Become Who You Are
Bas Kast‘s Diet Compass sold almost a million copies. Now he presents his first novel. A conversation about the joys of vegetables, dreams of Porsche, and the winding road to oneself.
It’s the air of effortlessness. Bas Kast slices lemons for our lunch with the same casual insouciance with which he sprang from his 1987 Porsche 911 Carrera Targa only a few hours ago. The fact that no one would believe his age—forty-seven—well, that’s something the bestselling author should be almost used to by now. The way he stands there—boyishly slim in jeans and a T-shirt, his hair nonchalantly combed back—he could easily pass as someone in his mid-thirties. It must be the diet. Or the genes. Or maybe it’s because he has found a completely new balance.
“These days, I’m more relaxed and more the person I wanted to become,” says Bas Kast. Okay, that’s also easier to say when your last book has sold nearly a million copies. Bas Kast’s Diet Compass (German title: Der Ernährungskompass) is now in its thirty-third edition and has been translated into over twenty languages. At the end of September, his first novel, Das Buch eines Sommers (Book of a Summer, not yet available in English), was published by Diogenes Verlag in Switzerland. The subtitle is “Become Who You Are,” which could just as easily be a fitting title for his life. “I’ve always dreamed of being a novelist,” says Kast. And of driving a Porsche 911 Carrera Targa—yes, that too. His dreams have come true. But it was not an easy road to the top. Quite the opposite. Let’s go back a few years … to Bas Kast in his early forties: a good ten kilos heavier, a fast food junkie and reasonably successful non-fiction author who loved chocolate for breakfast, ate meat almost every day, and would wind down with potato chips and a beer. Until one spring evening when, out of the blue, Kast’s heart briefly stopped beating while he was out running. As these heart attacks increased, even at night, the new father turned his life around. Especially with regard to diet. Kast, a biologist, psychologist, and science journalist, spent three years immersing himself in the world of nutrition and obesity research. He plowed through thousands of studies and countless nutritional dogmas and myths, only to end up occupying the bestseller lists with his meticulously researched and chattily narrated ultimate guide to nutrition.
That would be material enough for a success story. But that’s not enough for Kast, who in his non-fiction books has written about such topics as love, intuition, and creativity. Kast prefers to take a look at the questions that life asks him. So why not implement some of the answers? The more he learned about healthy eating, the better he felt. He discovered, for example, the beneficial effects of vegetable “binges” and intermittent fasting, or the misguided fat phobia (at least when dealing with healthy oils such as those made from canola or olives). The more he dared to cook for himself and cut junk food from his menu, the more he enjoyed the experience. The love handles disappeared and with it the heart attacks and the recurring headaches. “I am in better shape today than I was in my late thirties,” says Kast, who now has three sons aged between ten months and seven years.
“Even though I’m not as strict as when I started my diet.” Kast follows the advice he gives his readers. As much as possible, he eats only unprocessed, plant-based foods, meat no more than twice a month and then at most as a side dish, as well as fish once or twice a week.
Today’s menu, for example, features a large trout from a Franconian pond, cooked in a stainless steel roasting pan and embellished with halved tomatoes, quartered onions, sprigs of rosemary, and a lemon sliced into eighths, plus a good dash of olive oil. A simple dish. Kast is not someone who spends hours on end in the kitchen. “I cook for my family every day; it shouldn’t take more than half an hour,” he says as he places the fish in the oven. In the meantime, a lentil soup with tomatoes, garlic, and vegetable stock is simmering on the stove. This recipe is from his sister Ellen, who inspired him to change his diet when his heart—and life—had gone off course. “She had just completed a low-carb diet and raved to me about how great she was feeling. It was pure coincidence.”
