Finally, a German guy on the Man in the Kitchen series! I met Carsten at work in Stuttgart a few months ago and I recently discovered he’s been leading this double life: a systems engineering superhero by (week)day and rockstar chef by night (weekend?) kind of thing. Carsten even makes his own grills and smokers.
People who make stuff in side projects always rouse my interest and curiosity. I want to understand their creative impulse and its outlets. As head of product and marketing, his schedule is always packed but he made time for this session during one of my Stuggi trips. 30 minutes stretched into an hour-and-a-half. Whoever was calling him during that period and was swiftly swiped away in rejection, I am not sorry.
In his inimitably Carsten way, Carsten explained his delicious creative outlets and his love for playing with fire. Recipe and photos below as per previous posts.
Carsten in the kitchen
Carsten! Tell us something about yourself because when I google you, I get the other Carsten Amann, who is an electronic music DJ.
I’m all of the above, and more!
One of my statements below is false: you pick.
- I’m an adrenalin junkie.
- I’m fluent in three languages.
- I have one tattoo on my shoulder and another one on my back.
- I play trumpet in a traditional Volksmusikgruppe/marching band.
- I only cycle indoors: 150km a week on my stationary bike. In my basement.
- I built the house that I live in with my family, in a small village of 1000 people.
How did you fall into the barbecue hole? Have you always been into food? My wife pushed me in. She gifted me with a barbecue course in 2006/2007. This was the turning point, I wasn’t into food before. I ended up taking more courses, buying cookbooks to guide experimenting. I like to experiment with flavours. No, Yasmina, I can’t narrow down to three favourite flavour combinations.
I don’t only do barbecues: I make dry rubs, the barbecue sauces and condiments. A friend and I have our annual sauce-making-and-bottling weekend. I also bake cakes, bread and other sweet pastries. My wife cooks too: she cooks indoors and I cook outdoors.
I’ve reached a point where I no longer use recipes and cookbooks, and go with my intuition.
What are your favourite foods to eat, why and are these what you ate while growing up? Cheesecake. Cheesecake. And more cheesecake. Here’s proof that German cheesecake trumps the American version: we make ours with hefeteig, they make theirs with crushed cookies and melted butter, it’s a shortcut, a cop-out. Hefeteig poses more of a challenge in baking, it requires more skill, you can fuck it up.
Tell me about barbecue and smoking as a complex product. It’s like chocolate. Every step of the process adds a layer of flavour. It’s slow food. First I prep the meat, even 1-2 days before I want to eat the final dish. There’s my go-to dry rub; I rarely brine.
Then the meat goes into the smoker. It’s around 10-20 hours of smoking, and each meat is different, based on the animal, the weight and the cut. On a spectrum of difficulty, pork is the easiest. Everyone does pulled pork; it’s almost they stopped at the beginning and don’t push themselves further. Spareribs is in between. Brisket is the kingpin.
With barbecue, you can cater for 100 people alone; it’s low maintenance in its own way, after all that prep. Grilling you can’t do alone because you need constant monitoring and turning the meat.
A mindblowing taste experiment? Weißwurst burger! With pretzel bun, honey mustard, radish, blaukraut slices. That’s the recipe I’ll share with you!
A Darth Vader fire pit! You are geekier than I thought! Was the making of your own tools the logical progression after mastering cooking-and-barbecue techniques? Tell me about welding as a creative outlet. Yes, it’s an extension of mastering fire for cooking: now mastering fire and steel. I learned welding in school. No, Yasmina, I don’t do this in my basement. There’s a workshop in the village where I live and I go there with my uncle to make the drum smokers.
Welding relaxes me! Because there’s no talking. The steel doesn’t talk, it just bends to my will.
I just start making the UDS, without starting from a drawing. I mold and shape, cut away and attach parts, sometimes I need to figure out a new way to attach the different bits. I enjoy working with my hands.
Those wood chips I see in the background of the photo: what chips do you use to impart flavours during smoking? Cherry wood, you use what’s available locally. Americans use a lot of hickory because that’s what’s available over there. Actually, wood chips aren’t that vital to the flavour.
