Cayucos resident Stephanie Burchiel knows the building blocks for the perfect soup.
She starts by sauteeing garlic and onions in grapeseed oil.
Then she adds homemade stock from slow-roasted seasonal vegetables, stirs in organic produce fresh from local fields and orchards, and tosses in some toasted ground spices.
Burchiel has been serving satisfying soups at local farmers markets since October 2008. Now she’s sharing some of her favorite recipes with readers in the cookbook “Central Coast Farmers Market Soups,” which pairs appetizing dishes with glossy photos by Cayucos photographer Sam Peck.
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Burchiel said autumn is her favorite time of year for produce, when late-summer crops such as bell peppers and tomatoes are sold alongside apples and winter squash.
“We have an unlimited growing season,” said Burchiel, the owner of Central Coast Farmers Market Soups. “We’re incredibly lucky to have that here.”
Food as a healing agent
Burchiel, who grew up vegetarian on a Los Osos beef ranch, was a sophomore at Morro Bay High School when her parents bought Birch Hill Organics in Atascadero.
Soon, she was selling her parents’ organic lemons and kiwis at the Cambria farmers markets, becoming known as “Kiwi Girl.”
After graduating from Morro Bay High in 2000, Burchiel studied psychology at Cal Poly but switched career paths when she bought Shine Café in Morro Bay a week before graduation.
“It was an impulsive decision, but it turned out to be one of the better ones I’ve made,” recalled Burchiel, who learned how to cook during her four years running the restaurant. “I fell in love with the food industry.”
Two years into her time at Shine Café, Burchiel’s father was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease. One of her customers, a dietitian, recommended putting dad on an “incredibly strict diet,” she recalled.
“Within six months, he was feeling 100 percent better,” Burchiel said, explaining that the experience made her aware of the healing properties of food.
“The customers really guided me through it,” she said. “You get more involved in their lives than the average barista would.”
Eventually, Burchiel realized, Shine Café became so popular that “it either needed to go out of business or expand into a larger building.” She sold the café to Greg Barnard, who also owns Sunshine Health Foods next door.
Determined to take a break from cooking, Burchiel taught preschool for six months. Then, while brainstorming about ways to support her parents’ produce farm, “I just threw out soup as an idea,” she said.
The first day she doled out steaming bowls of Moroccan lentil soup at Baywood Park Farmers Market, she ran out.
“That was incredibly encouraging,” she said. “I knew right off the bat it was a success.”
A thriving business
Although Burchiel still helps out at her parents’ farm, she’s now able to support herself entirely through soup.
She spends an average of three days a week in the kitchen — cooking in the morning and selling soup at the Baywood Park, Cambria and Morro Bay farmers markets in the afternoon. (Sometimes an assistant helps run the booth.) She gets her produce from local farmers and her spices from Spice of Life in Paso Robles, which she said has a “huge variety (of stuff) that’s really hard to find.”
Ever conscious of food sensitivities and allergies, she only sells vegan soups. Most are gluten free as well.
Burchiel, who brings 40 gallons of soup to each market, said her customers don’t care what the weather is like. In fact, one of her most successful days was a 91-degree scorcher in Cambria.
“I have this amazing local following that supports me. Every time it surprises me,” the chef said.
She charges $4.50 for a 12-ounce jar, $6 for 16 ounces, and $10 for 32 ounces for customers who bring their own Mason jars. She sells jars for $1 each. (She even has a loan program in place for folks who forget theirs.) Burchiel also sells 30-ounce bags of frozen soup for about $10 apiece at Sunshine Health Foods and New Frontiers Natural Marketplace in San Luis Obispo.
To repay her customers’ loyalty, Burchiel decided to publish a soup-only cookbook — starting work in earnest in 2011. Peck, one of her former Shine Café customers, spent about a year photographing farmers markets across the county.
“Central Coast Farmers Market Soups” features 28 mouthwatering soups organized by season, ranging from poblano and sweet potato to mung bean and wild rice to golden beet carrot and quinoa. Served simmering or chilled, each recipe takes full advantage of Central Coast produce.
Burchiel also tells readers how to make homemade vegetarian stock and offers tips and techniques for roasting vegetables, preparing cashew cream and saving over-salty soup.
“Central Coast Farmers Market Soups” was published at the end of 2012 under Burchiel and Peck’s Farmers Market Publishing imprint. (They published two of Peck’s books earlier this year: “Coastal Zen: California’s Wild Central Coast” and “Mountain Spirits: The Sierra Nevada.”) Copies are available for sale at more than 50 local retailers, including the Cal Poly bookstore, Coalesce Bookstore in Morro Bay, The Garden Shed in Cambria and Volumes of Pleasure Bookshoppe in Los Osos.
Burchiel is now interested in publishing a cookbook for children, noting that “kids are amazingly honest when it comes to food.”
As for her soup-selling business, Burchiel said she’s working on increasing production in order to avoid sellouts.
“My goal is to keep as small as possible,” she said, while satisfying her customers’ demands. “Quality is my main focus.”