Everyone wants homestyle soup, but few people will spend the time and money to get it. And so we increasingly trust the processed food industry to bring us one of the most basic comfort foods. Not surprisingly, they’ve got it down to a science.
We got some insights into how it works from Vienna Beef’s Director of Bistro products, Jaime Mestan, who oversees a ~$20 million business supplying frozen soups to restaurants.
“They wanted it to look homemade,” Mestan says about her work for a recent client. “We were not given or formula or anything, just asked to taste theirs and see if we could create something similar but better.”
One of the challenge was making the carrots looks right. “Unless you go to culinary school or work in fine dining, usually your carrot dices are a little off. They’re not all beautiful, similar sizes,” Mestan says.
Her solution, which she says is common in the industry: “We were able to source two different carrot sizes.”
In other words, there’s a machine chopping carrots by the thousands into two sizes to evoke your grandmother’s cooking. “Things like that that you don’t think about that make a huge difference,” she says.
Another thing they watch is dark-to-white meat ratio.
“It’s natural-proportioned chicken meat, so that means what you find on a bird, so we do 60:40 dark-to-light in the actual soup, so it looks like you picked apart an actual chicken,” she says.
You’ve probably tasted factory-made soup, whether from Vienna Beef, the even bigger Blount Fine Foods, or another company. Indeed, you may have bought the same soup at different restaurants or stores without knowing it.
“A chicken noodle you’re getting at Betty’s Diner is also the same chicken soup that you can get at a [casual dining chain] depending on who your supplier is,” Mestan says.
Mestan, a graduate of Kendall Culinary School, previously worked at meat supplier Ed Miniat, where she helped design a seasonal chicken salad sandwich for a major brand.
“That was the coolest feeling ever to be able to call my grandma in Tucson and say go here and buy this … I helped create it,” she says.