When it came to making knoephle, at the Achtenberg house, it was a whole-family ordeal, with the five kids joining their parents at the table to roll and pinch the dough.
“My mom was always making something in the kitchen,” Zach Achtenberg said. “But she wasn’t thinking I was watching her.”
So it was something of a surprise when Achtenberg decided to make a career of cooking as founder of Das Mountain Food Truck.
The Mandan native had always liked cooking but didn’t have the training. The culinary program at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton was full when he tried to enroll. So he pursued a degree in business management, but he didn’t stop trying to learn the craft.
“I just grabbed as many cookbooks as I possibly could,” he said, one of which happened to be German.
Achtenberg would go on to contact a chef in Germany from Nettersheim.
“German cuisine is different based on where you are,” Achtenberg said.
Berlin is known for its dough,s but what Achtenberg has learned comes from the North Rhine region.
“So, of course, there are lots of fish but also roasts. Germans eat a lot of pork specifically," said Achtenberg, whose family has German and Germans from Russia heritage, which has influenced Achtenberg as well. The baked goods he serves are some of his grandmother’s recipes.
“The kuchen bars we experienced as kids are on my menu now,” he said.
While Achtenberg calls his business a food truck, he admits the truck is still being outfitted. It's his goal to have it rolling by spring.
Harking back to the family knoephle making, Achtenberg’s parents, wife and siblings have joined him in his venture.
“My crew is all my family,” he said.
They’ve been there to help him develop his recipes — a mix of old German and new — that they serve at a pair of Mandan breweries, Buffalo Commons Brewing Co. and Dialectic.
“The breweries have really given us a chance,” Achtenberg said. “We’re really here because of them.”
Buffalo Commons owner Ted Hoffman said his wife first saw Das Mountain advertising a fleischkuechle feast on Facebook. Wanting to offer food at his brewery, they contacted Achtenberg and the partnership began.
“People seem to enjoy it,” Hoffman said. “We get a little bigger crowds when they’re here. And the food has been great. I just think it works out for both of us really well.”
Das Mountain has an extensive menu but serves just four items at a time, changing those items throughout the month.
Among the new German items are curry wursts and doner kebabs, which are a Turkish dish popular in Germany featuring butter roasted flatbread, rotisserie chicken, roasted peppers and onions and a garlic yogurt sauce.
"It’s a big melting pot, Germany is now," Achtenberg said.
In the winter, he likes to feature more traditional spiced meats, especially on sandwiches, with schnitzel and spaetzle.
And Achtenberg makes it a point to feature the breweries he serves at in his cooking, having made gravy from some of the brews, and one time, beer-inspired ice cream and sherbet.
Achtenberg said the reactions he gets from customers have been good.
"It's only growing," he said. "Mandan-Bismarck has been very good to us."
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