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The Meister of Soup
Soup’s on. It’s just before 11 a.m. on a crisp winter day and Ralf Dauns, a.k.a. the Soup Meister, moves like a conductor between several large, steaming stainless steel cauldrons, as he stirs, tastes and fine tunes today’s soups of the day.
Soon, customers will be lining up for bowls of Seafood Chowder, Country Chicken, Coconut Curried Squash and Roy’s Beef Bean Vegetable.
“As soon as that chicken noodle is ready to boil, I’m ready to go,” says Dauns, as he wipes his hands on a kitchen rag.
Prep for the noontime soup rush usually begins at 7:30 a.m. On a typical day, he will serve 300 customers.
Can’t decide what to order today? He recommends trying the Roy’s, which is made from diced beef, chorizo sausage, tomato, fresh herbs, chicken and beef stock and demi-glace.
Of course, judging by the lineups at his counter, all the soups on his list are slurp-worthy. Dauns also offers fresh take-home soups, stocks and sauces that are available in double-wide cooler at the end of the soup counter.
Unlike Seinfeld’s fictional temperamental soup chef who stowed away his precious recipes in an armoire, Dauns — who, by the way, has a friendly manner and quick wit — doesn’t seem as fanatical about precisely following his ingredient lists.
Before his soups are ladled into the bowl he usually makes some subtle tweaks — a dash here, a little extra this or that.
That’s because while the recipes remain consistent, the ingredients can vary slightly in taste. Maybe this particular batch of carrots used is sweeter than usual; or the broccoli is slightly more bitter. This requires slight adjustment to the particular batch of soup — a soup maestro’s touch.
Dauns rotates his soups daily, usually offering four or five varieties, including at least on vegetarian option.
Some perennial fan favourites are Italian Wedding and Boston Clam Chowder and during cold and flu season, chicken soup is served by the gallon.
Through the years, he’s developed a cult-like soup following, from tugboat crews and transit drivers, to local politicians and just about everyone else who enjoys hearty and delicious homemade soup. He’s especially proud of the fact that many stop by to pick up soups to deliver to loved ones who are in the hospital.
“I always liked the aspect of creating comfort food for the general public. Everybody loves a bowl of soup,” he says when asked about why he opened a soup shop.
Dauns has been a chef since the mid-1970s, working mostly in fancy hotels across Europe.
He met his wife working at the
Hilton in Windsor, Ont., and after a stint at the Intercontinental in Nairobi, they settled in Vancouver, where he cooked at the Delta Pacific and Teahouse before following his simmering desire to go out on his own.
He opened his soup shop in the Quay in 1995 and five years later switched the name to Soup Meister and doubled his space. Along with a couple key full-timers, he employs 20 or so high school kids.
For most it’s their first job. And along with learning to cook and properly use a kitchen knife they gain other valuable experiences like, for instance, organization and interacting with the public.
Some will return years later with their own families for a bowl of soup.
Right now, Dauns has about 100 soups and continues adding to his list.
Inspiration comes from all places.
Shortly after the new microbrewery Greenleaf opened in the Quay, he added a new chili with a special ingredient: beer.
“It went really well,” he says, noting that it has a little after taste of the stout.
Dauns also pays attention to food and health trends and now offers some gluten-free spoups and a few that contain quinoa.
With the regular lineups at his soup counter, it’s not surprising he’s been approached about expanding and franchising but he says pushing paper in the back office isn’t him. “I can’t do it.”
He’s too passionate about cooking and interacting with his customers, many of whom he knows by name.
“How ya doin’?” asks a regular who’s arrived for soup.
Soon the banter begins.
Making soup seven days a week hasn’t diminished his love of the comfort food. In fact, when he has friends over for dinner he’ll often make a soup.
And sometimes he even dreams about it.
He has a recurring dream, usually once a year. In it, he runs out of soup.
“That is my nightmare. The fridge, the freezer, everywhere [are empty].”
Fortunately, it was only a dream.
For more, visit soupmeister.ca