“No Soup for You!”

Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi Livens Up Abingdon’s Great Winter Soup Cook-Off

The Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center hosted its annual “Great Winter Soup Cook-off” fundraiser Feb. 10-11 in Abingdon, with character actor and author Larry Thomas, the “Soup Nazi” from Seinfeld, back for a second appearance at the event. “I have found the people of Abingdon to be some of the nicest, most hospitable people I’ve ever met,” he wrote via email. “It’s one of the reasons we were considering [buying] a vacation property there.”

Thomas appeared at “An Evening at the Movies with the Soup Nazi” meet-and-greet on the eve of the cook-off, with local chef Catherine Elliott preparing appetizers adapted from Thomas’s cookbook Confessions of a Soup Nazi. Thomas spoke about cooking, acting and the road he traveled to the role on Seinfeld, which cemented his place in the cultural firmament, and played brief clips from the hit comedy and other film roles.

The cook-off drew 40 entries in professional and amateur categories including best chicken soup, best beef soup, best vegetable soup, best seafood soup and best “rooted in Appalachia” soup, which necessitated using only locally-sourced main ingredients and was won by Matty Shy, a middle schooler from Bristol, whose tomato and smoked sausage soup was “amazing,” according to Jennifer Ferreira, Culinary Coordinator for the Center and the organizer of the cook-off event. A panel of local culinary professionals rated the soups in a blind tasting based on texture, taste, aroma and appearance. This year’s event was notable for the participation of younger local chefs, two of whom came away prize-winners when all the sipping and slurping was done. More than 450 people from Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina attended.

The weekend’s big winner was Damascus-based Mojo’s Trailside Café’s roasted butternut squash with pecan cream, which took first place in the professional category and also earned the People’s Choice Award. Local Abingdon fixtures Figaredo’s (cream of poblano soup) and The Olde Farm Golf Club (shrimp and grits chowder) took second and third places, respectively, in the professional category. 

Oxtail Soup from Studio Brew.

Photo by Chef Mandy Buchanan

The amateur category was dominated by youth, with local high-schooler Nora Oakes of Abingdon taking first place with her chicken tortilla soup and Shy earning another mention with his tomato and smoked sausage soup and also capturing the coveted “Rooted in Appalachia” prize. Adult amateur chef Hazel Ramos-Cano, also of Abingdon, took second place with her beef and barley soup. 

The weekend’s lineup also featured a talk from Appalachian-reared chef Travis Milton, who first attracted notice as the chef de cusine at Richmond’s Comfort before coming back home to Southwest Virginia, where he will open three restaurants this year: Shovel and Pick and Simply Grand in Bristol and Milton’s at the Western Front, in Saint Paul. Milton is at the forefront of efforts to preserve and enhance the heritage of the Appalachian kitchen, a heritage only bolstered by the enthusiastic response to the annual soup cook-off.

Perhaps it’s best left to the “soup Nazi” to put it all in perspective: “People at these events are always in a good mood and having fun,” he wrote. “Soup just tends to be fun food.” SWCenter.edu

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