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Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Interview With The Apprentice Finalist

Yes, yes – Nick Holzherr, the cute one with the great hair and the deep dimples.  Did you think, even for a single crazed second, that I’d pick anyone else?

Only kidding, only kidding.

No, seriously! I’m chuffed to have just interviewed Apprentice finalist, tech entrepreneur, design enthusiast, food lover, Nick Holzherr – because his brilliant brainchild, Whisk, is just about the most lovesome thing that could happen to anyone who loves to cook.

And I don’t have to tell you how much I love to cook!

So, for me, this is the foodie equivalent of six runs in cricket, a homerun in baseball, an ace in tennis, the winning goal in footie.

It’s smart, it’s revolutionary, it’s the definitive money shot!

Decide for yourselves:

Nick’s idea, called Whisk (because you can do what I’m about to describe, “in a whisk”) is a Recipe App that allows you to purchase the ingredients for absolutely ANY recipe on the internet, with a single click!

So, for example, say (hypothetically) that Yummyami is your favourite food blog.  And that (hypothetically) you’re checking out my recipe for Chicken with Olives. And that (yes, hypothetically) you are consumed by an overwhelming desire to make it...


You don’t!

Because, (hypothetically, of course) you don’t know where to buy the ingredients from. Or you don’t know how much of each ingredient you need. Or that you have too much to do and the store’s too far way. Or that you’re simply too comfortable in those Peppa Pig jammies to even think of getting off the couch...

Which are all perfectly good reasons, but the point is, that you put it off. You don’t want to – in fact you can almost taste that Chicken in your head – but you do. “I’ll make it some other time...” you promise yourself, “maybe when I’m near the Supermarket next...”

And we all know how that usually ends up. By the time you’re at the Supermarket ‘next’ you’ve probably forgotten the recipe.


Well, guess what?
With Whisk, there are no longer any obstacles to getting you on your way to Master Chefdom. Suddenly, everything’s possible! Nothing’s hypothetical. And I will never use that word again. Promise.

Because with Whisk, you simply add the entire recipe to a basket and when you’re ready to make your purchase, you select the number of portions you want. Whisk will select the ingredients from a number of supermarket partners and you get to buy what you need online – with a single click.

It gets better.

Whisk is smart enough to distinguish between perishables and non-perishables. It figures out the ingredients with the shortest shelf-life and taking that into account, actually suggests new recipes to cook, with whatever ingredients you have leftover from making the original one.

Exciting? You think!!

And so: in the final episode of The Apprentice when the four finalists presented their respective business ideas to Alan Sugar and his board, and Nick described Whisk, two things happened:
  1. I fell out of my chair
  2. I *nearly* spat out my Spaghetti Carbonara onto Sid’s ancestral Persian rug in what could have been a marriage-ending moment.
The first happened. The second nearly happened. But didn’t. So I’m happy to report that my marriage is intact, thanks. Though my backside isn’t, but hey, life is all about priorities, isn’t it?

I mean, I know you guys don’t need me to wax eloquent about my enthusiasm for food and all things food-related. But really, for someone like me, or my fellow food bloggers, who live and breathe and eat and sleep recipes – this is some serious inspired thinking. Blending recipes with online shopping is the logical progression that takes what we do, forward. It is that crucial intermediate step between reading a recipe and actually making it. It is the future of food blogging. It is evolution. It is utter genius.

And so when Nick didn’t win The Apprentice, I was gutted.

But only momentarily.

Because, then I thought to myself: Hmmm...would I rather win the show or have the kind of hair that turns every L’Oreal hair model (you know, the “because I’m worth it,” ones) green with envy?

No prizes for guessing the right answer, but suffice it to say that I wasn’t so gutted anymore.

Plus, Nick’s got a ton going for him (besides the hair, that is) – The huge exposure and press interest that he and his team have gotten from his being on the show, the recent and very exciting news that Whisk has secured funding from a consortium of heavy-hitting investors. And – more important than any amount of money in the world – he gets to be interviewed by me: the epitome of kindness and grace, sweetness and light…

Just kidding!

Indeed, I’m VERY thankful to Nick for his time, and for our little chat – I’m thrilled that all my friends and readers of Yummyami can get to know a little more about a product that I definitely think is going to be the next big thing!

Thanks TONS, Nick!

So without further ado, here’s the man behind it all:

Yummyami: Nick, thank you so much for doing this, I really appreciate it. I know my readers are going to love this – so cheers!

Nick Holzherr: No problem at all – my pleasure!

YA: So, to start with, congratulations for getting funding for an idea that I thought was great. Obviously it’s very close to what I do, so the idea really resonated with me right from the start, and I’m very, very excited for you and the team!

NH: Thank you! We are very excited too – there’s a lot to look forward to and the anticipation of what comes next is huge!

YA: Great, so keeping it all nice and casual, let’s get right into it: Can you please describe Whisk in 1 sentence? 

NH: Buy any recipe from any supermarket with a single click.

