Presiding over the stovetop and a hissing cauldron in the Harry’s Pizzeria kitchen, Berlin Saint-Luc is in the zone. His soup zone. Steam is billowing in fragrant plumes. You know what’s inside is going to be good.
“The first time I cook soup at my house with my mother, and then when I came here, I learned from Manny [Sulbaran] at Michael’s,” Berlin explains. “He showed me the way to make soup, but I’m Haitian, so I know about soup already!”
To make a simple soup you only need a few ingredients and not much time – 30 minutes if you know what you are doing, he says. Berlin describes that to make a soup it is something like combining things that match. And meat doesn’t equal flavor. You can achieve a rich meaty result by simply using vegetables and water. Berlin’s favorite style is not surprisingly a vegetable soup from his mother country.
“You take some meaty beans like lima beans and add lettuce [escarole] then green beans. Some sweet potato and yucca for color and texture,” Berlin explains. “Then you can just add water. If I want stock, I can put it…but you don’t need it. The ingredients make the stock for you.”
Often to help build flavor in the liquid, you start with mirepoix – the holy trinity of carrot, celery and onion. This is cooked down at the bottom of the pan before any water is added, building the stock base with browned, caramelized bits. One time Berlin’s father was very sick – stomach sick – so he made him some soup. It was basically mirepoix and garlic, so simple. His Dad drank it and one minute later he felt great. That’s the medicinal, healing power of soup for you!
“You can tell that Berlin watched his mom and grandmother cook,” chef de cuisine Daniel Ramirez shares. “He’s like the nonna in the back of the kitchen making the sugo. We really didn’t need to tell him a lot about making soup early on in training. He just knows.”
In Haiti, Berlin explains that you can also make a soup with beef feet and also things inside the beef, like what he refers to as “belly” i.e. tripe. He explains you first cook the meat with “acid”, which flavors the broth. Berlin uses green onion, garlic, and some parsley plus lemon. Once it marinates for a bit, the meat is placed in a covered pot and over medium heat to brown and seal in the juices for tenderness. Then water added and the soup comes together. He knows it is done “when the juice tastes good.”
One of the things that Berlin learned from Manny is that you can make a great soup even in 15 minutes.
“Add some things, and it’s ok and done! I saw what Manny was doing and then I use my mind to make something of my own,” he explains. “I like red bean soup. It is my favorite both to make and to eat.”
An important point Berlin stresses is you never want to overcook the vegetables that are a soup’s featured ingredients. If you are making a vegetable soup at the restaurant, you always want to hold some fresh vegetables back to layer in at the end of the cooking process, like 5-10 minutes before it’s done. This finishes the soup and adds another element of texture and flavor before the final touch of garnish to please the eye.
Sometimes the best soup can come from when you have nothing “juicy” to work with — the cupboard is bare and there are scraps.
“We need to use everything at the restaurant and not throw anything away,” Berlin says. “I call it ‘to make something happen’ and soup is the way. Sometimes when I come in in the morning, you don’t have enough… Like the other day there were just onions and carrots and then I took a little bit of flour… It was amazing this soup! We 86! I was very happy with this soup – easy money!”
The night before Berlin begins thinking about the next day’s soup special. He takes an accounting of what’s in the pantry and walk-in. Then, he’s thinking about the soup at his house, no joke! He says it makes him prepared so that when he gets in and starts the soup around 9:15 a.m. the following day he’s already done the majority of the hard work. Then it’s all about following the cardinal rule: a soup man never leaves his soup. We asked Berlin to whip up a soup close to home as yesterday’s special so we could observe his morning routine, and Tess popped in to document his handiwork. Here is the recipe he came up with so you can enjoy some soup in your own home… when you’re not visiting Harry’s Pizzeria, that is!
Serves an army (about 40 bowls! you can freeze the leftovers)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup peeled and chopped carrots
2 cups chopped white onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 pint of canned San Marzano tomatoes
1 pint of cooked and pulled leftover meat such as short rib if you have it but chicken or pork will work well
1 jalapeno, sliced
1 quart cooked white beans
1 cup penne pasta
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
2 scallion stalks, chopped
1 tablespoon thyme
1/2 head of escarole, roughly chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
Grated Parmigiano and torn basil to garnish
Set a large pot on the stove over medium-high heat and fill with the olive oil. Add the celery, carrots, onion, garlic, salt and pepper and sweat until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add the tomato, meat and jalapeno, turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Add the white beans, oregano, scallion, thyme, escarole and 2 quarts of water. While the soup is simmering uncovered, separately cook the pasta until al dente. Once the pasta is cooked, reserve 1 quart pasta water and add to the large pot of soup as it starts to render. Drain the pasta and rinse. Chop into rough pieces and add to the soup. Once all the flavors are blended together and everything is cooked down and tender, add the lemon juice and taste for seasoning. Ladle the soup into bowls, and top with Parmigiano and basil to finish!.