When I first met Debi, she introduced me to the show Iron Chef. I had never seen a show with such unique cooking styles and ingredients, and our running joke was that they always made Ice Cream out of the theme ingredient.
Well Boys and Girls……today’s theme ingredient is Cigar?
DUBAI // Karl Heinz does not hesitate when he names the strangest ingredient he has used in his exotic ice creams.
The asparagus ice cream sounds odd as do the requests from customers for wasabi, brown bread and pineapple curry flavours.
But the cigar ice cream wins the prize as weirdest.
No matter how unusual, the German ice-cream maker, who moved to Dubai four years ago, will make any flavour from scratch on demand.
And so when Dubai Marine Beach Resort & Spa called to order the tobacco leaf-flavoured dessert four months ago, he said yes.
"They asked for a cigar ice cream for a themed dinner held for the launch of a cigar in their hotel. Not my taste, but I did it," he says.
Mr Heinz bought a bunch of Cohiba cigars and cut them into tiny pieces. He added them to his basic ice cream mix of milk, sugar, cream and a stabiliser that helps give the ice cream a better texture and then strained the concoction to maintain the cigar aroma.
This month, the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi hosted 300 sheikhs for dinner - and asked for tomato, sweet balsamic vinegar and pumpkin ice creams.
The hotel also placed an order for baklava and date ice cream, with ingredients from the UAE. He also has a local supplier of edible flowers, allowing him to add rose and lavender petals to the ice cream.
"Every day I come up with new flavours. Hotels need special flavours for special menus for their functions so I send them samples after I taste it myself."
As a chef with 25 years' experience, Mr Heinz has become an expert. He owns a hotel in Germany where he started his ice-cream business - but in Europe, he says, homemade ice cream is "commonplace".
"It's not very popular here but it's picking up and I think in 10 years' time, it will really boom," he says. "People usually associate ice cream with walking, which is why it happens more in Europe."
Mr Heinz says he takes special care when it comes to sourcing his ingredients.
"I bring in vanilla sticks from Madagascar, 200kg of frozen fruits a day from France, mangos from India and chocolate from Belgium," he says. "It's better quality and it's fresh."
He makes more than 100 flavours at his Empire Ice Cream premises in Ras al Khor, with no minimum order or time restraints.
Other exotic flavours include black sesame seed, chocolate chili, spicy honey, Arabic coffee, camel milk, strawberry black pepper, red bean and a sorbet of ginger and dates.
He sells tubs of two, four and five litres, at Dh26 a litre for a basic flavour. More complex mixtures can run to Dh70 a litre.
"Some customers have asked me to incorporate gold in the ice cream, which has to be done by hand, and that costs about Dh260 a litre," he says.
One hundred litres of the ice cream take one to two hours to make, and his factory produces on average 500 litres a day. The ice cream is stored at minus 18°C and it is best eaten at minus 14°C as "it maintains the flavour".
Mr Heinz sells Empire to 45 hotels across the UAE, a few restaurants and coffee shops. Once the establishment puts in a custom-made request, the flavour is immediately labelled under their name.
"It's important to have this kind of business in the UAE because it's a niche market," he said. "People only knew about industrialised ice cream before, such as Baskin Robbins and Haagen Dazs."
"This isn't so heavy, it's healthier and as mindsets are changing here, people are thinking more about their food and their health."