Schumann. That was my maternal grandmother’s maiden name. She was a full-blooded German born and raised in the small German community of New Braunfels, Texas, about 30 miles north of San Antonio. Braunfels means “brown rock” in German and was named after the city Braunfels in Germany.
Fluent in German and a great cook, my grandmother Annie taught me to love sauerkraut, rustic sausage, vinegary German potato salad, sweet and tangy braised red cabbage, pfeffernusse cookies and many other dishes that were staples in her family.
Fortunately, David loves German food, but that doesn’t mean we eat it frequently. And honestly, most of the German restaurants that do exist in and around the city are not very authentic and tend to be watered down versions of what my great-grandmother cooked and that’s not what we want to eat.
When the opportunity presented itself to attend an authentic German-centric cooking class at the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio, I jumped at the chance. The fact that it was taught by the inimitable Chef Hinnerk Von Bargen who hails from Hamburg, Germany, and knows a thing or two (or three) about food sealed the deal.
Since we no longer struggle through the crowds at Wurstfest in New Braunfels which occurs annually at the end of October and early November, I was particularly excited about getting to eat and prepare a wide variety of classic German favorites. All of this in honor of my German heritage. And what an honor it was.
The CIA student kitchen is worth the entry price alone and cooking in this kitchen is a privilege. An acutely well-stocked pantry and fridge, a room dedicated to equipment (pots, pans, baking sheets, colanders and more) and a pantry for serving dishes, I could easily get used to this. (Bonus with this cooking class is that they have a staff member who washes all of the pots and pans, plates and silverware. Since I do most of the dishwashing at the house, I was thrilled.)
The Saturday Kitchens Boot Camp is offered on, you guessed it, Saturdays and in just six hours, you will laugh, learn and love what you create. (To see the entire list of course offerings, click here and here.) Filled with like-minded people, our class had 15 people. We broke up into four teams which was a manageable amount and allowed us to periodically check in on the other groups and see how their dishes were coming along. Throughout the class, Chef Hinnerk would call us all together for “teachable moments” and “demos” where he would instruct on exactly what to do.
Whether it was sharing with us the two ways to cut an onion or teaching us how to extract the baked potato using a wire rack so that the “baked” potato fell into a bowl and left the skin, count on learning plenty of tricks from the professional chef throughout the day.
Though it was not a “pressure” class, basic culinary skills are a prerequisite as it made so much more sense. What I enjoyed the most was having a complete booklet that included every single recipe, even though our group only made five dishes. With three people in my group, that meant we all helped a bit with each dish though we were each responsible for one single dish.
I was on Team 1 and that included Chris Dunn, a CIA graduate and writer for the San Antonio Express-News, and a young man, Octavio, who is from Juarez, Mexico, and whose grandmother lives in Guanajuato where he has spent quite a bit of time and eaten a lot of great food. The three of us quickly knew that we shared a love of culinary arts and we knew we would work well as a team. Together, we figured out our plan of attack for each dish and then went to work.
While Octavio began to season the pork tenderloin and rub it with Dijon mustard, Chris made the brie appetizer and I got to work peeling kohlrabi and salsify (for the creamed kohlrabi). Even in professional kitchens, there are times when you have to punt and this was one of them. Because the supplier had only delivered tiny kohlrabi, Hinnerk used salsify to fill the hole. It worked like a charm and no one knew any different–though most of the people did not even know what kohlrabi was. Considering kohlrabi was a staple in my grandmother’s kitchen, I was thrilled to see it on the menu–and knew immediately that this was a dish I wanted to make.
David worked in a group with three women and he tackled the pork schnitzel and mushroom gravy. Two of his very favorite things. Plus, as the self-named grill master, he grilled the bratwursts which were lovingly made by my good friend, Ming Qian, who happens to be Hinnerk’s wife and the founder of Ming’s Thing, a very popular member of the Quarry Farmers & Ranchers Market.
Unlike other typical cooking classes, we really cooked. Using Hinnerk’s tried and true recipes, these dishes sang and our feast was incredible. The table was piled high with dish after dish after dish. Then we piled our plates with a little bit of this and that and all sat down as a group to savor our creations. Everything was spot on and really truly amazing.
If you belong to a club, organization or a company that warrants team building opportunities or just have a few friends you want to cook with, this class would be just the kind of thing that can change perspectives and establish long-lasting bonds. Working together toward a common goal and celebrating with a meal is a fantastic way to regroup, build harmony and allow the “teachable moments” to resonate indefinitely.
As a departing gift, you receive a complimentary tool for the kitchen. David and I went home with a big ladle and a sturdy sieve. Every time we use these tools, we’re going to think back on this spectacular day we spent cooking up a traditional German feast at the CIA and smile.
Breaded Pork Cutlet "Hunter's Style" (Jagerschnitzel)
- 12 - 3 ounce pork cutlets trimmed
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- Flour beaten eggs, bread crumbs--all in separate containers
- 1-1/5 pounds button mushrooms stems removed and quartered
- 1/2 cup brown veal stock
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Chives sliced thinly, garnish
Pound pork cutlets to an even thickness and season with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour, dip in egg wash and coat with bread crumbs and set aside. Continue until all of the pork cutlets are coated.
At service, pan fry pork cutlets in hot oil until golden brown on both sides and cooked through. Remove from pan and place on a wire rack to drain any excess oil.
Add more oil to the pan as needed and continue cooking the cutlets until they are all cooked.
Once all of the cutlets have been cooked, add more oil to the pan and heat. Then add the mushrooms and saute until cooked through. Deglaze the pan with the brown veal stock and reduce by at least half. Add the heavy cream and cook until it starts to thicken. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.
To plate, put two cutlets on a plate and cover in brown mushroom gravy. Serve with a side of braised red cabbage (recipe follows).
Braised Red Cabbage with Apples (Apfelrotkohl)
- 2 pounds red cabbage sliced very thinly
- 2 ounces duck fat goose fat or lard (this is going to give it a much richer flavor than just oil, but olive oil is fine)
- 1 onion sliced
- 1/4 cup red currant jelly
- 1 cup red wine
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 2 cups chicken stock I use vegetable stock
- 2 Granny Smith apples
- Kosher salt sugar, freshly ground black pepper, to taste