The ubiquitous, liquid food made from endless combinations of stock, spices, herbs, vegetables and protein has been a staple of the human diet for many millennia.
Served to both prince and pauper, proletariat and prisoner, soup is the great equalizer. Broadly defined, it can take the form of a simple broth or contain a myriad of complex and carefully chosen ingredients.
Most often served steaming hot, soup is a warm refuge from a cold day or a cure-all for everything from homesickness to the common cold.
And for Derek Denny, soup is a passion.
“Cooking in general is a passion,” says the chef and owner of Soup Surreal, “but soup is always something I’ve focused on and enjoyed. It’s what I love to do.”
As one of the newest vendors at the Kitchener Market, Denny has been working hard to make sure downtown market-goers are acquainted with his extensive lineup of made-from scratch soups.
“Word of mouth is starting to travel for us,” he says. “We already have a lot of returning customers and regulars.”
The positive reception is in part the result of Denny’s commitment to providing customers with soups made from locally-sourced, sustainably grown ingredients.
“Going to the farms is one of my favourite things to do,” shares Denny. “It’s one of those things, it takes an extra 10 to 15 hours a week of driving out to farms, but the sense of pride I get when the finished product is in the customer’s hand, knowing that that soup is local. It’s what makes Soup Surreal different than most other soup vendors or restaurants.”
Working this way is important for reasons that lay beyond the soup itself.
“It’s important to support other local businesses and farmers, trying to get a sustainable food system going and keep it running … purchasing and using those local ingredients to make a product that both the farmer and I can be proud of.”
Not only is Denny focused on the quality of his ingredients, he’s also concerned with the needs of his customers.
“You have to develop a connection with your customer. It’s important that they speak with me because I am the one who is putting the food in their bowl. Especially when most of my customers have some sort of dietary need.”
To accommodate for special diets and requests – gluten-free, dairy free, vegetarian, vegan, you name it – Denny will prepare around 10 different soups to have for sale each Saturday.
“It can be a little bit challenging with timing. But it’s what I love to do, so it doesn’t wear me down. As soon as the onions are in the pot, I am more than excited to continue to do what I do best and what I am passionate about and what I love.”
In pursuing his passion, Denny says he is rewarded by the reactions he gets seeing his customers try his soup. Reactions can range from a simple sign of gratitude to sometimes something deeper.
“It’s a very powerful food. It’s very nostalgic. A bowl of soup can bring someone back to their home country, sitting at the table with their family.”
Soup Surreal operates between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m., every Saturday at the downtown Kitchener Market. Denny will also be opening the doors to a new storefront location at 98 Wellington St. in Stratford on Jan. 19.