The schnitzel was thin, crispy and juicy but somehow not heavy, considering it’s a piece of fried meat. Tangy lilikoi (passionfruit) juice was drizzled on top – a Hawaiian twist on the lemon slice – and the acid balances out the dish.
Schnitzel isn’t my favorite, but this time, I cleared my plate.
That dish is available when you fly first class on select Hawaiian Airlines flights from Hawaii from now until the end of May during their lunch or dinner service.
Those include flights from Hawaii to Papeete, French Polynesia; Boston; New York; and the West Coast. This menu can also be found on flights from Honolulu to Austin, Texas.
When you fly first class on Hawaiian Airlines, you get to taste a local chef’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 as if you’re dining at a Hawaii 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 soupier version of the classic risotto. Also loaded with zucchini, this risi e bisi is light (thank lemon zest) and creamy, topped with a dollop of basil macadamia nut pesto.
The dishes are served with an appetizer salad featuring a roasted garlic vinaigrette and a roll with butter. For dessert, passengers get an opera cake made by another Hawaii chef, Michelle Karr-Ueoka, and La Tour Café.
These two dishes are the creation of Robynne Maii, owner and chef of the Fête Hawaii restaurant in the heart of downtown Honolulu. Maii is one of a handful of featured chefs tapped by Hawaiian Airlines 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 is authentic experiences representative of our unique and flavorful island culture,” Renee Awana, managing director of product development at Hawaiian Airlines, said.
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Who is Chef Robynne Maii?
Maii, who was born and raised in Honolulu, is a chef who breaks glass ceilings with her locally sourced food.
“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 their own restaurant. She felt that restaurants in New York were missing the hospitality she craved.
“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 Hawaii chef or restaurant to win in almost 20 years, but she was also the first female chef and woman with Native Hawaiian ancestry to ever win.
Maii said she’s “still processing” the award, and takes “the accolades with a good sense of seriousness and humility.”
“Even more so, we feel like 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 in-office cafe called Lunchbox until the pandemic. This is her second time creating 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’s something we’re really proud of.”
The in-flight menu took her two full days in the kitchen, taste-testing and adjusting the recipes. “It’s challenging to make food that’s made ahead of time and reheated on the airlines,” she said.
She had to consider factors such as what would hold nicely, what ingredients be easily sourced and what could be created at a large scale. Schnitzel, she said, is “delicious cold, delicious hot.” She used chicken as the protein instead of veal because “chicken is easy, palatable.”
She also thought about people’s diets – the risotto, for instance, is vegetarian and gluten-free.
First class guests order their meals once they are on the flight.
In the main cabin, passengers also get a complimentary meal during brunch or lunch service. While not created by Maii, depending on the flight, it can be a ham and cheese bagel roll, 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’s often told by people, “We just flew back on first class, and it’s delicious.”
Kathleen Wong is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Hawaii. You can reach her at email@example.com.