The schnitzel was thin, crispy and juicy, but somehow not heavy, considering it’s a piece of roast meat. Tangy lilikoi (passion fruit) juice was drizzled on top – a Hawaiian twist on the lemon wedge – and the acidity balances out the dish.
Schnitzel is not my favorite, but this time I cleared my plate.
This dish is available when you fly first class on select Hawaiian Airlines flights from Hawaii from now until the end of May during lunch or dinner service.
These include flights from Hawaii to Papeete, French Polynesia; Boston; New York; and the west coast. This menu is also available on flights from Honolulu to Austin, Texas.
When you fly first class on Hawaiian Airlines, you get to taste a local chef̵[ads1]7;s recipe thanks to the airline’s Featured Chef Series. It’s the airline’s way of highlighting local talent, but also makes it seem like you’re eating at a Hawaiian restaurant when you’re actually in the air.
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The other meal option is just as good. The risotto is inspired by a creamy Venetian dish called risi e bisi – which translates to rice and peas – and is a soupy version of the classic risotto. Also loaded with zucchini, this risi e bisi is light (thank you lemon zest) and creamy, topped with a dollop of basil macadamia nut pesto.
The dishes are served with a starter salad with a roasted garlic vinaigrette and a roll with butter. For dessert, passengers are treated to an opera cake made by another Hawaiian chef, Michelle Karr-Ueoka, and La Tour Café.
These two dishes are created by Robynne Maii, owner and chef of the Fête Hawaii restaurant in the heart of downtown Honolulu. Maii is one of a handful of celebrity chefs that Hawaiian Airlines uses to help create their in-flight menus.
“The Featured Chef Series is a perfect way to share with guests a part of what Hawaii and Hawaiian Airlines are all about, which are authentic experiences that represent our unique and flavorful island culture,” Renee Awana, executive director of product development at Hawaiian Airlines, said.
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Who is Chef Robynne Maii?
Born and raised in Honolulu, Maii is a chef who breaks glass ceilings with local cuisine.
“I think we were just raised to eat delicious food, that’s how we do things here (in Hawaii),” she said.
After living and working in New York for about 15 years, Maii and her husband moved back to Hawaii to open his own restaurant. She felt that restaurants in New York lacked the hospitality she desired.
“We found ourselves entertaining more at home and thought, maybe we can do this,” she said. “We wanted to create a restaurant that we wanted to eat at.”
Although her farm-to-table menu seems simple at first glance, she said, “It’s all about the details.”
In June, Maii won the 2022 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northwest and Pacific. Not only was she the first Hawaiian chef or restaurant to win in nearly 20 years, but she was also the first female chef and woman of Native Hawaiian ancestry to ever win.
Maii said she is “still processing” the award, taking “the accolades with a good sense of seriousness and humility.”
“Even more so, we feel we have to maintain a standard and contribute to the community,” she said.
How was Hawaiian Airlines’ first class menu created?
Maii has worked with Hawaiian Airlines since 2018 when she ran their office cafe called Lunchbox until the pandemic. This is the second time she has created an in-flight menu for the airline. “It’s amazing to be part of that family, it’s a growing family but still feels super local, super small,” she said. – It is something we are very proud of.
The flight menu took her two full days in the kitchen, with taste testing and adjusting the recipes. “It’s challenging to cook food that’s made ahead of time and reheated on the airlines,” she said.
She had to consider factors such as what would keep well, what ingredients were easy to obtain and what could be made on a large scale. Schnitzel, she said, is “delicious cold, delicious hot.” She used chicken as a protein instead of veal because “chicken is light, tasty.”
She also thought about people’s diets – for example, the risotto is vegetarian and gluten-free.
First class guests order their meals when they are on the plane.
In the main cabin, passengers also get a free meal during brunch or lunch service. Although not made by Maii, depending on the flight, it could be a bagel roll with ham and cheese, tortellini pasta with a creamy tomato sauce, or a hoagie with turkey, swiss and spinach.
At the restaurant or out and about, Maii said she is often told by people, “We just flew back in first class, and it’s lovely.”
Kathleen Wong is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Hawaii. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.