YA: What drove the idea behind Whisk? Was it a love for food or a love of technology?

NH: It was really a combination of the two. I’d say it was more a love of technology in terms of the opportunity to create a platform and actually enabling the ability to transact, but from an idea perspective, it was more a love for food. So, it’s 50-50. It wouldn’t be possible without technology, but definitely, the passion behind it is a love for food.

YA: Obviously you’re a smart guy, so I understand where the love of technology comes from but where does the love for food come from?

NH: Well, I’m ¾ Swiss, so it really comes from my childhood. My mum used to cook a lot when we were young and we’d help her out in the kitchen. So cooking and food was really a part of my upbringing. Even now, I tend to cook a lot of the things I’ve grown up with – so I’ll cook food from France or Germany or Italy. But I’m also open to new foods and new tastes and I continue to discover these as I go along.

YA: So, what do you cook best?

NH: What I cook best is not really what I cook most! My favourite meal to cook is Rösti and Geschnetzeltes. Geschnetzeltes, a typically Swiss dish, is made with meat, sliced mushrooms and cream. Rösti, has potatoes as it’s base, and a number of different things added to it, such as such as bacon, onion, cheese, apple or fresh herbs.

I like them because they remind me of home.
But it takes a good 40 minutes of hanging over the stove to make a good Rösti!

So on most evenings, I just do what’s quick and easy, like Steak & Chips or Salad. I often make a Chicken dish – it’s Chicken, stuffed with goat’s cheese, wrapped with pancetta and served with broccoli and a bunch of different vegetables. It’s delicious and the easiest thing to make in the world!

YA: Ok, so what would you cook on the evening you order from Whisk for the very first time?

NH: That’s a good question!

This is the geeky answer, but I’d probably let Whisk guide me. So, I’d probably put in the recipe for Rösti and then I’d see what Whisk suggests as ideas for the leftover ingredients. I think that would probably be the most interesting experiment for the system.

YA: When Whisk goes live, who would be your first phone call?

NH: Hmm…who would be my first phone call? A journalist, I guess.
Or maybe my mum. Yeah, I think my mum. She’s not very tech savvy, so I’d ask her order a basket and if she can do it, I’ll know it works!

YA: Aw, that’s sweet, Nick! Right, can I ask a couple of Apprentice questions if that’s ok...because the show is still how a lot of people know you, and I’m sure everyone’s curious about it!

So, given how high-pressure being on The Apprentice must have been – with deadlines and timelines and so on, we’d see often see the pressure show with many of the other contestants, whilst you seemed to remain pretty neutral and apolitical throughout – did being Swiss help?

NH: (Laughs) I’ve never been asked that before!

No, it’s not really because I’m Swiss. I’m just a cool, calm person, generally – I don’t get angry. On the show, you’d often see people get emotional; while I tried to keep emotions out of it and stay logical, and really just use common sense. Perhaps being Swiss helped from a mediation perspective (laughs) – I’d often find myself doing that when things got a bit out of focus. Because I believe that what’s important is for people who work together, to work in the same direction. That, I think, is the only way to achieve good results.

YA: Can you tell us one really interesting thing that happened on The Apprentice that we didn’t get to see on air?

NH: There’s a lot you didn’t get to see actually because of editing and so on. But I’ll tell you a funny thing. On the kitchen gadget task, one of the contestants suggested we create a kitchen cabinet! Given that the task was to come up with a handheld kitchen gadget – the kitchen cabinet idea was met by a deathly silence! That was a funny moment.

In the same task, when we were brainstorming, I demo’d a cake slicer to the team by making a paper prototype.  For some reason, everyone loved it and I was like – “No. The idea is to show you that it doesn’t work!”

There were a lot of instances like this, really. When you think about it, you get to see such a small portion of the whole thing.

YA: Yeah, I’m not surprised. Thanks for that though!
Ok, so the next two questions are 1-word answers – the first set is ‘your favourite this or that’, so I’ll ask you something and you tell me your favourite; the next set is a ‘pick one’ question, so I’ll give you a pair of choices and you need to pick one of them please:

Your Favourite...
TV Show: Spooks
Movie: Body of Lies
Restaurant: Any Tapas bar in Barcelona
Passtime: Fondue
Alan Sugar one-liner: "You're hired!"

Pick One...
Chocolate or Vanilla: Vanilla
Microsoft or Apple: Microsoft
Surf & Turf or Swiss Fondue: Surf & Turf
Nick or Karen: Karen
Truth or Dare: Dare 

YA: Uhoh, well, you asked for it! I DARE you to tell us….the secret ingredients that go into your hair?

NH: (Laughs). Nothing!
That is genuinely the answer! I wash my hair everyday with shampoo and conditioner. I don’t have any particular brand. I just buy what looks good or whatever’s on offer and that’s all I do to make it soft and look the way it does! Oh and as you saw on the show, I run my hand through my hair a lot, maybe that helps, I don’t know!

YA: Watch out Nick – you’re going to start a trend…the entire country is going to start running their hands through their hair now!