Sausages, fries, and mass-production meats (definitely not!) have vanished from Kast’s shopping list, and he avoids sugar as much as possible. Yogurt is fine, milk not so much, but plenty of high-quality olive oil, lots of nuts, legumes, fruit and vegetables, vegetables—and more vegetables. Breakfast consists of drip coffee and a piece of 90 percent chocolate; nothing should be eaten after 7 pm. Alcohol is only consumed in moderation, although as the great-grandson of a Palatinate vintner, Kast certainly appreciates a fine wine.
Anyone who takes a verbal baseball bat to Bas Kast with the word “self-denial” and takes a second swing with “Where’s the pleasure?” is met with a relaxed smile: “For me, pleasure means that I no longer have headaches and that I don’t huff and puff when I climb the stairs. That I’m happy in my body, that I’ll probably still be fit when I’m older, and that I won’t need to see a doctor that often.”
“To me, the act of writing is also sensual. Similar to cooking.” Bas Kast
Of course, one of Kast’s great pleasures is driving his Porsche 911 Carrera Targa. “I’ve longed for one of these since I was a student. My father used to own a red Porsche 356 and always said it was the best car of all.” Kast financed the Porsche from his book earnings, two years ago. “I like the sense of space, the aesthetic form and perfection,” he says. “You can tell there were engineers at work, with a burning passion for cars.”
Speaking of burning, don’t let the lentil soup burn with all the rhapsodizing. It’s ready now, and there’s a glorious scent wafting from the oven as well. Lunch is served! Surrounded by vineyards, we sit on the terrace of the Weingut am Stein winery in Würzburg. And of course, it all tastes fantastic. Kast, who lives in the countryside just outside Würzburg, likes this spot. It was here, in the cookhouse of the winery’s award-winning restaurant, that the photos for his follow-up cookbook to Diet Compass—which sold an impressive 140,000 copies—were produced.
He could have sat back and relaxed. Instead, following his own compass, he threw himself into the next adventure: his first real novel. At last. “I wouldn’t have risked the attempt without the earnings from my book,” says Kast. He had already tried his hand at fiction at seventeen, and wrote a second novel in his early twenties, but nothing became of either one. His newly published Das Buch eines Sommers follows the path of a young man who, in searching for his destiny, is strongly inspired by his uncle, a bon vivant, novelist—and Porsche driver. A lot of Bas Kast can be seen in the story, of course. Both in the young man and in the character of the fictional uncle. “Actually, I am both,” he says. “I wanted to enter the core of my own self.”
“Happiness is when you want what you get.”
On the other hand, non-fiction research, as complex as it is, is the easier task. “You put your soul into a novel,” says Kast. “And you must have a story to tell.” That’s probably easier to do at forty-seven than at seventeen. But it was an entirely new endeavor. “Think less, feel more,” his editor advised him at one point. “For me,” says Kast, "that sentence was a kind of liberation." As a non-fiction author, he was trained to rely on studies. Everything was based on scientific knowledge, with page after page of references to demonstrate expertise. As a novelist, the only expertise is that which one has experienced, which one has understood. And above all: felt. “Success is when you get what you want,” says Kast, as he picks out one last, deliciously sweet grilled tomato from his plate, underscoring his statement. “Happiness is when you want what you get. And that is what I’ve been finding more and more these days.” Bas Kast’s compass is pointing in a new direction. And perhaps for the first time in his life, it is his very own.
Trout à la Tini*
* Tini is my mother-in-law, who as a naturopath has intensely studied nutrition.
▶ Wash 2 fresh trout and season with salt and pepper.
▶ Cut 1 red onion into eight pieces. Wash and quarter 2 tomatoes.
▶ Wash 1 zucchini and cut into sticks. Wash and slice 1 lemon into eighths.
▶ Slice 2 cloves of garlic and place everything together with 4 sprigs of rosemary, 4 stalks of thyme, and 6 stalks of parsley into an oven-safe dish.
▶ Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook in the oven at 180 °C for about twenty minutes.
Ellen’s Lentil Soup*
* Ellen is my sister, who first inspired me years ago to change my diet.
▶ Wash and finely dice 1 tomato, 1 onion, and 2 garlic cloves.
