Soup's On

Tasty one-pot recipes that celebrate the flavors of Autumn — straight from the chef of Chez François in Vermilion, Ohio  

Steam curls up and away from a stockpot of thick and creamy butternut squash soup. Chef John D’Amico stops what he’s doing to stir the concoction and keep it from scalding.

Seasonal soup, such as this cool-weather favorite, normally is the first of several courses artfully presented at Chez François, an award-winning restaurant named one of America’s Top Restaurants in 2012 by Zagat Guide, the go-to source for national and international restaurant reviews.

For the last 26 years, D’Amico has played an essential role in making the restaurant a favorite place to celebrate special occasions with a nice meal, a bottle of wine and an unbeatable waterfront view from its perch above the river that meanders through the quaint harbortown of Vermilion, Ohio.

But D’Amico isn’t at the restaurant today. He’s at home. And he’s making one of his favorite meals with his favorite sous chefs — his wife and children. Soups are frequently part of the meal when he has a rare day off, usually on a Monday when the restaurant is closed, although, he adds, “we’re never really off.”

While his wife Heidi answers calls made to the restaurant reservation system, which forward to their home in nearby Avon, Ohio, D’Amico preps the kitchen workspace by organizing a cutting board, knife, large stock pot and hand blender on the center island. When you add in three older kids — their fourth is away studying French literature at Harvard University — and two insatiable golden retriever puppies, their home kitchen has more activity than a Friday night at the restaurant. 

“This is where we all gather,” says Heidi, when she hangs up the phone. “We spend most of our time here in the kitchen and family room or outside around the grill or by the fire pit.”

Having grown up in the restaurant business, all of D’Amico’s children have taken jobs alongside dad at Chez François. Daughters Sam and Maggie assemble salads and put the finishing touches on dessert, while son Zak does prep work or dishes. 

“That’s the only way we get to see each other,” D’Amico says.

At home, the routine is similar on Monday night. As the chef slices into the butternut squash for the soup, the kids take on other dinner chores — cutting vegetables and preparing the grill for steaks. However, most of their attention seems to be focused on eating fresh fruit, cheese and bread sitting on the counter. 

“Everyone eats while we are preparing food,” laughs D’Amico. “Half the food is eaten by time we sit down to the table.”

Even the puppies — Sebastian and Sofie — manage to get hold of a few morsels as D’Amico slides the skin and seeds from the squash into the trash can next to him after placing the rest of the pieces into the pot of soup now boiling on the commercial-grade gas stove.

“They are double trouble,” says Heidi. “It’s a good thing they are cute, because they are constantly getting into things.”

She puts the puppies outside, so there’s more room for everyone else to maneuver in the kitchen. Silverware clangs and dishes clink as the table is set in preparation for the meal, which is nearly complete. While D’Amico steps outside to grab the steaks off the grill, Maggie blends the soup with the hand blender until it’s smooth and creamy. When D’Amico returns, he ladles large helpings into white soup bowls and garnishes each generous helping with green onions

 Soup is on the table in less than 30 minutes, but it’s devoured in even less time.

“We like soup because it is a comfort food, and it’s one of the easiest things to make,” says D’Amico. “It’s filling and can easily be our whole meal.”

Heidi, who is in charge of clean-up, looks forward to soup night for another reason — there’s less to wash. Plus, she has two four-legged assistants eager to help.



Comfort Soups

Three of chef John D’Amico’s favorite fall recipes


Lobster Bisque                                                                                                                               

1 lobster
2 cups of water
¼ cup olive oil
4 cups heavy cream
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon shallot, chopped
1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
Salt and white pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons tarragon, chopped
4 tablespoons parsley, chopped
4 ounces of dry sack sherry
4-6 ounces of roux


Yields two pounds (recipe may be decreased)
1 pound clarified butter
1 pound all-purpose flour

Roux Preparation:

 In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour slowly. Cook the mixture over low heat until the roux turns a light color and has a nutty smell.

 Soup Preparation

Bring water to boil. Poach the lobster in the water, cover with a lid, and cook the lobster till pink (reserve water). Remove the lobster and take the meat out of the shell. Cut the meat into small pieces to garnish soup.

Take the lobster shells, break them up and sauté them and onion in the olive oil for five minutes. Add the cream and reserved poaching liquid to the olive oil mixture and simmer.

 Add roux, a little at a time, until desired thickness is reached. Strain through a china cap or medium-mesh sieve. Season with the garlic, shallots, tarragon, parsley, cayenne, Tabasco and salt and pepper to your likeness. Add Sherry. Add lobster meat to garnish.


 Cream of Butternut Squash Soup and Roasted Red Pepper

1 large butternut squash
Olive oil
1 large red pepper
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups boiling water
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon shallot, chopped
Salt and white pepper, to taste
Crème fraîche or sour cream for topping
1 bunch of scallions, sliced

Peel butternut squash and remove the seeds. Dice the squash into small chunks and put into the boiling water until tender — about 10 minutes.

Rub the red pepper with olive oil. Place the pepper over a flame and turn often until the outside is blackened. This will take about 3-4 minutes. Once it is blackened, place in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 5 minutes. Remove skin and seeds.

Heat the cream with the onion, which will take about 3-4 minutes. Add the butternut squash and the red pepper to the cream mixture. Let simmer for a couple of minutes and season with the garlic and shallots and the salt and pepper, then purée in a blender for 30-60 seconds until it reaches a creamy consistency. When serving, top with a spoonful of crème fraîche or sour cream for richness and garnish with sliced scallions.


Cream of Pumpkin Soup 

1 pie pumpkin
2 cups boiling water
2 cups heavy cream
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon shallot, chopped
Salt and white pepper, to taste
Crème fraîche or sour cream to garnish
1 bunch of scallions, sliced, to garnish
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Peel the pie pumpkin and remove and wash the seeds. Season the seeds with salt and bake in the oven till golden brown. Dice the pumpkin into small chunks and immerse in boiling water until tender — about 10 minutes.

Heat the cream with the onion over low heat for 3-4 minutes. Add the cooked pumpkin to the cream mixture.  Let simmer for a couple of minutes and season with the garlic, shallots, nutmeg and the salt and pepper. Purée in a blender for about 30-60 seconds or until creamy. Before serving, top with a spoonful of crème fraîche or sour cream for richness. Garnish with sliced scallions and toasted pumpkin seeds.