NH: (Laughs) That'll be quite cool, actually. No, that's it really. And I honestly hate products in my hair. Mainly because when I run my hand through my hair after products have been put in it, it comes out all sticky. So, NO products, just shampoo and conditioner and wash it every day! That’s the secret!

YA: Ha! I’m definitely going to try that and let’s see how I get on ;) 
Well, that’s all from me. Thank you very much for your time. It was great speaking to you.  And I’m very much looking forward to following how things progress with Whisk. Good luck and thanks again!

(End of Transcript)

Well, folks – I hope you enjoyed reading that! I asked Nick for the secret ingredients to his Rösti and Gschnetzlets recipes, which he was kind enough to share with me, and which in turn, I’m sharing with you (because I’m nice like that).

So here it is, verbatim (and a lot more thorough than I generally am - he even tells you what cooking implements you need!)

Nick’s Recipe for Rösti and Gschnetzlets (Swiss ‘hash browns’ and fast cooked meat ragout)

Rösti and Gschnetzlets is one of the best known and best loved Swiss dishes. It consists of a potato ‘cake’ and a ‘quick cook’ stew of thinly cut slivers of tender veal, beef, pork or chicken in a cream sauce. Best served with a side salad or steamed vegetables.

Total preparation time: approx 40 min
Cooking time: 30 min for Rösti; 20 min for Gschnetzlets;

Unless you are an experienced cook or have cooked this dish before, it might advisable to first prepare all ingredients ready for adding into your pans, especially the slivers of meat, the chopped onions and the grated potatoes (see below).

Cooking implements:
Frying pan for the meat, preferably cast iron or similar heavy metal, suitable for searing meat fast
A non-stick frying pan for Rösti (with wooden or other spatula suitable for non-stick pans)

Ingredients for 2 people:

For Rösti:
- 4 – 6 potatoes (about half a kilo)
- Generous amount of butter (preferably clarified butter or ghee) or olive oil, or half oil, half butter
- Approx. 1 level teaspoon of salt

For Gschnetzlets:
- About 200g of a tender cut of meat ( e.g. steak for beef, fillet or chops for pork, breast for chicken) cut into strips of approx. 2 to 3 cm length, 1 cm width and 0.5cm thickness
- Oil (olive oil or other, depending on your budget)
- Half an onion (or 3 shallots), chopped finely
- Chopped parsley (optional)
- Half a small glass of dry white wine
- Approx. a quarter of a small glass of double cream
- Half a good quality stock cube
- Salt and pepper


Peel the potatoes, grate them on very coarse grater and mix them with the salt. If the potatoes are very floury, you can run them quickly under cold water in a sieve and pat them dry before mixing with salt.

Heat oil or butter in non-stick (very important that it is non-stick) frying pan, add potatoes and fry on medium heat for about 5 to 10 min, stirring and turning every now and then.

Leaving the potatoes in the pan, pat them down gently into a round cake ( about 2 to 3 cm thick), add some more oil or butter and fry this cake on one side for about 10 min on low to medium heat – until golden brown.

Now turn the potato cake (either by flipping it in one go, or by turning it onto a plate and sliding it back into the pan). Add some more oil or butter and fry the other side of the potato cake on low to medium heat for another 10 min until it is golden brown too.

Lightly salt and pepper meat strips

Heat oil in cast iron frying pan to a high heat.

Sear meat strips in 2 or 3 goes as follows: place a small portion at a time into a very hot pan and fry for about 1 minute, stirring a little to make sure meat strips take colour on each side. Place each portion in dish next to frying pan.

Turn down heat, add more oil or butter and add chopped onion, fry for about 1 min, stirring continuously.

Dust 1 level teaspoon of flour over onion/oil mixture and fry for another half minute, stirring all the time. Pour in white wine, then a few spoonfuls of water (not too much) and the half stock cube, stirring all the time. Bring to boil. (Alternative to adding flour: instead of adding flour to thicken the sauce you can add a level teaspoon (at most) of gravy granules to your heated onion/wine/water/stock cube mixture.

Add meat and parsley and heat everything thoroughly, take off the heat, then mix in double cream.

Heat again, but this time make sure it doesn’t quite boil (otherwise cream will curdle).

Taste and add pepper/salt as required.

Serve immediately with Rösti and vegetable or side salad. 

And that's that!

Sounds absolutely delicious, and I love that our ¾ Swiss, Guest Chef suggests the use of a “generous amount of butter (preferably clarified butter or ghee)” – that did make my Indian genes chuckle!

I still need to give these a go, but thankfully, they involve many more “secret ingredients” than the ones that go into Nick’s hair, so while I know I'll never have hair like his, I’m hopeful that my cooking might be almost as good!

I hope you guys enjoy making (and eating) Nick’s favourite Rösti and Gschnetzlets too, and please stay tuned for the Beta version of Whisk – Yummyami has volunteered to test it, and I’m sure I shall be a very happy Guinea Pig indeed!

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