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Sisters share soup sampling in Ligonier

| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Kim Stepinsky | for the Ligonier Echo
Suzanne Wirdzek (from left) and her sister Berni Koutch, both of Latrobe, stop at Second Chapter Books in Ligonier, to sample white chicken chili by the Road Toad, during the fifth annual Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce Soup’s On, held in Ligonier on Saturday. They have attended all five years of Soup's On.

Suzanne Wirdzek and Berni Koutch travel to Ligonier two to three times a month to shop and spend the day together.

On Saturday, the sisters from Latrobe included the annual Soup's On event to their day's activities — the pair has attended all five of the Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce soup sampling events.

“We visit our favorite shops in town and go to the library during the winter months. We love the Country Cupboard shop and the Re-Readables room at the library,” said Koutch. “We have to come for our ‘Ligonier fix.' In the summer we come up every Saturday for the Ligonier Country Market.”

The sisters said they always arrive early for Soup's On and set out with a goal to sample every soup.

“We love the tastes of Ligonier. We get in line at 10 a.m. and play it by ear each year,” said Koutch. “Our idea is to visit every shop during Soup's On. That way we go into shops that we normally do not visit during our other visits.”

With 26 different soups on the list this year, the pair had quite a challenge, based on the 2 oz. per serving portions.

“That's a lot of soup,” said Koutch. “Our favorite is always the mushroom soup.”

The sisters said they enjoy spending time in Ligonier because it reminds them of an area of south central Pennsylvania where they used to live. Although they were raised in Latrobe, both lived near Gettysburg for 40 years before relocating back to their hometown.

“Ligonier reminds us of the colonial area of Gettysburg and that time in our lives,” said Koutch.

The first stop on the soup tour is always the Second Chapter Books store on East Main Street. Owner Laurie McGinnis looks forward to talking with the sisters every time they come to Ligonier.

“I've known them for years,” said McGinnis. “They have come to the Soup's On from the beginning. In fact, this year they contacted me back in February for tickets.”

McGinnis said the sisters are a perfect example of why the annual Soup's On event is a good way to promote Ligonier.

“It says Ligonier is a destination spot for everybody, whether they live far away or nearby,” said McGinnis. “When the ladies come to Ligonier they always stop in to see me. Then, hours later I will still see them walking around town.”

McGinnis said the activity caters to food and shopping its a great combination to bring people to Ligonier.

“It's a great cross-promotion. It highlights our restaurants and it highlights our merchants and organization,” said McGinnis, who is also a co-chairwoman of the Soup's On committee this year.

Chamer president and Soup's On co-chairwoman Janet Riordan helped start the event with McGinnis 5 years ago. She said she is impressed at the popularity of the event.

“It has become something people look forward to this time of year,” she said. “It was a beautiful day for people to come to Ligonier and walk around to visit the shops and patronize the other merchants and restaurants. It also provides an opportunity for merchants to showcase their businesses so people will come back to visit for other events.”

Soup's On winners announced

This year, the title of “Best Soup in the Ligonier Valley” will be shared by two winners. The Brasserie du Soleil French restaurant, serving spicy crab and coconut soup at Scamps, and The Cedars at Antiochian Village, serving tomato bisque at Celtic Culture, tied for first place and the right to display the “Golden Ladle.”

This is the second year that Cedars at Antiochian Village participated in the event.

“This year we chose to enter our catering banquet service in the restaurant division with other professional chefs,” said Barli Ross director of sales. “It was a good way to market our services and a nice community thing to participate in.”

Chef Tim Johnston's winning tomato basil soup included tomato basil bread croutons with Asiago cheese and smoked Gouda prepared by pastry chef Darcie McIntosh.

“It was having a mini, grilled cheese sandwich to dip into your soup,” said Ross.

Thistledown at Seger House finished in second-place with a parmesan sausage kale cream soup, served at Dove Coat. Third place was awarded to the chicken with almonds soup prepared by Carol and Dave's Roadhouse and served at Ligonier Creamery.

In the organization division, Covenant Presbyterian Church placed first serving chicken chorizo tortilla soup, served at Mommy Gear. This year, the division will also receive a Golden Ladle Award.

The soup was prepared by church member George Kerezsi of Ligonier.

“I've been cooking all my life,” said the certified chef.

He said it was the first time he tried the recipe.

“I chose it because my sister-in-law is from Mexico and she gave me some great pointers about south of the border cooking,” said Kerezsi. “I just started with two chickens and a pot and went on from there.”

Second place was awarded to Heritage United Methodist Church's rustic potato soup and third place went to Bethlen Communities' Hungarian gulyas.

Chamber director Holly Mowrey was impressed with the restaurants and organizations who participated this year's contest. Each contestant was asked to prepare gallons of soup.

“The restaurants went all out, making it very hard to vote for a favorite,” said Mowrey. “All of the soups were absolutely delicious.”

Mowrey said all 350 tickets were sold prior to the event making it the most attended soup tasting to date.

“Last year we sold out, so this year we decided to ask the restaurants to make more soup,” said Mowrey. “They all graciously agreed, so we printed 100 more tickets this year, and sold out again. It has become quite a competition for “Ligonier's Golden Ladle.”

The winners will be recognized by the Ligonier chamber and awarded Golden Ladles on Thursday.

Additional photos on page 12.

Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or

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