You soak a handful of woodchips in water for an hour, then toss them onto the grill. If you toss them dry, they’ll burn. When tossed in wet, they’ll smoke and impart the smoky flavour onto the meat. Amateurs use woodchips all day long. Pros only at the first hour, really.
Lastly, Battlestar Galactica or Blade Runner? Blade Runner.
Thank you Carsten!
Carsten’s Coffee Chilli aus dem Dutch Oven recipe, instead of his Bavarian burger recipe: I wasn’t able to source the Bavarian Weißwurst in time. I’ll do the Bavarian recipe in the next installment. Fortunately Carsten had sent me a selection of his own recipes for me to try out. I had requested some non-grill recipes and one of them was this chilli done in a Dutch oven that sounded hearty and so comforting.
With all this traveling for work, my Dutch oven has been really underutilised lately. Braising in the Dutch oven is super easy since you practically just toss all the ingredients in a pot, place in oven for a few hours and end up with a delicious, hot meal. Yay hooray for low maintenance cooking!
Carsten’s recipe calls for stove cooking, over a low fire, which sounds equally low maintenance. One January Sunday, I followed the cooking instructions, went for a long walk in sunny-but-cold Berlin, hung out with friends, checked out an exhibition near by. By the time I returned, the food was ready!
What you need
- 30 ml oil
- 2 onions, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, pressed
- 500 g minced beef
- 500 g beef goulash, in small ½ cm cubes
- 1 large can of tomatoes, with liquid, but somewhat drained
- 250ml dark beer
- 200ml coffee
- 2 small cans of tomato paste
- 200ml beef broth: I used fresh ones I had made the day before including marrow
- 50g brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons chilli powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon baking chocolate powder: Carsten didn’t specify, so I used 50g of chocolate blocks instead
- ½ teaspoons each of dried oregano and coriander powder
- salt and pepper to taste: I used Maldon smoked salt
- 3 cans of kidney beans, drained
- 3 small fresh chilli peppers: Carsten de-seeds and finely chops his, whereas I stared at my chilli collection in the fridge and in the pantry in confusion for 20 minutes before deciding on three tablespoons of crushed dried chillies and three whole smoked chilli peppers, all seeds included.
The initial “toss everything in the pot” step
Heat the oil in a large pot, then add the onions, beef cubes and minced beef to brown. Lower the fire and then add the rest of the ingredients on the list up to the kidney beans (exclude the beans at this stage). With the spices and herbs, add to taste. Start easy on the chillies, adding a little at a time, until you reach a spiciness level you can live with.
The slow cooking
Over a small fire and stirring occasionally, cook the chilli with the lid on for about 90 minutes. When 90 minutes is up, add the kidney beans and cook for a further 30 minutes. Add more liquid in the form of beer or broth, to the thick stew consistency of your preference.
Hearty and comforting, I’d definitely make this again! Carsten’s recipe was great as is: it’s yummy and kid-friendly. There’s a sweet smoky barbecue-influenced flavour that differentiates it from other chilli con carne I’ve had. I like a disco in my mouth, however, which is what the extra chilli peppers achieved. Our friend Alex came by with freshly-baked flatbread so we ate it with that. For serving, I chopped fresh parsley and had chilled sour cream on the side.
My little modifications
Apart from adding the extra chilli peppers, I threw in a couple of blocks of stone-ground drinking chocolate, approximately 50g. This added a new depth of flavour and velvety texture. I’d recommend making Phil’s gluten-free cornbread to serve with the chilli; gluten-free for no reason other than that it tastes better than the regular flour version.
See you in the next one!
Thanks for reading this far and hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I’m always on the lookout for boyfriends/husbands/brothers/sons/fathers who can participate in Man in the Kitchen series, so if you know someone, drop me a line!
Photo credits: Photos of barbecue and drum smokers by Carsten Amann. Carsten, chilli and Alex photos by me :)