With winter on its way, our thoughts turn to warming food and surely there's nothing better than soup - nourishing bowls full of flavour the best food for the soul. While making your own pot of goodness is always the preferred option, sometimes a quick and easy solution beckons in the form of a pre-made variety. Thankfully, talented award-winning chef Mark Harman, previously of such establishments as Dine by Peter Gordon and Bellota Tapas Bar, has been working hard to perfect an exceptional range of soups. We taste-tested all four of his "Seasons" creations and wanted to find out more about his inspiration for these soups made from scratch.
How long have you been a chef?
I have been a chef for 18 years, which includes the time that I started cooking as a kid with my mum's help. She taught me the basics and paid me pocket money for helping her prepare the meals for the family during the week. My mum used to bake a lot too, using the Edmonds cookbook to create home baking so I learned how to follow and understand recipes at an early age.
What inspired you to become a chef?
I learned to cook mainly sweet things at first, like homemade biscuits and good old-fashioned pavlova. I guess you could say my mum inspired me to become a chef, as did my passion for cooking good food. I think, deep down, the home environment I grew up in set the stage for me to pursue cookery as a career.
Why did you decide to bring out a range of soups?
I have a passion for flavour and fine food; these soups have been served to my restaurant guests for the past 10 years and I wanted to bring my creations to a much wider audience, and I thought supermarkets were the way to do it. Brelita foods shared my view, so together we've created a fine dining brand, Seasons. The name was decided on because in our kitchen, everything is based around the four seasons.
You mention that you've been inspired by your own mother's home cooking - do mothers make the best soups?
My mum makes the best soups, every winter she is cooking up some pleasant surprise with a little spice to warm the body on those cold, wintry days.
What makes a great soup?
Firstly it is the selection of the finest ingredients and crafting a great stock base. Then creating the final balance of flavours is what will deliver the fine dining experience.
How did you come up with your soup flavours - vanilla and tomato, for example, seems like an interesting combination?
Over years of working with great chefs and spending long hours preparing menus for guests, I've learned that it's good to take opportunities to try new things and be creative. Over time, I've had so much great customer feedback and people asking for the recipes that I knew I had some winners. To some people, tomato and vanilla might seem weird but the two flavours marry very well. We use fresh vanilla bean and it is very subtle in flavour and the aroma as you eat it is great - silky smooth and blood red.
What would we always find in your pantry?
Lots of herbs and spices, good olive oil and sea salt.
What's the most embarrassing thing in your fridge?
Chocolate and a 1kg block of cheese.
Seasons soup range is stocked in most major supermarkets; for stockists check out seasonsgourmet.co.nz
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