How José restaurant’s vegan carrot habanero soup became a menu staple

When rumors started circulating in March 2020 that Dallas restaurants could be forced to close due to COVID-19, José chef Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman did what any good leader would do in a similar situation — she planned.

“We got word that restaurants might be forced to shut down, and so we had meetings and came up with a plan A, a plan B, and a plan C,” she says.

Plan A was straightforward: to keep business operating as usual. Plan B was to shut down and then figure out how to pay everybody. Plan C was a bit more involved. They’d revamp their menu and figure out a system for curbside pickup.

“When the news finally came that restaurants had to close [in March 2020], we put plan C into action,” says Quiñones-Pittman, who runs the Guadalajaran-inspired restaurant on Lovers Lane.

“We brought everybody into a meeting with the owners and we guaranteed them that they all had positions, but we didn’t know for how long,” she says. “We would continue to feed them, though. If anybody wanted to come in and get a good meal, they could. We did family meals every day at 3 p.m.”

She says they ramped up their online presence and created a larger, more user-friendly website. They also updated their menu to accommodate the shift from being a sit-down, somewhat fine dining restaurant to takeout.

“After about two weeks of doing curbside, we thought this probably isn’t going to be enough to keep us afloat,” she says. “We needed to figure something else out.”

Chef Anastacia-Quinones Pittman shares her recipe for Carrot Habanero soup.

(Jose restaurant)

The chef and her team mused and strategized during late-night brainstorming sessions. And it was during one of these nights that her phone rang with a solution.

“I got a phone call from the owner saying that the landlord wants to keep the restaurant open,” she says. “They said he’s going to make a donation and ask for more donations to keep you guys paid and to keep the lights on. So, we got one, and then [donations] just kept coming in from local investors and our regulars.”

All of the planning Quiñones-Pittman and her team did, combined with the financial support they received, was enough to carry them through the year without slowing down.

“I don’t think we’ve stopped,” she says. “We’ve just shifted from curbside to small capacity and now to curbside and full capacity.

“We were able to adapt, and it has made us a lot stronger as a team. It’s made us work more efficiently. It’s made us more comfortable with each other. We know more about our strengths and weaknesses because of it. We’ve grown, and we’re better for it.”

Adapting the menu was also key to keeping customers happy. Quiñones-Pittman’s popular Carrot Habanero Soup was originally not offered curbside. “But people kept asking for it. So, I’d make a small batch,” she says. “It was kind of like a backdoor thing. And then people would post about it online, and then other people would find out about it. So, we just put it on the curbside menu permanently.”

The soup is vegan, and Quiñones-Pittman first made it when she was chef at Komali.

“It’s just comfort. It’s a really nice, big soup. It’s not heavy because it’s finished with coconut milk. It’s good on a summer day. It’s good on a winter day,” she says.

“It started as a sauce. I was making a carrot mole — the carrot habanero soup is the base for the carrot mole — and someone did not follow the recipe. I tasted it and I was like, ‘This is really good, although it’s not what it’s supposed to be.’ So, then I finished it off with coconut milk and thought, ‘This is going to be a hit!’ We’re talking nine, ten years ago. It’s evolved a little bit since then, but it’s remained popular.”

Chef Anastacia-Quinones Pittman shares her recipe for Carrot Habanero soup.Chef Anastacia-Quinones Pittman shares her recipe for Carrot Habanero soup.

(Jose restaurant)

Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman’s Carrot Habanero Soup

6 carrots, peeled and chopped

1/4 cup olive oil

1 red onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves

1 habanero chile

2 quarts water

1 can coconut milk

Add oil to a heated pot on the stove. Add carrots, red onion, garlic and chile. Sear for 5 minutes. Add water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes or until carrots are fork tender. Add coconut milk and salt to taste. Let simmer another 5 minutes. Puree in blender until smooth. Serve.