Spoonful by spoonful to the top
They usually swing their spoons in award-winning restaurants and at top events. But then they got a call that would change their lives and their career at least a little bit: chefs Hansjörg Betz from Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Christian Senff from Frankfurt became part of the SAT.1* cooking show The Taste. Even though they were not part of the same season their experiences were similar. Hansjörg Betz talked to La Loupe about his professional reboot after the show in 2017 and Christian Senff also looks back on an exciting time at The Taste 2016 and he indulges in memories from his last holiday at the foot of Zugspitze.
*Sat. 1 is a popular German TV-channel
Hansjörg Betz, the perfectionist with more than 25 years of experience:
“Everything did a 180-degree turn”
L.L./ Mr Betz, you used to want to become a carpenter or interior designer. Today you’re a chef – was there ever a time when you regretted that decision?
H.B./ No, I never regretted it…seriously, never. I made wood my hobby, I design objects from driftwood and I even built my own timber house, albeit with support. I like going to joineries and carpenter’s workshops and copying some of their tricks.
"I like going to joineries and carpenter’s workshops and copying some of their tricks."
L.L./ In 2017 you were a candidate at the Sat. 1 cooking show The Taste. Your wife Merril secretly registered you for it. What was your reaction? Had you always wished to be on TV?
H.B./ No, being on TV was never a thing for me. Back then, when I was called by someone named Theresa I was coincidentally walking around Munich. It quickly turned out that she was calling me on behalf of the TV-channel Sat. 1. Theresa said that my wife had registered me – and I didn’t even know what for (laughs). At first, I was sure I would never take part in The Taste. I still sent the team an application video and was actually invited for a tryout and then they took me right away.
"No, being on TV was never a thing for me."
L.L./ How can we picture that application video?
H.B./ I was completely free to do what I wanted, it just couldn’t be longer than three minutes. We filmed it at the Eibsee hotel where I’d also done my apprenticeship. Then we did a trip to Grainau and finally I cooked at home for the kids and presented my hobbies. It seems that Sat. 1 quite liked that.
L.L./ You made it all the way to the finale and then you were voted out. Do you have favourite moments you like to think back of?
H.B./ The entire time was great, just like the people I met there – no matter if they were in front or behind the camera. I really wouldn’t want to miss a single moment and The Taste certainly was one of the most beautiful experiences of my career. If I had the chance I’d immediately do it again! Also for a different format.
"The Taste certainly was one of the most beautiful experiences of my career."
L.L./ The Taste is a well-known and big television format. How long does it take to record a show?
H.B./ The effort is huge. We lived in a hotel in Munich for almost five weeks and were driven to the Bavaria Film Studios every day. We started at 8 in the morning and were back at the hotel by about 8 at night. Those were really long days that were also really interesting.
L.L./ Nowadays kitchens often struggle to find young staff. Do you feel like TV cooking shows can help increase the job’s popularity again?
H.B./ Not really and that’s a shame! When the cooking show formats were all new there was a certain noticeable hype. Today that’s not the case anymore. Many young people start an apprenticeship as a cook thinking that all the ingredients will already be prepared in little bowls that are then simply tossed into a pan. So I guess it’s also an inaccurate image that is communicated. Aspiring cooks need a lot of stamina. Of course, it also depends on the restaurants where they’re trained and who they’re trained by, and whether the restaurant has plenty of qualified staff to communicate the know-how and the techniques.
"Many young people start an apprenticeship as a cook thinking that all the ingredients will already be prepared in little bowls."
L.L./ Has your life – be it private or professional – changed after the success at The Taste?
H.B./ Since the show was aired everything has done a 180-degree turn. I always used to be employed but in May I started working freelance and I already had a huge job: the Bavarian National Exhibition Mythos Bayern was opened in Ettal. And at the opening event I was in charge of gastronomy at the Klosterhotel Ludwig der Bayer. That was an amazing experience and it lead to more jobs. Now I get plenty of inquiries and I’m almost fully booked until the end of October. I’ll be at the AlpenTestival in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Schlosshotel Orangerie in Kassel has booked me twice for show cooking. I’ll also be in Switzerland several times and I also work for Garmisch-Partenkirchen tourism. There’s a lot going on…
H.B./ I don’t just work as a chef though, I also work as a consultant – soon I’ll be doing it in Allgäu, for example. Many businesses want to change their existing structures and during our talks, we figure out what possibilities there are. What I do in this area is provide support and develop individual concepts.
