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Chef Curtiss: a chilled soup in spring green

Todd MoeChef Curtiss: a chilled soup in spring green

Chef Curtiss Hemm’s chilled pea soup, with herbs, yogurt and bright green blanched peas. Photo provided

Chef Curtiss Hemm’s chilled pea soup is not your autumnal pea soup, the one with the big ham bone and the root vegetables that you simmer for hours. No, this version is a bright, fresh, chilled and vibrant soup, one that anticipates warmer days and the vichyssoises and gazpachos of summer.

Every month, Chef Curtiss brings listeners to a new seasonal recipe. He owns the Carriage House Cooking School in Peru, NY, and is the executive chef at The View Restaurant at the Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa in Lake Placid.

Todd Moe caught up with him this month to talk about a soup for when the weather turns warmer, and one that Chef Curtiss has been making for decades.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

TODD ​​MOE: How do you sort of pitch a cold soup? It seems like people either love it, or they don’t. I love it.

CURTIS HEMM: Yeah, it’s weather dependent. I think sometimes you have to consider the weather, the environment you’re in. So, if you’re running a restaurant, your air conditioning is down low, chilled soups might not work because people aren’t in the mood for something like that. But if it’s a sunny day, it’s summer, or if it’s springtime, you know, we had a 70 degree day this week, at least I did! I don’t want to vouch for the entire listening area, but I had a 71 degree day, so thank you.

It’s weather dependent. It’s sunlight dependent. It’s also kind of menu dependent in terms of is it part of a pre-fee menu in terms of you’ve got multiple courses.

But then, that comes down to the enjoyment of a cold soup and I think the enjoyment of a cold soup relies on what is the main texture and flavor profile. For this one, the yogurt is the main texture driver of the soup. So if somebody’s accustomed to eating chilled yogurt, then they’re going to enjoy the soup. Now you bring into that the fresher flavors; we’ve got the lemon juice, the peas, a little bit of garlic, the cucumber, which is a very vibrant, fresh, and then the herbs themselves.

The lemon juice adds a little bit of acid, which kind of piques your salivation. The garlic is also kind of a savory profile, but the addition of the herbs. So when I’m looking at this, I’m looking at either dill, mint, cilantro, you could even use pea shoots, if you wanted to, if you wanted to really drive home that pea flavor.

The more vibrant the herbs, the more the soup is going to be enjoyed.

EOM: Onecup? That sounds like a lot, but again, you’ve got four cups of yogurt. So you can go herb heavy on this if you want.

HEMM: Yeah, you can put more in there; it’s just going to change the color. So the color I have is a little bit of a light green, you’ll notice that from the picture. The more herbs you put in there, the more chlorophyll you’re putting in and the darker green your soup is going to be.

EOM: Is there any chance you could combine some herbs?

HEMM: 100%. Things that go well together: mint and dill go very well in Greek cuisine. Parsley, if you wanted a more savory soup, parsley and mint go well together. Yeah, there’s plenty of opportunity to mix and match based on your profile. It’s also what you have available. This is a great cooler cleaning. You know how many people at the end of the winter have a bag of peas sitting in their freezer, they don’t know what to do with it? This is a great way to get rid of that.

It’s a great way to support local dairy because you can buy some local yogurt, and then get some cucumbers. And quite honestly, if you didn’t want cucumber and you wanted to put in a bell pepper, you could do that. I do like how the flavor of a cucumber is hard to describe. I almost want to consider it kind of antiseptic like celery. There’s a cleansing property to that, so I like what that adds to the soup that also has a fair amount of water to that as well.

EOM: I want to hear the story, Curtis, about Westport at the Yacht Club. This was a recipe that you started using a number of years ago on Lake Champlain.

HEMM: I did that and gazpacho? And it is. We are we are right on the shores of Lake Champlain. This has been Anthony’s restaurant. I was their opening chef at the Westport Yacht Club and I enjoyed working there immensely. It was kind of a playground, you can do a lot of different things. I want to go back to have their 1990 California cuisine was still hip and popular. It was a wonderful playground for flavors that you would normally think of being on an ocean front or something like that.

EOM: I love this recipe because it’s almost as you say, in the directions, almost a no cook soup. And also, chances are, maybe with the exception of the Greek style yogurt, you’ve pretty much got all your ingredients already in the pantry.

HEMM: Pretty much yeah, and you know, I like Greek yogurt, but you don’t have to. So the North Country Creamery is not a Greek yogurt, but it’s a thicker because of the fat of the milk. It’s a thicker yogurt. Even if you just bought regular yogurt and you wanted to put it on a coffee filter and drain a little bit of that liquid out. You could. Yeah, you can play around with that. And the texture shifts and holds its color for days.

I just love the soup. I love everything about it.

Then I would also say another use for this soup is as a dressing for a pasta and makes a wonderful dressing for pasta. It’s a great addition to cold grilled chicken, you know, salmon. It’s a great dressing room as well.

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