Three Stars Above the Clouds
Three Michelin star chef and his team. Crisp white tablecloths. Original designed plateware. Beautiful, intricate presentations. Garnishes delicately added with tweezers and steady hands. Sauces poured on dishes for each diner after the plates are set before them. Fine wines paired with each of the many courses. All this, on an Airbus 330-300. At 30,000 feet.
SWISS has now done what no other airline has ever done. The first ever pop-up restaurant took flight on November 21st. Andreas Caminada, one of Switzerland’s best known chefs, was aboard the plane with his team of six, preparing and serving his much lauded cuisine for all passengers in SWISS First, SWISS Business and SWISS Economy classes to enjoy. Caminada heads up the 18th century castle, Schloss Schauenstein in Fürstenau, Switzerland, where he was awarded three Michelin stars in 2010 at the young age of 33 (and holds 19 Guilt&Millau points since 2009).
It was a regular scheduled flight, LX16 from Zürich to New York City on a quiet Friday morning. Some people had knowingly booked this special flight for the unique culinary experience, while others had no idea what they were in for. Arrival at the gate at Zürich Airport certainly revealed the surprise: glasses of Laurent Perrier Champagne were handed out, complimentary breakfast for all was haute cuisine and a live saxophonist was there to complete the scene. For some passengers, they thought the surprise was simply having a menu created by Caminada on the flight. They would soon learn that he would actually be cooking the meal for them himself, while flying high above the clouds !
Chef Caminada loves trying new things. The idea to participate in the “SWISS Taste of Switzerland“* inflight program was tempting… (*It’s an innovative concept put into place in 2002, with a focus on local products and suppliers. Every 3 months, the spotlight is put on a different canton of Switzerland, featured in the menus and wines, and top Swiss chefs are called upon to collaborate.) …but he simply couldn’t imagine someone else cooking his food. So what if he did then ?! Curiosity got the better of him. If he were to have passengers taste his food on a plane, then it would simply have to be him cooking. And so this one-time gastronomic event came to be. The menu was created – and then completely changed. “I wrote the menu, and it was no, no, no,” Caminada said with a smile, as he recalled the long process. Restrictions for cooking on an aircraft (no Michelin star worthy kitchen there) and at such altitudes certainly posed a few interesting challenges. Caramelized onions ? Burnt sugar atop a crème brûlée ? No pans ! No siphons ! And certainly no torches allowed !
But for Caminada, he wasn’t about to change his style of cooking and use techniques that would stray from the way his food is prepared at the restaurant. If he doesn’t use it there, he wouldn’t use it on board. His goal was to “bring the restaurant into the plane.” No sous-vide, for example. And no extra spices, as he already uses strong seasoning in general. The menu was rewritten and after months of preparing and organizing with SWISS staff, 48 hours of final kitchen prep at the airport were underway. (Plus 5 hours just to pack the food into the trolleys and onto the plane the morning of the flight.)
Friday morning, passengers boarded the plane with curious glee, looking for their seats while keeping their eyes on the small galleys, where young chefs in black kitchen uniforms were in full concentration – and had been prepping dishes since well before sunrise. Not long after I settled into my seat 7G, a tray was placed before me: the amuse bouche ! Already an ambitious mix of flavors and textures, including a liquid filled Bloody Mary bonbon and lobster chips. Caminada was busy plating dishes in the SWISS First Class cabin and his message was loud and clear: there would be no sacrificing the level and quality of his food. As he said, it would be his restaurant cooking, “as usual.” (Even if this scenario was anything but usual.) We were experiencing a meal as if we were at Schloss Schauenstein and its fairytale setting in the Graubünden, which has been on the list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants for the past 5 years. With one small difference however, we just happened to be flying over an ocean while doing so.
And so, without further ado, a taste from the first ever pop-up restaurant on a flight, prepared by a 3-Michelin-star chef and his kitchen brigade. Below are a few of the 11 courses that were served in SWISS Business class during the 9 hours of the flight. (First class had a total of 13, and Economy had a sampling of them all.) Each one had a card with the dish’s name and ingredients on it. Standouts for me were mackerel three ways (panfried, marinated, tartare) with Kohlrabi, marinated avocado and pickled radishes; lightly cooked char with leeks three ways (braised, cream, dried with squid ink); and scallops that melted in your mouth, with carrot, spice bouillon and a seaweed cracker. Each and every ingredient, no matter how small a component, was treated the same way, its flavor brought out 110%; each one there for a reason, and contributing to the overall taste experience.
Not to worry, there was still room for cheese and desserts. Was it the altitude that allowed our bellies to digest all these dishes so easily ? Breaks between courses allowed us to read, relax and walk around the cabin, on what was luckily an incredibly smooth flight from takeoff to landing. Time passed without us realizing it, as we crossed the Atlantic. The cheese trolley rolled up besides us as we headed towards New York, and a variety of Grison cheeses was presented: Quadretto, Andeerer Granit, Bergfichte, Bregaglia Vecochio and Jersey Blue. I am still thinking about that divine fruit and nut bread with which they were served, genuinely the best I’ve ever had. I’ll report back if I can get the recipe…!
I was up and down from my seat throughout the duration of the flight, popping my head into the galley to see the chefs at work, and to ask them what the experience was like for them. It was a tremendous effort, but they all enjoyed it. Working as a team, venturing into the unknown, maintaining the quality of the Schauenstein cuisine aboard an aircraft and smiling at the end of the flight at the success of this historic culinary experiment !
Bravo to Chef Caminada and his team for bringing their cuisine to a new level … literally ! And sincere thanks to SWISS for this memorable experience and allowing me to share it with you all. As Caminada says, “Eating shall be a journey involving all senses, leaving a lingering impression.” Following the singular and exceptional flight LX16 on November 21, 2014, no way could this be more true.
SWISS Meets Caminada
Coming soon, a video documentary of the flight !
+41 81 632 10 80