It’s nearly impossible to get me to leave Williston Park during my midday break since the town is lucky enough to have plenty of good places to eat.
But every now and then I have a yearning for something special, something more gourmet. And to answer this call I go to only two other places. I go to Jimmy King’s Kitchen Kabaret or Kenny Kaplan’s New York Soup Exchange in Garden City.
I did a brief poll to see if people knew about the Soup Exchange and to my surprise everyone I asked gave me a blank look and asked “The Soup Exchange?”
This surprised me since the Soup Exchange has been there for 20 years and when you go there for lunch the line is always out the door.
I have been going there for years to get a taste of Kaplan’s latest creations.
The day I did this interview with him I tasted Charleston Chicken Barley (heavenly) , Caribbean Crab Bisque (hot and sassy) and Chicken Lentil Stew (filling and tasty.)
Ken can be found behind the counter five days a week ladling soup with his sidekick Wendy at the cash register and Pedro in the back making wraps. The minute you walk into this place you know you are witnessing a success story so it was time to sit with him and find out what his secrets are.
Ken was raised in Long Beach but went to school at University of Texas to study business. But during college in Texas he worked in the catering business and when he graduated he realized that he liked the food business and went off the study at Johnson and Wales which is one of the top culinary schools in the world.
Upon graduating from Johnson and Wales he landed a job running a cafeteria for a large corporation and noticed that they sold canned soup to the customers.
Needless to say anything canned is anathema to a young graduate of Johnson and Wales so Ken started to create homemade soups with high quality ingredients.
His soup sales went from 2 gallons a day to 20 gallons a day and the idea of having his own place which specialized in gourmet soup was thus born.
Twenty years later we have Austin and Daniel’s New York Soup Exchange at 945 Franklin Avenue in Garden City. I asked him what his secret was and he said “cooking is about two things, knowledge and timing. A kitchen is like an orchestra with all the moving parts working together.”
He is lucky to have married a teacher who helps him come up with the soup names by using alliteration like ‘Galveston Gumbo.’ Cute.
His place exclusively specializes in gourmet soups, wraps and salads. I had a Cambridge Chicken Salad wrap and I can still recall the taste with a smile. It had chicken breast, cashews, cranberries, lettuce, tomatoes mixed together with dijonnaise sauce. Oh my goodness it was tasty.
Kenny also told me he now teaches culinary techniques at BOCES in Suffolk County. In addition he feeds those lucky St. Anne’s students in Garden City each Thursday. I think it’s a minor miracle that his place hasn’t been franchised yet.
I think he wants to avoid the suffering that Alain Coumont experienced when he opened Le Pain Quotidien in Belgium back in 1990. Coumont discovered that franchising meant loss of quality control and it took him more than ten years to iron out all the wrinkles.
So at this point we still have a small establishment right here in Garden City which is owned and run by a generous, highly creative, well-trained chef. The name of the place is Austin and Daniel’s NY Soup Exchange.
If you’re interested in gourmet soup hustle on down to Garden City and fill your stomach with fresh homemade soup that tasted like it was made in heaven.