Wolfgang Puck is a famous chef, but he’s also the rare famous chef who actually blazed the trail in American gastronomy. Puck, Austrian-born and French-trained, help ushered in California cuisine in the 1980s—a genre of cooking that melded European and Asian influences with the seasonality of ingredients (back then it was novel to only eat asparagus during asparagus season). If you’ve ever frequented a chichi white-tableclothed restaurant and enjoyed a Chinese chicken salad, or a pizza topped with smoked salmon and caviar—those dishes were very much influenced by Wolfgang Puck.
Puck is wildly successful now—three dozen standalone restaurants, café kiosks in 21 airports, his own wine, coffee, and cookware. And he’s got canned organic soups, found in grocery store shelves nationwide, and, truth be told, not much more expensive than similar brands (at my neighborhood supermarket in Chicago it costs $2.79 each). These soups aren’t of the condensed variety; they’re open, pour, heat, and serve. The back of each can also lists supplementary add-ons, suggestions as tame as “a sprinkle of parsley” to “garnish with cranberry relish and a sprinkle of nutmeg.” Surely, these soups are worthy enough to be served at Spago, right? The Takeout investigated six soups from Puck’s line.
Nutrition per can: 230 calories, 6 g fat, 1,140 mg sodium
Tasting notes: Not picking up on a lot of spices, mostly a sweetness from tomatoes and the vegetable broth. Hearty texture, with lots of black beans and a richness from the masa thickener. It’s far from the satisfaction of homemade tortilla soup, and it’s a bit one-note, but it’s also not terrible.
Nutrition per can: 250 calories, 7 g fat, 1,290 mg sodium
Tasting notes: Perfumey and herbaceous, much of it from the basil in the pesto, with plenty of white beans and thick hunks of carrots. Feels substantial and filling. A subtle creaminess but not overly heavy. A torn piece of crusty bread would be quite nice here.
Nutrition per can: 220 calories, 8 g fat, 1,660 mg sodium
Tasting notes: You read chicken and wild rice and immediately think creamy and soothing? Great expectations did not meet execution, in this case—the flavors are muted, and despite its 1,660 mg sodium, this soup sorely needs salt. The wild rice added a crunchiness and nutty aftertaste, but the chicken cubes were surprisingly not tender. This tastes like a hospital version of chicken rice soup.
Nutrition per can: 300 calories, 20 g fat, 1,090 mg sodium
Tasting notes: Luscious, silky as velouté, buttery, a little sweet and a little savory—this is what I expected from a soup bearing Wolfgang Puck’s name. Plus, it’s vegetarian, too. This soup feels like a treat, and it’s one I would happily buy again.
Nutrition per can: 220 calories, 4 g fat, 1,290 mg sodium
Tasting notes: The two taste-testers here had wildly divergent opinions. I thought this was perfectly fine—good texture with every bite (three different types of beans, two shapes of pasta), and though it was on the saltier end, it was an adequate minestrone. My wife, on the other hand, who’s something of a minestrone fanatic, claims there’s a tinniness to the tomatoes that she couldn’t stomach. The grade here is a composite of my B- and her D+.
Nutrition per can: 170 calories, 5 g fat, 1,420 mg sodium
Tasting notes: The thing about most canned chicken soups is you immediately taste the salt-laden artificiality of chicken base. With this version, you definitely don’t get that—it’s a subtler chicken stock, with carrots and thick ribbons of pasta, and thickened with tapioca starch for a subtly luscious texture. You could do worse.