Diary of a Restaurant – Ch. 15: Ravi’s SoupNov 28, 2020
A Story Written by Kevin Gallagher
When Donna and I arrived in the morning, Chef Anne was standing at the back work table, a spoon poised over a bucket of rich looking red-orange liquid, her lips pursed and brow furrowed in concentration.
“Taste this.” she said, passing Donna a spoon. “I’m sure it’ll be better hot but just taste it.”
“Is this Ravi’s soup?” asked Donna,
“Yeah, the one he made last night”
Donna tasted, her eyes widening, “Mmm, lentil, curry and…”
“Apricot, – good isn’t it?”
“Great texture – really smooth. Cream or coconut milk?”
Anne shook her head, “I don’t know, and I don’t know if he used chicken stock. I don’t know where he got the recipe from, or even if he used a recipe. He didn’t leave one anyway.”
“Oh, we’ve got to serve it at lunch” said Donna
“Absolutely. I think I’ll garnish it with a little crème fraîche and some crisp shallots.”
The servers then, were left in the position of offering vague answers to customers’ queries about the ingredients.
“Any dairy in the soup?”
“Is it vegetarian?”
Any doubts about ordering the soup
, were swept aside at the first taste. Conversational threads were temporarily lost as spoons were dipped a second time to confirm that the smooth, delightful warmth was real. Satisfied sighs were heard and shoulders dropped as tension slipped away.
Ravi became our designated soup maker. Even though he could not be relied upon to write down the recipes, he would at least designate them as vegetarian or not, dairy free or not, before he stowed them in the walk-in fridge. If you asked him in passing what he was making, he would flash his broad smile, shrug and say,
“Just a soup.”
But they were never “just soup”; they were fresh and inventive expressions of old standards – tomato, squash or corn, married with apricot or pear and subtly seasoned with the fragrant and piquant spices of Sri Lanka and South India. His repertoire kept expanding adding new soups, chowders and hot pots, while in reoccurring favourites the flavour notes, always balanced, varied like a beautifully sung raga.
When a kitchen position opened up, Segar was the obvious choice to fill it. He and Ravi now worked together enthusiastically, following Donna and Anne, questioning and learning. It was clear that Ravi had cooking experience, and although Segar had little, he proved to be a raw talent with a discerning palate. Their enthusiasm was a tonic for Donna and Anne, who took every opportunity to share culinary tips and demonstrate techniques. Before long, they were co-anchoring the Sunday brunch line.
Ravi was still making the daily soups, while wading deeper into other areas of the kitchen operation. His delightful butternut squash with Asian pear was the “Soup of the Day” for what seemed like weeks and Donna was unhappy with the repetition.
“I know it’s good” she teased, “but every restaurant in the city is serving squash soup now. You’re resting on your laurels.”
“What are laurels?’ asked Ravi with a nervous laugh and a sheepish grin, “Is that like your ass?”
“No more squash soup!” said Donna.
The next week, Donna and I sat for lunch in the dining room. We were approached by a new server, Bruno, who rather nervously began to recite the specials.
“The soup today is a lovely butternut squash, garnished with..”
Donna didn’t give him time to finish, “Are you kidding me? she said, throwing her napkin down on the table.
Bruno continued uncertainty, “It’s really good; I’ve tasted it.”
But Donna wasn’t listening. Seated facing the kitchen, I could see Segar frantically waving, trying to get Bruno’s attention, but both Bruno and Donna had their backs to the kitchen and couldn’t see him mouthing, “Tell her we’ve got another soup!”
Donna was already on her way to the kitchen. Segar intercepted her, “We have corn chowder; that’s what he should have offered.”
“Why is there even squash soup available?”
“I think a customer asked for it.” Segar stammered.
Ravi stood at the stove, intently stirring an onion and celery mixture in a stockpot and pretending not to notice, while his eyes, half-closed against the sting of the onions, darted nervously towards Donna and Segar.
“Ravi, what’s with the squash soup?”
“The lady, Fran,” he said with a sheepish smile, pointing to the offices across the parking lot, “she asked for it.”
Patiently Donna replied, “Ravi, your soups are great and everybody loves them and as much as I appreciate your input and enthusiasm in the kitchen, I want you to focus on them. They’re our ace-in-the-hole on the lunch menu. Look at it this way – someday you could have your own chain of soup bars and I’m lending you my customers to experiment on.”
Ravi beamed, chuckling in embarrassment.
“I’m serious,” continued Donna, “I’ll even give you the name for free, Ravi Soups. You could have units in every major airport, because, God knows, it’s hard to find anything good to eat at an airport. Your soups would be perfect.”
Then turning back to the dining room, she said, “But no butternut squash soup until next year!”