POSTED: Wednesday, September 09, 2009

It makes a fair argument to say that pop culture often offers little of lasting effect or value. Not many parents of teen girls today, for instance, are thrilled about their offspring dressing in the goth-influenced style that fuels the vampirish fashion aesthetic. But not to worry. Mom and Dad have faith the “;Twilight”; craze will eventually cool, and with it, the black nails and lipstick will be replaced by sunnier colors.

But sometimes, pop culture actually leads to something exceedingly good. Take the case of Lorenzo Trinidad, a 30-something office manager at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. By day he's a wiz at keeping the newsroom humming smoothly. By night he indulges his creative streak creating cartoons. And somewhere in between, he's a soup genie.

His impetus for what's become his signature presence on friends' and families' dinner tables: “;Seinfeld's”; Soup Nazi episode, inspired by a New York soup chef.

“;I've always loved soup, and when I saw the episode, all that talk about different kinds of soup made me curious,”; Trinidad recalled. He'd also spent a few months as a busser in the Blu Water Grill restaurant in Hawaii Kai, where he was exposed to fine soup.

“;The few times I'd sneak eating something, it was always soup, and I thought, 'There's some really tasty stuff out there.'

“;I've always loved soups in restaurants. The Blu Water Grill's beef barley is a favorite. And of course, I had to keep bringing French Onion to the tables.”;

It's through experimenting with recipes for the latter that Trinidad has made his mark. He began by surfing the Net for French Onion recipes.

“;I do care about being as fancy with my soups as a good restaurant,”; he said. “;So taking the first thing I found would have been too easy.”;

Trinidad pored over more than 10 recipes and culled an ingredient list of popular and necessary ingredients.

“;I was looking from the standpoint that there's no authoritative recipe for a soup. Some were so specialized, so I tried to get a middle ground. I threw in ingredients that I like, and I began to experiment.”;





        This story kicks off an occasional series about cooks in the home kitchen who've earned five stars in their circles for a special dish. If you know such a person, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

He achieved a solid recipe after just three or four tries, then tinkered, tasting and adjusting here and there. He's since also come up with a creamy potato soup that draws raves.

Key to his success, he believes, are two ingredients common to both recipes: butter-sauteed onions and Maggi seasoning, available in supermarkets. It's a dark, vegetable protein-based sauce that originated in Switzerland and is comparable to soy sauce in its effect.

“;Maggi is commonly found but not commonly known,”; he said. As for the butter and onions, “;the butter locks in the flavor of the onion.”;

Trinidad, son of the late, great Star-Bulletin editorial cartoonist Corky Trinidad, said he grew up watching both his parents cook. He credits the flavorfulness of his onion soup broth to his dad.

“;Pop did not like cheese in his soup, so that's why I learned to make a good base,”; he said. Because his recipe does not require cheese as an ingredient, he calls the soup Super Onion instead of French Onion.

Also essential is a slow cooker, which Trinidad said works perfectly in soup-making because of the low heat and long cooking time.

For, ahem, research purposes for this story, Trinidad brought a pot of Super Onion to the newsroom last week. High-quality cheese and croutons, plus a toaster oven, turned the soup into the French Onion variety, much to the delight of staffers.

“;His soup was particularly nice,”; said wire editor Stephanie Kendrick, whose opinion is especially highly regarded because she's both a longtime gourmet home cook and a French Onion fan. “;It's one of my favorite comfort soups.”;

Kendrick said she appreciated the crouton pieces rather than one whole slice of bread and the fact that “;he used nice cheese. Good cheese is key to French Onion.”;

Above all that, “;it's a nice surprise when someone offers you some French Onion soup in the office.”;

Trinidad made a beeline for resident food critic Nadine Kam, saying that if he could pass muster with her, he would know he had achieved something real in the kitchen.

Happily, Kam had this to say: “;It was buttery, rich and oniony, as it should be. I asked him when he plans to open his restaurant. This town needs a good soup restaurant.”;

She took issue with the commercial herbed croutons, which she said left “;scary green stuff”; at the bottom of her bowl. “;But he changed that for the next round (a few days later).”;

But undoubtedly the biggest praise came from clerk Jenny Delos Santos.

“;I'll taste Maui onions, maybe, when my husband cooks it really soft and there's lots of other flavors,”; she said. “;I don't like onions.”;

Yet Delos Santos faced the soup bowl, more because of the cook than any adventurous inclinations.

“;I knew there were onions, but it's Lorenzo, right? ... He was really excited to bring it in, and despite all the things he has to do, he took the time out to make the soup and bring it for everybody.”;

It didn't hurt that “;it smelled really good — I could smell it from the conference room.”;

Her verdict: “;It tasted good. I might try to make it sometime.”;

Ah, the sweet smell of success is indeed wonderful. But it doesn't come without its own baggage.

Trinidad said word has spread to the fifth floor, site of the Star-Bulletin's advertising and administrative offices.

“;I might have to make soup for administrative brass next,”; he said, with a sigh and a smile.





        2 large onions, baseball size or larger

        1/2 cup butter (1 stick)

        4 cubes beef bouillon (Knorr brand preferred)

        3 cartons 32-ounce beef broth (substitute chicken or vegetable broth for lighter flavor)

        2 teaspoons pepper

        1 teaspoon garlic powder

        3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

        2 teaspoons lemon pepper

        3 tablespoons Maggi sauce

        1 cup white wine (pinot grigio or chardonnay is good)

        » French Onion-style add-ons:

        2 bags croutons

        Mozzarella or provolone cheese, pre-sliced

        Grated Parmesan cheese

        Green onion, for garnish


Peel onions, slice into quarters and then into strips.


Preheat frying pan to medium-high. Cut butter stick lengthwise into 3 to 4 pieces and place in pan. Reduce heat if butter begins to brown. When melted, add onions.


Keep pan covered, stirring every 2 minutes. Saute onions until soft, but not translucent, about 10 minutes.


Remove pan from heat and immediately transfer onions and liquid to 5-quart (or larger) slow cooker. Don't turn it on yet.


Add remaining ingredients to pot, starting with bouillon cubes and broth. Stir everything, then turn slow cooker to low and cover. Let cook six to 10 hours. Stir at least once midway and again in last hour of cooking.


Serve with bread or crackers. Serves 12.




To make French Onion style: Preheat oven to 350 degrees, then set to broil using top rack.


Add croutons to oven-safe bowls, using only enough to cover bottom. Top with slice of cheese if desired. Ladle soup over croutons, leaving at least a half-inch of space to rim. Layer slice of cheese over soup and sprinkle with Parmesan. Place bowls in oven and bake 5 minutes or until cheese is melted as you like it.


(Note: Use caution removing bowl from oven; hand mitts for both hands are recommended.)


Garnish with green onion and serve on a plate, as bowl stays hot for extended time.


Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving (not including croutons and cheese topping): 110 calories, 8 g total fat, 5 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 900 mg sodium, 5 g carbohydrate, no fiber, 2 g sugar, 2 g protein.




Nutritional analyses by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.