▶ Sauté the onions and garlic cloves in 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
▶ Add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, and then the diced tomatoes.
▶ Add 200 g red lentils, 1 tablespoon paprika powder (sweet), and 1 liter vegetable stock and season to taste with lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
Blueberry sorbet à la Joni*
*My five-year-old son, who loves nothing more than using the immersion blender every day.
▶ Purée 200 g frozen blueberries and ½ banana.
▶ Add 100 g Greek yogurt.
▶ Add 2 sprigs of mint as a garnish. This recipe is also delightful with other frozen berries such as strawberries.
Fish Cakes with Sauerkraut
For the fish cakes
▶ Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon and mince 1 clove of garlic.
▶ Wash a 500 g filet of fish (e.g., rosefish, pike perch, cod, salmon), pat it dry, and cut it into small pieces.
▶ Purée the fish and garlic with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.
▶ Wash 1 bunch of parsley, ½ bunch of dill, and 1 sprig of sage; shake dry and chop the leaves finely.
▶ Mix the herbs together, add 2 eggs and 50 g fine oats, add them to the puréed fish, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
▶ Wet your hands and shape into 8 small, flat cakes.
▶ Sauté in 2 tbsp. canola oil for around 5 minutes; turn down the heat and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.
For the sauerkraut
▶ Slice 1 onion into rings.
▶ Peel and quarter 2 apples, remove the core, and slice into small pieces.
▶ Simmer the onion and apples together with 500 g sauerkraut, 200 ml vegetable stock, 3 juniper berries, and 2 bay leaves for around 20–30 minutes.
▶ Remove the bay leaves and serve the fish cakes with the sauerkraut.
▶ Fish cakes also go well with a mixed salad or vegetables.
Winter Couscous Salad with Cinnamon Yogurt, Pomegranate, and Salted Cashews
2 tsp. instant vegetable bouillon
300 g whole-grain couscous
200 g broccoli
2 red peppers
3 tbsp. lemon juice
6 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. ground cumin
Salt and pepper
▶ Bring 500 ml of water and bouillon to a boil.
▶ Sprinkle the couscous, turn off the stove, and let the couscous sit and absorb the liquid.
▶ Cut the broccoli into small florets and blanch in boiling salted water for about 5 minutes.
▶ Wash and clean the peppers and cut them into cubes.
▶ Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, cumin, salt, and pepper and mix together with the couscous and vegetables.
For the cinnamon yogurt
150 g plain yogurt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tbsp. salted cashews
▶ Mix the yogurt together with the ground cinnamon and salt.
▶ Slice the pomegranate in half and remove the seeds by tapping with a wooden spoon.
▶ Chop the cashews.
▶ Serve the couscous salad with cinnamon yogurt, pomegranate seeds, and cashews.
Zucchini Fritters with Tzatziki
500 g zucchini
3 spring onions
50 g ground hazelnuts
2 tbsp. whole wheat flour
50 g grated cheese
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil
▶ Wash and clean the zucchini and grate coarsely.
▶ Wash and clean the spring onions and slice very thinly.
▶ Combine the grated zucchini and spring onions with the hazelnuts, flour, grated cheese, and eggs. Season with salt and pepper.
▶ Heat the oil in a large frying pan. To prepare each fritter, take one heaping tablespoon of the zucchini mixture and flatten it. Fry each side to a golden brown (around 4 minutes in all). Drain the fritters on paper towels.
For the tzatziki
100 g cucumber
1 clove of garlic
3 tbsp. olive oil
400 g Greek yogurt
50 g green olives
▶ Peel the cucumbers, cut them in half lengthwise, and seed them.
▶ Coarsely grate the cucumber.
▶ Crush the garlic.
▶ Mix the grated cucumber, garlic, and yogurt together.
▶ Serve the zucchini fritters with tzatziki and green olives.
All recipes are from Bas Kast’s cookbook Der Ernährungskompass—das Kochbuch.