St. Francis Serves Up Smiles at Souper Fun Sunday

By Elizabeth Putfark

DSC_3561By 12:50 on January 25, hundreds of eager guests crowded against the double doors to the St. Francis gymnasium, eager to catch a whiff of the sweet and savory smells seeping into the hall. Just inside, sous chef stirred pots, chefs gave final taste tests, and over 100 red-shirted student and parent volunteers rushed from table to table, assembling bowls, spoons, drinks and desserts for the masses waiting outside.

When the gates finally burst on the 8th Annual Souper Fun Sunday, the hungry crowd was not disappointed. Twenty-nine of the Gainesville’s finest restaurants, caterers and culinary institutes ladled out sample after sample of their best soups with an eye towards winning in one of three categories: Seafood, Non-Seafood, and, new this year, Vegetarian.

With 40 varieties of bisques, gumbos, chowders and creams, there was soup to suit every palate. Guests sampled as many flavors as they could handle before handing in their votes, while three judges patiently perused each chef’s table prior to deciding on the “judge’s choice” in each category. Vine supplied a table full of crusty baguette to break up the steaming cacophony of flavors, and homemade sweets were provided to put a final cap on a delicious afternoon.DSC_3539

The popular event began in 2007 as a fund-raising solution for St. Francis’s technology department. “The need arose when we decided we wanted to integrate a stronger technology program into our school but needed the funds!” explains Sabrina Harris, Advancement director at St. Francis.

Each year Souper Fun Sunday coincides with National Catholic School Week – seven days set aside to build community, faith and support for independent schools like St. Francis – as well as the last Sunday before the Super Bowl.

After eight years of fun and fund raising, the technology department at St. Francis has grown into one of the school’s greatest strengths. “Every transfer and ever freshman student gets their own Mac,” explains Catalina Cardenas, a St. Francis student volunteering as a restaurant liaison for the event. “They use it the whole time they’re here and can buy it when they leave. It’s really helpful,” she adds. “You can do your homework on it and turn it in online. It’s super-efficient.”

DSC_3573In addition to their laptop program, the tech department commits its time and resources to staying up to date. “We update the software on a regular basis,” says John LaRoche, Assistant Principle at St. Francis. “This year, we’re adding some servers so we can enhance our capabilities. It’s a great program that really helps us out.” And students do more than reap the rewards – they put in part of work. “We have what we call our ‘Wolfbotics’ team, which is a student organization that helps keep everything up and running,” says Harris. As a result, students leave St. Francis with a kind of tech fluency – one that makes the transition to college much more fluid.

Although Souper Fun Sunday is a relatively low-tech event, it still presents new learning opportunity to local pupils. Two high school culinary programs – Newberry High School Culinary Creations and Eastside High School Institute of Culinary Arts – were also in attendance this year to show off their cuisine amongst Gainesville’s finest.

“We love to be involved in this,” says “Chef D” Billie DeNunzio, executive chef at Eastside. “The best thing for us is that we get to meet all the owners and chefs. Half our students will be serving soup and talking about our program to the public, while the other half goes out to talk to other chefs and get tips, advice, maybe even jobs!”

Even the student volunteers from St. Francis got a chance to learn about the restaurant biz as they worked alongside top chefs from the area.

And what’s the biggest lesson learned?

“Keep the soup flowing!” laughs St. Francis freshman Zachary Brown.DSC_3570

Even in all the hustle and bustle (not to mention the heat from 40 pots of soup!), spirits were high for the annual event. Local guests met and mingled, sharing their favorites and taking note of restaurants they now hoped to visit in the future.

“We’ve been coming for years,” says Jean Schadow, a retired Gainesville resident. “The nicest thing about it is that if you haven’t gone to many places, it acquaints you with a lot of different restaurants.”

And the restaurants appreciate the recognition, too. The plaques awarded in each category are displayed prominently in winning establishments and sought after each year by new and old competition alike.

So mark your calendars! Next year’s Souper Fun Sunday is already scheduled for January 31 and if this year offers any indication, it’s guaranteed to be a tasty success!


2015′s first-place winners:

• Vegetarian, Judges Choice: Dos Mama’s Catering, Chickpea & Basil
• Vegetarian People’s Choice: Pomodoro, Roasted Butternut Squash with Apples
• Seafood, Judges Choice: Ember’s Wood Grill, Gulf of Mexico Blue Crab Bisque
• Seafood, Judges Choice: Ember’s Wood Grill, Gulf of Mexico Blue Crab Bisque
• Non-Seafood, Judges Choice: The Great Outdoors, Wild Mushroom Bisque
• Non-Seafood, People’s Choice: The Swamp, Buffalo Chicken Chili
• Best Table Design: The Great Outdoors


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