Sopa de la Reina

The only voice raised at Soup de l’YMCA’s Soup-Off competition on March 1 was that of event emcee Kate Schwab, who also raised something more important in the process: money for the YMCA’s Campaign for Youth. That Monday, four celebrity judges gathered their collective critical prowess to declare one victor out of the five finalists’ soup recipes. When the soup had settled, Sopa de la Reina (a soup created by Chryss Yost) beat out Fiesta Chicken Tortilla Soup (which was declared “fan favorite”), It Takes a Village (People) Soup, I Yam What I Yam Soup, and Dinner for Dumbo Soup in a battle that tested ingredient combination skills at their best.

So why soup? “Soup is a healthy, comforting meal to share with your family or friends, and that’s what the YMCA is all about,” said David Damiano, president of the Downtown Organization and part of the team of fundraisers who are aiming to raise $150,000 in 2010 to enrich the lives of kids and families in need. “Why just ask people for money when you can make them cook or eat for it?” All proceeds from the Soup de l’YMCA contest go toward the Campaign for Youth, which introduces kids to new experiences, such as camping.

Let’s rewind to February, when a call went out to cooks from Goleta to Montecito to enter an original soup recipe into the contest. The catch: All entries had to include one major ingredient that begins with the letters Y, M, C, or A. Kate Schwab was excited in the planning stages about this catch to the soup creation: “I knew that would give lots of creative cooks out there just the challenge they needed to inspire them to enter.” Recipes were submitted with a $25 participation fee by February 18, and the top five entries were selected to attend the Soup de l’YMCA Taste-Off at State and A Bar & Grill (1201 State Street, 966-1010,

Judges Tim Hardy and George Yatchisin, emcee Kate Schwab, and judges Starshine Roshell and The Restaurant Guy, John Dickson, considered appearance, taste, and more.
Courtesy Photo

The four judges responsible for choosing a winner were Tim “Family YMCA” Hardy, Starshine “Keep Your Skirt On” Roshell, John “The Restaurant Guy” Dickson, and George “Soup Nazi” Yatchisin (who is the editor of The Independent’s food section). Their discerning palates came together to declare Sopa de La Reina a winner over the other four recipes (created by Lisa Bull, Leslie Dinaberg, Hap Freund, and Yvonne Watkins), each of which was adapted to restaurant service by the State and A kitchen. Taste-off attendees (which numbered close to 60) had the opportunity to sample the finalists’ creations for a $15 fee.

Judging was based on taste, appearance, aroma, originality, gluttonability (how much you would want to order it more and more), and marketing (each soup had a name and a tagline). The judges did not know which contestant made which soup, only hearing each soup’s tagline and contents before sampling and scoring. The entire package of each entry was judged, with marketability inspiring I Yam What I Yam’s tagline to be read in “Yambic Pentameter.’

Winner Yost was drawn to the contest because of the playful and creative nature of the event. “I found myself mulling over possible recipes almost constantly, and wanted to include all four Y, M,C, and A ingredients,” stated Yost, whose original vision to include a drizzle of spicy chocolate-chili mole didn’t quite work out. Settling for yam, cilantro cream, and avocado, Yost created a soup that would impress even the Simon Cowell of soup judges. There were challenges to preparation, as State and A had to adapt each contestant’s original presentation for individual tasting cups; plus, they had to quadruple the recipe, which made adjusting seasonings tricky. “You may not want to have one tablespoon of cumin become four,” explained Yost.

Between the 1st Thursday Kick-Off Wine Tasting event ($4 per glass of wine, donated by the Wildcat Lounge and Babcock Winery in early February) and the March 1 event, Soup de l’YMCA made nearly $1,000 for the Campaign for Youth. Sopa de la Reina is also now available to sample from State and A’s menu, and the recipe is online here.

The YMCA continues to encourage donations to Campaign for Youth on their Web site,


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