Business

Burnaby chef makes soup his business

Daniel Wagner of Rain City Soups loves soup so much he even has soup tattooed on his left arm. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Daniel Wagner of Rain City Soups loves soup so much he even has soup tattooed on his left arm.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

Daniel Wagner wears his love for soup on his sleeve.

Literally.

The 33-year-old Burnaby chef and soup specialist has an elaborate tattoo from his left shoulder to his forearm that depicts a big cauldron of steaming soup, a ladle, spoon, cleaver and cutting board of ingredients.

When Wagner was a chef toiling for 15 years to construct set menus at restaurants like Grid and The Boathouse, soup was his chance to get creative. Using leftover ingredients on hand and recipes passed down through his family—or that he scoured from his collection of cookbooks—he created concoctions that won raves and suggestions he make soup his full time avocation.

So last year he did just that, starting up Rain City Soups with his business partner Dean Young.

In kitchen space he rents at the Woodlands Smokehouse commissary in East Vancouver, Wagner boils up 120-litre kettles of eight kinds of soup using local produce, natural ingredients and free-range chicken. The soups are cooled overnight then frozen before they're packed for sale in more than a dozen independent grocers from Vancouver to Chilliwack, including Cioffi's in North Burnaby, and at select restaurants.

It's hard, hot and sometimes back-breaking work, with days that can stretch to 14 hours or more.

"It's hard to stir that much soup," says Wagner. "It's really heavy."

But Wagner makes sure he personally stirs every batch. There's nothing else he'd rather do.

"Otherwise I might as well be Campbell's," says Wagner. "I can make soup all day long."

Wagner developed his affinity for soup when he was in cooking school and challenged to create five different soups and garnishes in a week. He eschewed fancy nouvelle cuisine, favouring hearty classics like split pea and ham, lentil and spinach, and minestrone.

He learned to layer the flavours, cooking the onions, celery and root vegetables with salt first so they would sweat rather than fry, then adding the spices then finally the water.

"Soup has to have a depth of flavour so it doesn't just taste like carrot water," says Wagner. "It has to have a good mouth feel."

Wagner spent last spring and summer, the off-season for soup, perfecting his recipes and cooking techniques for full-scale production and packaging before officially launching his label in October.

"We were eating a lot of soup."

But he made some important discoveries that impacted the types of soups he'd be selling, like the changes in texture barley and root vegetables undergo when they're frozen and then reheated.

Getting his soup into people's bellies involves a lot of shoe leather, dropping samples at grocers, cafés and restaurants, exhibiting at trade shows and consumer fairs like the upcoming Wellness Show, Feb. 15-17 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Every couple of weeks he hauls a cauldron to the Downtown Eastside to dole out free soup to those who could really use a hot, nourishing treat.

"This is comfort food, it's not fine dining," says Wagner. "It's always been a dream of mine to make soup."

To find out more about Rain City Soups, go to www.raincitysoups.com

For more information about The Wellness Show, go to www.thewellnessshow.com

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