Soup Competition Advice

Joined Dec 17, 2006
I have decided to "jump in" and take part in a soup competition that is being held by the local ACF chapter. Keep in mind I am a baker with a passion. I have not competed in this even before or against such talented chefs before. But my screen name says it all. The event is a fund raiser for a local charity public buys tickets then you sell them small cups of soup you all know the routine. The event will be held Nov 11, so I think/HOPE the weather will be cool enough to handle such a heavy/hearty soup.

We are holding the event inside at a large shopping mall. We will be using an 8' table to serve from which is to be decorated. The ACF is providing an on site kitchen (restaraunt on the outside to re-heat soup before/during the event) and the cups napkins spoons etc.

I would like to get some help/advice on my recipe and see what you think. Also most of the other chefs (will be 20-25) will be preparing soups such as: smoked antelope, SW Chorizzo w Crawfish, Brunswick stew, Frogmore stew, Roasted Fennel, Confit of roasted corn chowder etc... MY entry is going to "Simply Seafood Chowder" recipe to follow. I listed ingredients and left out the steps, I will have it all written down. when I compete in chili cookoffs I find the pressure can mess ya up... therefore EVERYTHING is written down.

8 ounces salt pork or bacon,
cut in small strips
2 medium onions, in small dice
3 Carrots small dice
3 stalks celery, in small dice
10 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 medium bell peppers, in small dice
1/4 cup flour
1 quart clear chicken stock,
clear seafood stock, or oyster liquor
3 bay leaves
1-1/2 pounds potatoes, half of them cooked
and put through a ricer, milled, or mashed,
half uncooked but cut in small dice
1 cup heavy cream
3 pints shucked oysters in their liquor
1/2 lb Shrimp
2 pts of bay scallops
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Hot sauce
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter (optional)

Blonde roux or cream/stock to adjust consistancy.

Now my questions relates to the conversion, I need to make 12-15 gals, I think I can just adjust (multiply) by 10 and that should get me in the ball park .. RIGHT?? any thing jump out that should not be multiplied like that (Seafood I know) What about a garnish? thoughts ideas? I have a $500.00 budget.

Also I have recruited an upscale antique store for table decorations, Do you think Sterling candleabras, sterling wine coolers, silk runners etc would work or should I go with the beach theme (sand, old crab trap, old porcelan crab boil pot, couple of crusty baquettes etc)

Any advice would be appreciated, the goal here is not to WIN the event (that would be nice but not expected) but to sell alot of soup. I would win big if the public like it and the other competitors think WOW that baker can cook tooo.

Joined Jul 16, 2005
I think it looks good, just make sure you practice it a couple times to make sure it comes out good, The only thing i would add to it would be some kind of garnish or somthing to put on top, iv seen dried corn kernals put on top of chowders as a garnish, mabe not that but somthing like it.
Joined Jun 14, 2002
Is it a formal contest governed by the ACF competition rules?

If so, you've got a time limit and a limit on how much advance prep you can do. I'd also prescale all the ingredients prior to competition.
Joined Aug 11, 2000
my two cents only.....maybe try red bell pepper instead of green.

Keeping a cream chowder hot and not overcooking is a challenge.....
not knowing the rules I'll assume you'll need to have a certain amount finished for competition, then will be serving for several hours....2-3?

Add seafood to small batches just prior to serving so it does not overcook.
Bake some really cool garnishes....cracker crab claws that fit on the edge of the bowl or something visably nautical.

I'd go nautical.....think of different heights....use wine crates or lobster boxes to vary height on your table. Pull in interesting multiple complimentary table cloths or scrap cloth..... Old sailor's hats....peg leg.....antique fish scale....old sailor's maps......model or a large clear glass vase with shells, or lobster crackers/picks, or glass bowies (sp?).....
Prior to cooking at the Beard picnic last week I setup an 8' table so the display would be easy to assemble on site. Remember to have a cloth underneath touching the ground so that you can hide the ice chest, bustub for trash....tres important.....shtuff. If it's not "formal" competition consider wearring a captain's hat or a pirate's hat or even an eye patch.....or have a stuffed parrot on your shoulder.....or after the judging pull out the "costume shtuff".

Soup kettle,.....dbl boiler makes alot of sense for your chowder....potatoes can overcook too....

what brings people to a booth? Energy....curiosity.....good smells......a line of other people.....Smiles.....visuals....
Joined Dec 17, 2006
In answer to your questions NO this is an informal competition. ACF is just the group organizing it. We are not cooking by ACF rules. Basically, there will be two winners, peoples choice judged by the public of course, and overall winner judged by "celeb" judges. The soups will be prepared offsite and brought to the mall. I have made this recipe several times at home in MUCH SMALLER amounts. It is a pretty good chowder. I am feeling uneasy about cooking so much... My feeling is this is supposed to be a fun competition to raise money for some sick kids and that is my approach, of course I hope to do well though.
Joined Aug 11, 2000
can you bring several pots and at least one burner? That way you can heat up a new batch and not have 15 gallons cooking for hours.

