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Recipe by Jim Phillips, executive chef, Barona Casino

I never went to culinary school, which is ironic because I run one now. At Barona’s Culinary Institute, we have a three-million-dollar demonstration kitchen with theater seating and state-of-the-art equipment. I still cook at the casino when high-end guests are in town, but part of my schedule now is devoted to teaching the next generation of chefs.

What’s a day like in my life now as an executive chef? Phones, phones, phones. It’s all about communications. Right now I have about 400 people cooking for me. We have a lot of kitchens and a lot of different concepts going on at Barona. So, mostly it’s about getting a team built. I get us together in the same room and say, “Look, gang, we’re going this way,” and we work together until we get there.

I started cooking when I was 15, up in the Bay Area. One of my friends had a job in a restaurant in Walnut Creek and one Mother’s Day they needed help. He tied an apron around me and the rest is history.

When you have a certain love for cooking, it becomes more of a lifestyle than a job. I just spent about $60,000 at home and built my dream kitchen. I have a wine cellar now and an acre of land in Alpine. I speak fluent French and am classically trained in French cuisine, but old-school French food is passé now. It’s not what it once was. Spain is now leading Europe’s culinary scene. There’s always something new going on there. I like the California style of food. I cook fresh, local ingredients. It’s so tired, that phrase. So cliché. But it’s what I like.

I grow my own tomatoes at my home in the late spring and summer months. The ripest ones go into the soup and others are used for slicing. Around the end of the harvest season I will freeze batches of the finished soup for consumption throughout the rest of the year, preferably in cold weather. To make this experience complete, it requires the perfect grilled-cheese sandwich. For me, that means sourdough bread from San Francisco and a blend of artisan cheeses. It’s good on so many levels.

The trick to this soup is to make a very flavorful chicken broth (or vegetable if you are vegetarian) using fresh chicken bones, onions, celery, carrot, and leeks, plenty of bay leaf, fresh thyme, whole peppercorns, and some parsley stems. For full-flavored soup, strain the stock after 90 minutes of simmering and reduce the strained liquid by at least one third.

INGREDIENTS

Makes about 10 servings

  • 2 quarts chicken broth, preferably homemade
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups leeks, washed, and sliced 1/8“ (white and light-green parts only)
  • 2 cups yellow onion cut on medium dice (1/2”)
  • 2 tbsp fresh garlic, finely chopped
  • 5 pounds ripe garden heirloom tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil (optional and to taste)
  • 2 cups cream (optional)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

HOW TO DO IT

In a medium pot, bring chicken broth to a simmer over low heat. Let simmer until reduced in volume by about a third. The greater the reduction, the greater the flavor.

In a large soup pot on medium high heat, add oil until very hot. Add leeks and onions and sauté, stirring until translucent. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add chopped tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add hot, reduced chicken broth and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Add basil, cream, salt, and pepper. Return to simmer.

Blend the soup by adding small quantities to a blender at a time (don’t fill the blender more than halfway) or by using an immersion blender. Finally, put the soup through a strainer to remove tomato skins, which may not have liquefied. The finer the strainer, the thinner the soup will be. I prefer a medium mesh strainer

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