This is Leticia’s roasted tomato soup at Knife, and on an early morning, Leticia Alcaraz Cabuto, Knife’s prep cook, walks me through the ingredients at her prep station. Everything’s divided out neatly, of course: cylinders of peeled garlic cloves, an armful of basil, salt, pepper, sugar and white wine.
The recipe is Alcaraz Cabuto’s, and it goes back to the days when Central 214 was in the ground floor of the Hotel Palomar. Alcaraz Cabuto had tasted the tomato soups in the area and thought, “I can do this better.” She wanted to bring a flavor that let a good, rich soup stand out above the crowd. She did. It’s becoming a legend over there; the Knife team tasted it, recognized its power and kept it on the menu.
Alcaraz Cabuto’s pride is obvious as she walks me through it, making her way carefully through the ingredients: There’s a mirepoix of carrots, celery and tons of chopped onions that’s blended with that bushel of fresh basil, reduced white wine, imported San Marzano tomatoes, heavy cream, salt, pepper and a little sugar to balance the acid. The whole thing takes about three hours, which is why her mise en place is always ready to go at 9 a.m.
“She always makes it. She went on vacation, and she made a whole bunch before she left,” sous chef Chris Hill says, leaning at the bar. “It’s the only tomato soup I’ve ever eaten.”
As you spoon your way through, you get the musical notes of garlic and black pepper. It will stir your memory, and call out like a trumpet for the crusty bread of a grilled cheese. I nearly polish the bowl, feeling the happiness that comes when you enjoy a real soup — the kind that’s made for hours with familiarity and closely guarded love.
Knife, 5300 E. Mockingbird Lane