If it's inside you don't have to worry about wind......if it's outside consider wind blowing.
Joined Dec 17, 2006
Since this is NOT an ACF competition per se, I am asking for advice. I would definately not ask for advice under a "sanctioned" event. Just wanted to get some input how to multiply my recipe to 10-15 gals and if anyone saw any glitches I am missing. In additon to some ideas on theme...

Shroom thanks for the ideas, I think the idea of the pirate theme would work great, the antique store already has most of the props. I will grab a soup kettle for the table. YES the soup will be brought to the event cooked and we will serve from 12:00-4:00pm Nov 11 ... I will heed your thoughts as to the overcooking of the soup. Will allow for addtional time to reheat, and then add the seafood. My plan is to reheat in batches to keep from being over cooked.

I would have thought I would have gotten some more ideas from some of the others here.


Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
Yeah if it were an ACF competition you'd be docked one point for the recipe format. :)
Joined Aug 11, 2000
throw in your blanched potatoes with the seafood when you make different batches otherwise they will not stand up to that much cooking.

Wish I could send you pix from the Beard Picnic last week....e-mail me and I'll see if I can't turn it around with the attached photo.

Still not able to post photos on Cheftalk.....AOL? don't know why maybe photos are too big.....
Joined May 19, 2007
I would also rethink the quantity on your bellpeppers. They are pretty overpowering. Green especially. But even red can take over the dish. My rule of thumb for green pepper is 1/2 as much bell pepper to onion or celery. Usually my onion, celery and carrot are farely balanced in quantity and bell pepper is 1/3 to 1/2. I too would think the red would be preferable to the green.
Joined Oct 5, 2007
First of all I think your conversion is pretty close. There are certain ingredients you can have on hand to keep up the flavors if you fall short with the finished product.
I always use my leftover mashed potatoes to make a chowder. Yukon golds, butter, salt and white pepper. Simply sweet...
Then I start a traditional New England chower. Diced bacon, slowly rendered and reserving the bits for garnish. Next add your onion and soften them. Then I add flour cooking it out a few minutes and then broth, usually chicken, and then some clam juice for the seafood flavor. Bring it almost to a simmer and then add your mashed potatoes. Whisk it all and bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust your seasoning. Use white pepper and kosher salt the whole time to keep things clear. If it is somewhat thick at this point it's okay, you are going to now add your seafood and just barely cook it which will release it's juices into the soup and give you more liquid. Stop the cooking process as soon as possible at this point (if you are alloted the time) and wait until service.
When reheating for service, make the soup very hot and finish with heavy cream, again adjusting the seasoning with the viscosity. Don't boil it, watch it carefully. If you must present the finsished product relatively quickly after completing the soup, add very cold cream and it can help you control overcooking the seafood.
I also would not use bay scallops, they are cheap and taste like it. Quarter or cut into bite sized pieces the best scallops you can find that will give you the equivalent amount as the bay variety. I also use some nice shrimp cut into bite sized pieces and fresh clams (adding any liqour to the purchased juice). Lobster is totally decadent and a delicious addition, but also worthless if overcooked, so I only use it as a garnish if it is on hand and needs to be used.
Ingredients I mentioned in the beginning to beef up the flavor if it's necessary are; more mashed potatoes, clam juice and broth.
I wouldn't use the peppers. Too strong in flavor. Garlic is also strong and not a traditional ingredient in an eastern sea board chowder. For that matter neither are celery and carrot. Carrots will release their color...
I usually garnish with italian parsley, chive and reserved bacon.

I think you are on the right track with a traditional soup, because soup is a comfort food. Innovative combinations are much more difficult to pull off, especially in large batches and require more trial and error cooking.

good luck! I hope that I helped a little...

