8th soup contest to benefit food pantry

Candy Williams, Freelance Reporter
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

South Side Local Development Co. has mastered the art of soup sipping.

Tickets sold out early for this year's 8th annual South Side Soup Contest, being held this weekend in local restaurants along East Carson Street to benefit the Brashear Association's Food Pantry.

"South Side is known for being an entertainment destination for the City of Pittsburgh, but it also has a vibrant business district," says Jennifer Jeffers, soup-contest chairwoman and president of the Brashear Association board of directors. "This event provides an opportunity for people outside the neighborhood to see all that the South Side has to offer."

It also gives participants a taste of some unique culinary creations as local chefs compete for bragging rights as purveyors of the South Side's top soups. Twenty-one restaurants paired with local retailers will offer up small cups of their entries to those who stop by, hoping to win the People's Choice for Best Soup, Most Creative and Best Vegetarian honors awarded at the end of the day.

Stephen Felder, owner and chef of Stagioni Restaurant, is one of four chefs who will bring their best to the table for the first time. He recently relocated his business from Bloomfield to South Side and says he is excited about participating in the fundraiser.

"The soup contest is a good way to see how many different and diverse dining options are available in this neighborhood," Felder says.

Felder is entering his Lentil Soup with Roasted Root Vegetables, made with celery root, parsnips, rutabaga and carrots and herbs such as rosemary, thyme and sage. He chose the recipe because he likes making hearty soups during winter.

"There are still plenty of root vegetables that have been cellared and are available from Penn's Corner (farm cooperative) this time of year," he says. "I use the rinds from parmesan in the stock to give a hearty, full-bodied vegetarian broth."

Other South Side restaurants new to the soup contest this year are Cupka's, Le Brew and BD's Mongolian Grill in SouthSide Works.

This is the third year that Steven Milano, owner-chef of Caffe Davio, will prepare a soup for the competition. His Greens and Beans Soup is not on his restaurant's menu, but Greens and Beans is its most popular appetizer, so he decided to create a soup recipe based on it. He will make 10 to 15 gallons of the soup for contest participants to sample.

"The soup will be made with a vegetable stock, toasted garlic in extra-virgin olive oil and fresh herbs. I believe that using fresh ingredients always creates better flavor," Milano says.

Chef Adam Manculich of Yo Rita hopes to keep his winning streak alive with his Winter Squash Soup, a vegetable broth-base recipe featuring roasted pumpkin, butternut and acorn squash, celery and onions, topped with a mole sauce and pistachios.

His Parsnip Soup was the People's Choice winner last year, and in 2010, his Roasted Chestnut Bisque was voted No. 1.

Manculich says it's hard to predict his chances of earning a third first-place award for this year's soup entry.

"You can never tell. All I know is, it'll taste good. I imagine if I don't win, I'll hear about it," he said, jokingly.

Last year's South Side Soup Contest raised more than $30,000 and more than 1,400 canned-food items for the Brashear Association Food Pantry, according to organizers. A sold-out crowd of 1,300 consumed more than 300 gallons of soup from 25 South Side restaurants.