"I am generally open for all formats and I’ll actually be on TV again before Christmas."
L.L./ So you’ll be quite busy in the coming months. After The Taste – do you want to stand in front of the camera again?
H.B./ I am generally open for all formats and I’ll actually be on TV again before Christmas but I’m afraid I can’t say anything about that yet. It’ll be great, though. And what happens then remains to be seen.
"I always had great respect for hobby chefs because they are much freer than professional ones."
L.L./ You look back on 25 years of professional experience. What tips and tricks do you have for hobby chefs?
H.B./ At The Taste we always had a very diverse group of participants and they were professional and hobby chefs. I always had great respect for hobby chefs because they are much freer than professional ones who will always go back to what they’ve seen and learned in their restaurants. Which is why a hobby chef will maybe combine tastes that a professional wouldn’t dare put together.
H.B./ So, I’d say as a hobby chef you actually have a bit of an advantage as far as freedom and the willingness to experiment go. I feel like in some cases it’s the professional chef that can learn from the hobby chef. I basically learn from everyone and that doesn’t bother me at all. In this job you learn something new every day.
"I generally prefer regional products."
L.L./ You have perfectionist tendencies. Would you say they can get in your way sometimes? What characteristics does a chef need to have?
H.B./ In this area one should always strive for perfection – even if that means setting the bar very high for oneself. Perfection is not in my way and I think this is a very positive trait. Especially when you’re in charge of a business, coordinate numerous events and are in charge of staff it is perfection you need.
H.B./ Organisational talent, creativity and stamina are things a chef definitely needs. The latter is particularly important. I had jobs abroad where I had to work for 16 to 18 hours a day. That’s something that shapes you and makes you stronger. And it’s worth the commitment!
"I definitely get culinary wanderlust."
L.L./ Garmisch-Partenkirchen has quite a few culinary highlights on offer. What would you make for someone who wants to get to know the culinary side of the area? And what do you pay attention to when choosing the products?
H.B./ I would make a Weisswurst strudel, with fine lamb’s lettuce and a sweet honey-balsamic dressing. That’s a super popular dish!
H.B./ I generally prefer regional products, like a lovely, pink veal cap of rump, or “Böfflamott”, a beef stew from Werdenfels beef. The region here has little agriculture, so I often use products from the dairy and beef farms.
L.L./ Sylt, London, St. Moritz – because of your job you’ve lived in different countries, but you always came back to your home Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Do you sometimes get (culinary) wanderlust? What are your favourite destinations?
H.B./ I definitely get culinary wanderlust. I like going to Italy and Austria because it’s not far from Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I’d also love to go to the Far East, preferably with a TV show, accompanied by a camera team and together with Joel, my The Taste competitor (laughs). We’d love to try out the numerous street food stalls. I’d be all for that!
Wordrap with Hansjörg Betz
When I’m in a rush I make: Kaiserschmarrn (= a fluffy type of pancake), my kids love it!
Sweet cheese soufflé …is what I make to impress.
My secret ingredient: Regional products.
I learned to cook from … my two grandmas and my mum.
The top reasons for becoming a chef nowadays: It’s a very creative job that gives you the chance to travel. I would recommend it to everyone and I’d always do it again!
The perfect three-course meal is made up of…creativity and regional products. The perfect combination.
In order to collect wild herbs/ingredients I make a trip to…I actually let others collect them during the Women’s power weeks and then I make them into salads, dumplings, dips, and pestos with the participants. But when I’m looking for fresh wild garlic, for example, I’ll go towards Ruine Werdenfels.
