In 2000, Chuy Cruz was a dishwasher at the Grape. His brother Hector worked the prep area of the kitchen and was in charge of making the restaurant’s famous mushroom soup, a task he’d performed daily for six years. Hector had learned how to make the soup from their other brother Juan, who worked at the Grape for six years. And in 2001, Chuy, now 38, took over the soup detail, becoming the third Cruz brother to stir the pot. All together, the Cruz brothers have been making the soup for 25 years.
The iconic soup has been served since Kathy McDaniel and Charlotte Parker opened the bistro on October 26, 1972. The original recipe was adapted by Frank Bailey, the first chef (and Kay Bailey Hutchison’s brother), from Craig Claiborne’s The New York Times Cookbook.
Since its inception, the mixture of white button mushrooms, cream, flour, butter, onions, nutmeg, and bay leaf has become an aphrodisiac. Countless people have reached over a bowl to slip an engagement ring on a jittery finger. It’s also a source of comfort on a cold, rainy day. “I was very nervous the first time I made the soup,” Cruz says. “I am very proud to make this special soup.”
Cruz produces about 15 gallons of mushroom soup a week, more during the winter. He doesn’t work from a recipe tacked on the wall; the proportions and ingredients have been passed down verbally.
Current owner-chef Brian Luscher doesn’t keep the recipe secret. “We’ll give it to anyone who asks,” Luscher says. “But the magic gets lost in translation. They always come back here to eat it, because it never tastes the same when it’s made at home.”
Cruz is the end of the line for his generation of the family, but he has three children of his own now. “The little one doesn’t like mushrooms,” Cruz says. “Brian doesn’t have to worry, because I’m never going to leave.”