Taking Stock
I envy Gugenheim's. At the recent Chicken Soup Cookoff at Temple Emanu El on Sunset Boulevard, the restaurant took first place in the traditional category and walked off with a terrific trophy.

You know the kind I'm talking about. They're awarded at bowling tournaments and have several tiers, lots of columns and, on top, the crouched figure of a bowler. Gugenheim's trophy differed only slightly: The bowler had been removed, and in his place sat a very complacent hen. I kid you not.

Thirty Houston restaurants, among them Cafe Annie and the Redwood Grill, signed up for this year's cook-off. The traditional category drew 12 entrants, and the creative category 18 -- further proof that, given the choice, Houstonians would rather improve on the past than re-create it. (Top honors in the creative category went to Auntie Pasto's in Bellaire.)

How does a traditional soup differ from a creative one? The distinction is murky. Literally.

According to one event organizer, a soup is traditional if you can see all the way to the bottom of the pot; it's creative if you can't. But like most rules of thumb, this one didn't always work.

Several entrants, though they used such nontraditional ingredients as ginger and lemongrass, found themselves competing with the matzoh ball-and-carrot crowd for the reason that, these ingredients notwithstanding, their soups were clear. Which put the nontraditional cooks at a disadvantage. Whether they'd have fared any better in the creative category is impossible to say, but there, at least, they'd have competed on equal terms.

No doubt, I'm making too much of this. The event, which raises money for both the temple and the Houston Food Bank, doesn't aspire to high seriousness, and little hinges on the outcome. Which is all well and good. But a fun event can also be fair -- one in which all contestants stand an equal chance.

All in all, the organizers expressed satisfaction with this year's turnout. But not all the signs were good. In the Mama's section -- reserved for home cooks as opposed to professional ones -- only five people submitted entry forms. Even worse, of those five, only three bothered to turn up.

And worse still, the category's first-place winner wasn't a Mama at all, but Kenneth H. Kates, a Papa. God almighty! What is the world coming to?


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