guys as well, to taste, so they understand when you add this, they see what makes the difference.
After being in the business this long, what inspires you to make soup now? Number one, as my friend also says, I really love to cook. …And the other thing is the satisfaction you get from all the variety of customers. You get customers of all ages and backgrounds. Then I run into somebody who used to come here as a kid. 89% of our customers are regulars.
Many of your staff are local kids, do you have apprenticeships? Not directly the cooking part, but I try to teach them work ethic, and a bit more independent thinking. …I’m not a big fan of writing a list of what to do all day, like franchise style. There are so much structures everyone has these days, so I give them room to grow and have some creativity – it’s a bit harder that way [laughs], but its better in the end.
Outside the market, what is your favourite place to eat? At Home [laughs] …I don’t go out very much, but if we do go out for a fancy dinner we usually go to Le Crocodile downtown – it’s very traditional French, and very consistent.
Lastly, what is the key to good soup? Main thing is a good stock. If you don’t have a good stock then it gets really tough. Then you have to have fresh quality ingredients. You can’t rush a soup. Soup is not something you can make by weighing things out all the time because your ingredients taste different all the time…. The main thing is a good stock, good ingredients, and time. You have to put some TLC in there or its not going to happen.
This serious soup master enjoys what he does and has taken soup to a fine art level. His soup has become a staple in the community, and that is heart warming in itself. During our chat, Ralf said, “what I like about it too, it’s become part of the community,” he pointed out a customer at the counter and continued, “his dad used to come here and now he comes here,” you could tell he was proud, and with good reason – it’s more than just soup, it’s soup with a community story.