The Original Recipe from the Famous Hotel Bel-Air, Los Angeles
How you doin’? Probably the best known 5-star hotel in Los Angeles is The Hotel Bel-Air. It is a beautiful garden setting hotel that has attracted the famous (and some infamous) since 1946 after it first opened. Personally, I consider the hotel to be one of the most beautiful resorts in the world.
Long before Wolfgang Puck took over the food services at The Hotel Bel-Air, they had several signature dishes served in the café. One of my favorites was the original Tortilla Soup. At one point in time the executive director and our client, Carlos Lopes, shared the hotel’s famous Tortilla Soup recipe with me.
How did this hotel come to be in such a posh residential area of Los Angeles, you ask? Alphonso Bell, a wealthy oil tycoon, bought 600 acres of land to the west of downtown Los Angeles. He named the area ‘Bel-Air’ and created the most exclusive neighborhood. After Clark Gable bought property in the compound it was like his wild cat well came in and many other well-known people followed Gable’s lead.
Mr. Bell built a design and estate planning office nestled in the Santa Monica canyons. This building was later converted into Hotel Bel-Air’s main mission-style building.
In early 1946, a Texan hotel entrepreneur named Joseph Drown purchased 18 acres of land from Bell, including the original building and transformed the site into an elegant and secluded hotel. Mr. Drown restored the original buildings and added a series of new guest rooms before the hotel officially opened on August 24, 1946.
Hotel Bel-Air became very popular with many famous and wealthy celebrities of old Hollywood and world dignitaries, who were attracted by the luxury and privacy of the hotel. Well-known guests during this time included Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn.
Aside from the beauty of the property the service and hospitality were the biggest draws and, of course, you couldn’t have al fresco lunch or dinner without enjoying a bowl of their famous Tortilla Soup.
After the last major hotel renovation, Chef Puck made many changes to the menu, but the Tortilla Soup has remained with a slightly different recipe. If you are so inclined, try the original.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Yield: 10 10-ounce servings
For the soup:
1/4 cup corn oil
10 corn tortillas (6”), chopped
1/4 cup fresh garlic, minced
4 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced
1 large fresh brown onion, pureed
1 tablespoon cumin
4 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you like it spicier)
18 ounces tomato puree
1 cup chicken base (I prefer Better Than Bouillon)
16 cups hot water
Setup for a single serving portion
1-1/4 cups prepared tortilla soup (from recipe above)
1/4 cup fried corn tortillas, cut into thin strips
3 tablespoons grilled chicken, julienne cut
1 tablespoon Monterey jack cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon avocado, peeled and cubed
1 fresh cilantro sprig
1 fresh lime wedge
ChefSecret: When making creamy smooth soups one indispensable tool is an immersion blender. An immersion blender, also known as stick blender, mini blender, hand blender or wand blender, is a kitchen blade grinder used to blend ingredients or purée food in the container in which they are being prepared. The immersion blender was invented in Switzerland by Roger Perrinjaquet, who patented the idea on March 6, 1950. He called the new appliance "Bamix", a portmanteau of the French "battre et mixer." Larger immersion blenders for commercial use are sometimes nicknamed boat motors (popularized by Emeril Lagasse and Alton Brown). Uses include puréeing soups and emulsifying sauces. Prices for the home units range from $30 to $150.
If you’re looking for a quicker and more ingredient-friendly recipe try my Six Can Chicken Tortilla Soup recipe.
Six Can Chicken Tortilla Soup
When was the last time you did a thorough inventory of the canned goods in your pantry? If you haven’t taken inventory recently you may be surprised to find that you have several delicious meals just waiting to be made. Personally, I’m not a big user of canned foods, but during these turbulent times and shortages of certain supermarket items I bought and stored a lot of canned goods—just in case. I’m not a hoarder and I don’t have a closet full of toilet paper, but I do have at least one can each of the items listed below just crying out to be used.
For this recipe, you’re not going to need a lot of skills training unless you flunked can-opening 101. And, if that’s the case you want to buy or borrow an electric can opener. If you think this is a tinny-tasting solution, you’d be wrong. Not only is this a fast and easy soup to prepare, but this zesty soup is also delicious and only 5 canned ingredients! Serve this soup over store-bought tortilla chips, and top with shredded Cheddar cheese and avocado slices. Now, throw away the empty cans and no one will ever know that it wasn’t from scratch!
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
2 (14.5 ounce) cans chicken broth
1 (10 ounce) can chunk chicken
1 (15 ounce) can black beans
1 (10 ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chile peppers, drained (Ro-tel)
3 ounces sharp Cheddar or pepper-jack cheese
1 chopped avocado
ChefSecret: Canned products are best used within 12 to 18 months.
Covid-19 Quip of the Day: “Today I will live in the moment unless it is unpleasant in which case, I will eat a cookie.”
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