At its core, soup is a primarily liquid food, generally served warm or hot, that is combining ingredients such as meat and vegetables with stock, juice, water or another liquid.
But according to those on hand Saturday, Feb. 3, for Orland Township’s Souper Bowl Challenge, there is more than meets the eye.
The cold brought more than 200 guests to take part in the inaugural event.
People often get bored and irritable when the family is cooped up indoors. Instead of retreating to one’s routines at home, some decided to come out to the Orland Township Office to keep warm from the cold with soup.
“It was six months ago that staff came up with the idea,” Orland Township Supervisor Paul O’Grady said. “We saw there are many chili cook-offs, and we wanted to do something different. We came up with the idea of a Souper Bowl Challenge.”
The event, by design, coincided with Super Bowl Weekend to give people a competition to look forward to, if they are not fans of the teams playing in this year’s game.
It featured 25 cooks competing in one of four quarters, or categories: Rookies, foodies between the ages of 12 and 54; Public Service Pro Bowlers, emergency services, first responders, military and education professionals; Senior Hall of Famers, senior citizens ages 55 and older; and Culinary MVPs, local restaurants.
“It’s a fun, healthy, safe event,” O’Grady said.
Upon entry, guests had the opportunity to try soup samplings from all the cooks.
“Some people have come up with soups you don’t generally think of,” State Sen. Bill Cunningham said.
Donna McIntyre, of Orland Park, was motivated to compete in the soup cook-off.
“I thought it’d be fun to get involved with the Village and the people and be of service to the community,” she said.
McIntyre prepared a cream of cauliflower soup for guests to try.
The people’s response, McIntyre said, to that point, communicated to her that “they’re saying this is good.”
McIntyre said the secret to her soup is difficult for others to uncover.
“I got [the recipe] off the Internet,” she said. “I made it at home. I added garlic. I improvised.”
From wall to wall, tables and booths were decked out with Super Bowl-themed decorations.
Elsewhere, a kids’ tent was set up for community youth to enjoy.
Thomas Lynch, also of Orland Park, decided to come out to the Souper Bowl Challenge with family after reading about it in a local paper.
“There’s a nice selection,” he said. “I’d thought there’s only be a few. They’re unique, and there’s a lot of different styles and flavors.”
The event gave guests a chance to meet local celebrity judges of the soup cook-off, with appearances by Star 96.7 morning show host Lisa Jordan, State Sen. Bill Cunningham, Orland Hills Village Trustee Kyle Hastings, II; Orland Township Clerk Cindy Murray and Chef Rachel Murphy from Robert Morris University’s Culinary Arts Program.
“I think this is a very special first annual event,” O’Grady said. “It’s going to benefit [local organizations]. Sometimes people forget about the pantries, that people are in need, and they should help out.”
“It’s a good way to giveback,” he said. “Seeing the variety of cooks [is wonderful.] Supervisor Paul O’Grady put it on. You often hear about chili cook-offs, but this is a perfect weekend to put this on.”
By the event’s end, soup was donated to a local food pantry and homeless shelter.
O’Grady said he is pleased to see 13 participating restaurants and a great community buy-in to support a good cause.
Hastings said he feels honored to be asked to serve as a celebrity judge and went on to say that he gives everyone a fair-shake to determine which soups were to be bestowed with honors.
“I celebrate all food, especially soups,” he said. “Soup is usually your first part of the meal. It sets the stage for the rest of your meal.”
The secret, Hastings said, to preparing a great soup is simple.
“The care they’re putting into it,” he said. “The care and the tradition.”
Souper Bowl Challenge winners were announced by the end as follows:
The Golden Ladle Award, or the judge’s choice, was given to Kate Hastings, out of the Rookies quarter, for lasagna soup; Donna McIntrye, out of the Senior Hall of Famers quarter, for cream of cauliflower soup; Renee Crews, out of the Public Service Pro Bowlers quarter, for chicken and dumpling soup; and Doc’s Smokehouse, out of the Culinary MVPs quarter, for smoked chicken and sausage gumbo.
The People’s Choice Award, or the guests’ choice, was extended to Kate Hastings, out of the Rookies quarter, for lasagna soup; Fran DuFrenne, out of the Senior Hall of Famers quarter, for chicken noodle soup; Marie Ryan, out of the Public Service Pro Bowlers quarter, for Italian soup; and Chuy’s Tex Mex, out of the Culinary MVPs quarter, for chicken tortilla soup.
The Best Decorated Award, an honor bestowed by the judges to the cooks with the best decorated table or station, went to Kate Hastings, out of the Rookies quarter; Fran DuFrenne, out of the Senior Hall of Famers quarter; Bill Brady, out of the Public Service Pro Bowlers quarter; and Chuy’s Tex Mex, out of the Culinary MVPs quarter.
O’Grady wanted to thank all the celebrity judges, community members and restaurants that made the event possible.