Weisswurst strudel with fine lamb’s lettuce
(entree for 4 persons)
250g of weisswurst sausage meat from your trusted butcher
Home-made or store-bought strudel dough
1 egg yolk
1 old pretzel
Honey-balsamic dressing (combine balsamic vinegar, olive oil, sparkling water, sea salt, pepper, honey, sweet mustard according to your taste)
Spread the sausage meat about ¾ - 1 cm thick onto the strudel dough. Then the dough is rolled up into a 5-cm thick strudel and bake slowly at 120 degrees Celsius – that way it stays smooth. After 10 minutes of baking time brush the egg yolk onto the strudel and sprinkle it with coarse pretzel crumbs. After another 10 minutes the strudel can be removed from the oven.
Cut the weisswurst strudel diagonally, serve with lamb’s lettuce and the sweet honey-balsamic dressing.
Hansjörg Betz did his apprenticeship at Eibsee Hotel in Grainau. After that he went out into the world: he cooked in Switzerland, Munich, London, and Sylt – and ended up returning to the village at the foot of Zugspitze. Today Betz is a renowned freelance chef, consultant, and coach. He sells his own driftwood works and seven different kinds of exclusive schnapps with handmade wooden stoppers.
Christian Senff, young and wild and with a passion for quality:
L.L./ Your nickname is “The Jamie Oliver from Hesse”. What’s the connection?
C.S./ I got that nickname back when I worked for the TV channel RTL Hessen because we had the same hairstyle. But I’d say each of us has his own cooking style.
L.L./ You spent your apprentice years in Germany’s best restaurants – and since 2010 you’ve been working as a freelance chef de cuisine and you also run your own indulgence agency. Now what would that be?
C.S./ Being a chef does not just mean cooking all the time. I’m a very creative person and a doer. My team and I love cooking in our cooking school or for catering, but we also counsel companies that need a cool new concept and want to realise exciting projects with me.
"Being a chef does not just mean cooking all the time."
L.L./ In 2016 you were a candidate in the fourth season of The Taste and you made into the semi-finals. Tell us about your experience there!
C.S./ The Taste really was quite the experience for me! The show definitely showed me that not all that glitters is gold. And that I will never change my cooking style for anyone.
"A certain ambition and respect for the products are essential."
L.L./ Still, you have regular TV-appearances. Do you still get nervous in front of the camera?
C.S./ Not at all, actually, being in front of the camera suits me and during the recordings I always managed to stay true to myself. And if you have the chance to decide whether or not you want to be part of it that’s a great opportunity. You can simply be you!
"I always managed to stay true to myself while we were recording the show."
L.L./ You have long years of experience. Is there some piece of advice you’d give aspiring chefs?
C.S./ Stay true to yourself and don’t let anyone change you. A certain ambition and respect for the products are also essential.
"Here you can simply be yourself!"
L.L./ You like spending your holidays in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. How do you like to spend your time there?
C.S./ I enjoy skiing in winter and in summer I enjoy nature; Garmisch-Partenkirchen gives me calm and strength for my projects. I prefer being out and about in nature and in the open air.
"Garmisch-Partenkirchen gives me calm and strength for my projects."
L.L./ At the foot of Zugspitze indulgence is an important term. Is there a Bavarian dish you are particularly fond of?
C.S./ I love a good pork roast with dumplings followed by Kaiserschmarrn (laughs)!
Wordrap with Christian Senff
I can make this dish with my eyes closed: An old recipe from my grandmother called “Hoppserklösse” (potato dumplings with bacon and sauerkraut).
Exotic or regional? Always in combination. Of course, it’s exciting to work with exotic and rare foods. But does it always make sense? Thinking about seasons and the region, sustainability and how food is produced is not just part of my personal ethics but also part of the culture in my kitchen.
If I hadn’t become a chef I would now be working as a…chef. It’s what I always wanted!
Sweet or savoury? I have a sweet tooth (laughs).
Three tips for hobby chefs: Don’t give up, keep trying new things and trust in yourself, stay true to yourself.
Christian Senff finished his apprenticeship in 1996 at Deidesheimer Hof with the award-winning chef Manfred Schwarz. After that he cooked in Germany’s best restaurants for 14 years and since 2010 he has been working as a freelance chef de cuisine. He is also involved in the charity kitchen party Friends4Friends and has regular appearances on TV – for example in 2016 at the cooking show The Taste where he showed off his skill together with the renowned chef Cornelia Poletto.