Chef Tristen Epps came to the Union Station Farmers' Market with a plan. In fact, for his cooking demo, the last of the market's season, he had scouted the stalls a couple weeks prior and bought chiles to ferment. However, the weather varies and circumstances change, so Epps, who heads the kitchen at Mister Tuna, scratched the chiles and decided to make a hot curry soup, a nod to his Trinidadian heritage.
"The soup with the squash is a comforting thing that I like to eat in the morning," says Epps, who eschews cold weather and professes a love for breakfast soup. "Curry pumpkin or curry squash is a big thing in Trinidad, and today I'm taking it local."
To make the savory dish, Epps hit up Cure Organic Farm for two hefty butternut squashes and a couple of thick leeks. Then he got a quart of apple cider made by Ela Family Farms — an ingredient, he says, that gives the spicy soup a touch of fall sweetness. Epps also bought four types of chiles from Thistle Whistle Farm: curly cayenne, sweet red and greens, the medium-heat aji Colorado, and a super-spicy one called fatalii, which tells you everything about the flavor just by its name. Garlic came from Rocky Mountain Fresh, and over at ACRES at Warren Tech, the chef picked up bright flower garnishes from the aptly named "chef's cooler." All the other ingredients he brought from Mister Tuna, such as fish stock, chile oil, Caribbean spices and full-fat coconut milk.
"The cool thing about this time of year is the colors," the chef says while prepping red peppers, orange squash, green leeks and yellow chiles as the growing crowd gathered.
The aroma coming from the bubbling pot of ingredients proved intense, drawing more people to observe as the chef added ingredients, stirred and explained his process. In a giant stock pot on one table rested some fish stock, into which Epps added a bag of anise, Sichuan peppercorns and other warming spices. Next to the pot, kitchen manager Matt Young prepped the vegetables for the dish, his deft hands peeling the butternut and dicing it into pieces small enough to cook quickly.
In between the soup-making steps, Epps gave out tips for cooking the stew, such as to "throw in the peppers whole so it doesn't get too spicy," and to use full-fat coconut milk for a richer tasting soup.
"The more you manipulate the chiles, the spicer it will be, so I'm going to just break the cayenne so we expose the capsicum," he tells the crowd. "As a kid, habaneros would go in whole into dishes and you wouldn’t know if it was tomato or chile — you just ate it."
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The finished curry soup, puréed and bright orange, wasn’t too spicy, but it was warm and full of chile flavor that made you feel cozy both inside and out. Epps decorated the little cups of soup with flower petals and more of the oil from the restaurant's kitchen, and though the day was warming, market-goers eagerly lapped it up, the taste, smell and color all symbols of the season.