Aspen’s Annual Wintersköl Celebration has an amazing soup cooking competition amongst restaurants in the Roaring Fork Valley to capture “best soup” bragging rights for an entire year. The contest is called Soupsköl! The winner is chosen by a people’s choice text vote, making competitors and tasters feel like they have entered American Idol (Imagine: chefs behind their vats of soup exclaiming “Text Number 3!”, while holding up 3 fingers). Taking place in downtown Aspen, on the corner of Cooper St. and Hunter St., 2 dozen restaurants heat-up kettles full of soup in single degree weather! Participating restaurants below.
On Friday, January 11, at 5 minutes to 4:00pm the Master of Ceremonies announced that the competition would be starting soon (for fear of running out of soup, restaurants were warned not to serve before 4:00pm). The buzzing crowd started assembling while DJ Ronnie from Kickin’ Aspen Entertainment blared some festive dance music! Pictured below, MC and DJ!
I began the afternoon by trying Aspen Square Grouper’s Jackalope Gumbo with a honey jalapeño cornbread crouton (Bruce Nethery ladling Square Grouper’s creation below, photo courtesy of Aspen Daily News). With my mouth primed, I continued down the line and enjoyed Kenichi’s Dynamo Shrimp Bisque, a glorious Winter Squash Soup with roasted pumpkin seeds and fresh-cut parsley from Creperie du Village, and BB’s Kitchen’s Roasted Winter Squash and Apple Bisque with a dried cherry, almond, and ginger biscotti. I would like to take a second to savor the aforementioned soups … I love when a scrumptious soup is elevated by its accompaniments!
I sampled the Winter Squash Soup with a homemade spiced marshmallow, sage and toasted pepitas from Elk Camp, the Pork Red and Green Chili Soup from Elk’s Lodge # 224 and the Grilled Cheese Tomato Soup from 39 Degrees, which was truly divine: tomato soup with a decadent cheese drizzle and a crunchy “buttered-toast” crouton. Truthfully, one of my absolute favorites (the crew is pictured below).
As my stomach warmed, I traipsed on … sampling spoon in hand. I tried the Louisiana Turkey and Sausage Gumbo from Anderson Ranch Arts Center, the Butternut Squash Soup with bacon from Finnbar’s Irish Pub, and a most delicious, rich, perfectly flavored Lobster Bisque from Chef Daniel Theme. The bonus of this last sampled soup was that Chef Daniel was not only greeting guests with a grin, but also sharing his coveted Lobster Bisque recipe! If you can zoom on the photo below, you too can recreate Chef Daniel’s signature soup!
Smoked Chicken and Venison Sausage Gumbo by Red Onion and Smoked Salmon Corn Chowder by The Little Soup Shop both had beautifully developed smoky flavors. While the Aspen staple restaurant, Little Annie’s Eating House (restaurant pictured below) served a Watercress and Shitake Mushroom Soup that delivered a perfectly blended burst of flavors – I was searching to name all the different ingredients in my mouth. Although slightly less hearty, it was none-the-less satisfying! Deep breath ... I was ready to tackle some more soups. Loaded Baked Potato soups were a theme this year, which was okay-by-me! Sam’s Smokehouse and Ryno’s Pies and Pints featured a couple that were rich, hearty, and “loaded” to the brim!
One of my tried and true favorites, which I have made before in my own kitchen, is Ute City’s Red Bell Pepper Parmesan Soup with duck confit grilled cheese. Chef Rob MacClanahan and team won the 2012 Soupsköl Trophy with this soup and aimed to defend the title this year. As good as ever, this soup had the sweetness of red bell peppers coupled with a creamy, earthy punch of a wonderful parmesan cheese. The duck confit grilled cheese was so decadent and rich - a perfect pairing to this soup. Chef Rob and I are pictured below with the Soupsköl trophy and the Ski Town Soups cookbook on display, in which this recipe is featured on page 47.
Loving the mix of pureed soups and hearty soups, as well as the different featured regions of the world, I ventured to Clark’s Market for the Santa Fe Chicken Soup, then to Sneaky’s Tavern for a Southwestern Soup. With my taste buds enlightened, I tried the Spiced Shrimp and Pork Belly Soup from Whole Foods. To cap of my tasting extravaganza, I immensely enjoyed the New England Clam Chowder from Big Hoss Grill. Being a soup fanatic, I have sampled my fair share of clam chowders and this one was smooth, velvety, creamy with the perfect amount of clams. I am partial to a clam chowder with fewer potatoes (I believe, if you want a potato chowder, there are recipes to satisfy this craving). Big Hoss Grill’s chowder definitely was a favorite!
Many congratulations to Aspen Square Grouper for the win (pictured above)! 2013 Soupsköl was a triumph! I do have to say that the temperature was brutal, so I give major kudos to the restaurants for keeping the soups steaming hot, hot, hot – exactly what a Soupsköl attendee longs for! Here’s hoping we're all able to search for our next favorite sip of simmering soup at next year’s Soupsköl!