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Veggies up in the air

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Ten years of top inflight vegetarian cuisine

For ten years now, all passengers on SWISS long-haul flights from Switzerland have been able to enjoy vegetarian meals that are jointly devised with Hiltl. The partners have marked the milestone by inviting a twelve-member SWISS crew to cook and sample the special on-board “anniversary meals”, under the expert eye of a Hiltl team.

SWISS’s collaboration with Hiltl began as a one-off under the award-winning “SWISS Taste of Switzerland” inflight culinary programme, but rapidly developed into a firm partnership as both parties saw the potential for offering quality vegetarian meals to travellers as an alternative to the usual pasta non-meat option. And nobody was better equipped to provide such top-notch inflight fare than the world’s oldest vegetarian restaurant. “In Hiltl we brought a Swiss partner aboard that has been dedicating itself to vegetarian cuisine for the last 121 years and can offer our passengers genuine vegetarian variety,” enthuses Jan Trachsel, who is in overall charge of SWISS’s long-haul inflight culinary development. “And with tastes always evolving – at Hiltl and among our customers – our partnership also keeps us constantly up to date and open to the latest trends with our vegetarian meal offerings.”

Mass-producible but innovative, too

It may have once been smiled at, but vegetarian cuisine is an integral part of the food landscape today. Hiltl CEO Rolf Hiltl, the fourth generation to serve in the family firm, agrees. “A lot has changed over the past few years, and the appreciation that vegetarian food is not simply an alternative, but can be just as varied and tasty as meat dishes, is one that continues to grow, not only among consumers but at SWISS, too. That’s enabled us to become a lot bolder over the years in our culinary creations: We’ve even managed to get a vegetarian Zürcher Geschnetzeltes aboard!”

Creating original vegetarian dishes that can be served up aloft and are also to the tastes of the majority of SWISS travellers is no mean feat. The balancing act here is further complicated by the fact that the recipes dreamt up by Hiltl must also be passed on to and turned into reality by caterer Gate Gourmet. “We maintain a close collaboration with SWISS and Gate Gourmet to ensure that the quality of the Hiltl dishes that are served on board meets all our high standards and expectations,” Rolf Hiltl explains.

“It’s very important for us to work with true professionals who understand their trade,” Rolf continues. “We certainly have that with SWISS and Gate Gourmet, and we’re constantly learning from each other.” That’s one reason, no doubt, that the successful partnership has even been intensified in recent years. In addition to the regular vegetarian fare for SWISS’s outbound long-haul services, the partners have been co-providing vegetarian Special Meals on flights from Switzerland since 2016 and a Hiltl à la carte menu in SWISS Economy since 2018.

This month, to mark the tenth anniversary of their collaboration, the partners are not just offering the usual sophisticated Hiltl vegetarian creations in all classes of travel. On selected long-haul services, SWISS is also featuring a totally meat-free menu option in Economy Class consisting of three courses with a choice of two mains.

A culinary crew

The anniversary also offered a great opportunity to invite a SWISS crew with a passion for cooking to create the current Hiltl meals. The SWISS team found themselves carefully cutting, stirring and roasting, all under the watchful eye of Hiltl chefs Alain Pinto and Wolfgang Potzmann. The crew prepared all the “anniversary meals” offered this May, including a Tofu Mirsang (SWISS First), potato gnocchi in a saffron sauce (SWISS Business) and the full SWISS Economy three-course selection: a starter of spicy beetroot tabbouleh, two mains of penne with vegetarian bolognaise and a massaman curry, and a vegan mango mousse for dessert.

“It’s great to get this chance to cook these special Hiltl meals ourselves,” says Flight Attendant Tharsan Thanabalasingam, who normally looks after guests in SWISS First. “You can really feel the close affinity that our passengers have to Hiltl aboard our flights,” Tharsan continues. “They don’t ask for the vegetarian meal: They ask for the Hiltl meal!”

Hiltl chef Wolfgang Potzmann shows how restrictions are offset by creativity in the kitchen.

His colleague Anne Margreth Frick is equally enthusiastic. “The inflight food is a large and important part of the guests’ travel experience,” she points out. “Now that we’ve cooked these Hiltl meals ourselves, we can really present them in a lot more detail.” After cooking the meals, the team naturally had to sample them, too. The verdict was almost unanimous: They were all wonderful. And the beetroot tabbouleh came in for particular praise, for its looks and its taste alike. Perhaps it will convince you just as much, if you are one of the lucky ones able to enjoy the anniversary menu aboard.

Hiltl x SWISS

SWISS is proud to have been working with Hiltl since 2009 to create vegetarian meals that are offered in all classes of travel on its long-haul services from Switzerland. The two strong Swiss companies collaborate closely with airline caterer Gate Gourmet to ensure that the sophisticated Hiltl creations are suited to service on board. Some 40 per cent of SWISS Economy travellers now go for the vegetarian meal option. And in view of this trend, the SWISS/Hiltl partnership has been expanded in recent years – to vegetarian Special Meals in 2016 and to an à la carte SWISS Economy menu in 2018, all jointly created and added to the existing Hiltl longhaul vegetarian meal choice.

Text: Trisha Baumeler/ Photos: Dominik Hodel