P.S. This is my first post to the forum and I didn't really proofread my reply. Apparently I also need to download a software program for spell checking so I hope I don't come across as too "off". I have also just worked some crazy back to back shifts
Joined Apr 17, 2006
The recipe looks good, except I agree with several others here about the use of peppers. Red peppers would add a nice accent color, but maybe not too many. The shrimp seems to be out of proportion with the other seafood ingredients, 1/2 lb. compared to 2 and 3 pints isn't very much. I also think you will end up needing more liquid, but you can always add that. I think I'd up the amount of cream. I hope you win!
Joined Feb 1, 2007
What's the 1/4 cup of flour for? You're already using milled potatoes and also call for blonde roux to ajust consistency. If you are putting the flour in the rendered pork fat, get the ratio right before competition to avoid last minute corrections with roux. I would even keep some extra potatoes handy to thicken at the last minute because unlike the blonde roux they don't have to be boiled to thicken. Also, you need to "sexy" up the "seafood" part of your chowder, just shrimp and oysters are quite frankly a little dull. Up against other "sexy" soups like "confit this" and "such and such foam" you will have to add some lobster or scallops or maybe "kummamoto" oysters and some sea beans for garnish etc....The first thing people taste with is their eyes. Although simple, straightforward food most times is truley the best, it doesn't grab as much attention as you need it to here. I've had a million "simply seafood chowders" but I've never had Frogmore Stew. Guess who's table I'm going to first?
Joined Dec 17, 2006
Whew.. just grand opened a new market in town. Best opening in the chain history. (105 stores) So I apologise for not responding.... THANKS to all that have responded.

Shroom,I rounded up a soup kettle to keep the soup warm during service.
The idea of adding seafood in batches is a great tip ...thanks
Bluez...BELL PEPPER.. I was looking for color more than flavor, I generally do not add it because my sweetie doesnt like peppers. I guess the carrots and garnish will work for eye appeal (its only 2 oz)
ChefJ thanks for the ideas..I spoke to the seafood buyer about what is available in the store... we will see.. Scallops for sure. thanks for the bay scallop hint.
Grey good point on the shrimp... the posted recipe needed some tweaking for the volume they are requesting thanks
Gladyce good advice about the "sexy" part..I will definately look for those oysters and sea bean (??) never heard of sea beans.. frogmore stew.. IF you tried that first you may be missing kick a** chowder (confidence is good) ...LOL... Frogmore Stew is not much more than shrimp, corn, sausage etc..kind of a "crab boil" replacing crab with shrimp.

If you want some real "lowcountry" quisine.let"s talk shrimp and grits :smokin

To all.. I will finalize my thoughts and post ...and of course the results...any other thoughts I would appreciate.
Joined Feb 1, 2007
Sea beans or pousse-pierre(in French)are edible sea weed that look like extremely skinny, small string beans. They are really crunchy and salty but if treated right make an outstanding seafood garnish. PM me if you want me to fed ex you some. Any reputable seafood purveyor should be able to get you the kumamoto's, they're my favorite oyster at the moment.
Sea beans may not be right for your dish, but my whole point was to illustrate the need to get people talking about your table...some buzz ya know? I think people these days want to push their culinary boundries and eat new the first in their neighborhood to discover some cool new ingredient. Well at least that's where I am at the moment.

Just my $.02
Joined Oct 10, 2007
I would personally add a little white wine and pernod to my chowder(reduced of course) and maybe garnish it with a little salad of flaked lobster,celery heart leaves and red pepper curls.
Joined Oct 15, 2007
For seafood chowder, I really like to use a specific sea salt, you'd be surprised at the flavor difference. The one I like is the Sel de Guerande grey salt. I get it at the health food store for $4.59 for a one kilogram bag. "Sel Marin de Guerande, Unrefined Sea Salt from Brittany, Le Paluidier Coarse grey salt" (or fine is ok too) "This sea salt from Guerande is hand-collected according to an age old ancestral method. Simply drawn and sundried it is kept gray intentionally in order to preserve its clay particles, and the smell and flavour of Dunalliella-Salina seaweed."

This is the same company that makes the famous Fleur de Sel. When it's hand raked into triangles, the fleur is the stuff on top (the flower). This cheaper grey stuff in the bag is the stuff from below the fleur. Less pretentious more tasty IMO.

Also for the pepper, for seafood chowder, I really like to use Pink peppercorns. They add a nice flavour. For quantities, I grind them in a well cleaned coffee grinder. This also helps as the pink are softer and can have a tendency to clog up a pepper grinder.

For the hot sauce, sometimes I like to use my own home-made hot seasoning, which is home grown hot peppers dried or half dried and cut up seeds removed, and toasted in barely enough olive oil to cover just until it gets a heady aroma. Then I put a few drops of the oil only for flavor. It adds a rich, heady flavor version of the hot. But standard tobasco has a nice fresh flavor too.

For chowder, I like to go "sub clinical" for the hot, you don't perceive the taste at all as hot, and people who say they don't like hot won't notice, but the inclusion of hot pepper or cayenne or whatever dilates the taste buds and makes the taster perceive more flavor in general. It's sort of a nicer msg type effect in a way if you know what I'm sayin'

Latest posts

Top Bottom