That was the tweet that popped up a couple of weeks ago. I had actually won something! And that something was two places on an English speaking (very important) cookery course at the legendary Haus Hiltl vegetarian restaurant in Zurich.
To say that I was thrilled is a bit of an understatement because Hiltl is not ‘just’ a restaurant, it is a temple of flavour. Ever since it was picked up on my radar (way back in July) I have been desperate to visit this establishment and sample the delights that are served on a daily basis to the good people of Zurich. Hiltl is a vegetarian restaurant heavily influenced by global flavours, so no bland nut-roast will be found at this establishment. As well as the more formal restaurant Hiltl runs a cafe where one is able to eat in or take away with the flavour packed delights being sold by weight (yep, grab a plate, or plastic container, and go for it, just like the pick ‘n mix counters of Woolworths), be prepared to exercise restraint though as everything looks and smells so darn delicious the plate soon isn’t large enough. Then on weekends from 11pm Hiltl takes on another persona and turns into an achingly cool nightclub with DJs from around the globe. Hiltl is also a record breaker! It is the world’s longest running, continuously open vegetarian restaurant having been founded in 1898. The establishment is currently being run by the fourth generation of the Hiltl family which is responsible for the mini-Renaissance it seems to be currently undergoing. Some fabulous, thought provoking marketing and menus that bring even more diversity and global influence to the discerning Swiss palattes and this means that it has become a destination not just for vegetarians but also for chefs wishing to develop their meat-free menus, and for people like me that want to inject a bit of life into the family meals and present our kids with vegetables that are just so flipping tasty they can’t push them to one side of the plate.
I now had the opportunity to not only tingle my tastebuds but also learn how to create some of their tastiest offerings. What’s more I was going to be able to do this with my closest friend, Kate, who, by happy coincidence, was visiting from the UK.
Hiltl is located slap bang in the centre of Zurich and on arrival we were greeted by a lovely glass of prosseco, a Hiltl apron and Wolfi who was to be our guru for the evening. Wolfi began the evening with the potted history of Hiltl and his career dropping a few top tips about food along the way (did you know that if you want to stop a mashed avocado from discolouring all you have to do is keep the avocado stone in it?!?). There were nine of us in total on the course and our task was to prepare our dinner which included some of the restaurants most popular dishes. With six dishes to prepare we split into groups of varying size dependent on the complexity of the dish. I landed the dessert. Chilli Chocolate Mousse (I know. My mouth is watering as I type this! Oh and the recipe is below if you fancy trying it). With the weight of responsibility firmly on my shoulders Kate agreed to split her time between helping to create the Pumpkin Gnocchi and making sure I didn’t do anything awful to the mousse thereby rendering it inedible. Essentially we were given the recipes and the method and were allowed free rein of the kitchen with Wolfi on hand to check any queries, rescue any mistakes (ahem), or top up the glass of wine (such a shame I was driving). Weirdly the kitchen for the cookery course was located in the middle of the Hiltl restaurant. Slightly daunting to think that we would be the evening’s cabaret for the diners, but once pans were being filled and cream whipped we soon forgot all about the paying public surrounding us. I do wonder how they felt about it though, whether we created a good ambience for their dining or whether it was like being in the middle of an episode of Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares. I’m happy to report that I managed to follow the recipe and make a perfectly passable Chilli Chocolate Mousse.
Once our cooking was finished Wolfi made some last minute adjustments and plated the dishes up ready for us to feast upon. The meal that we (nine novice cooks) had created under his guidance was delicious. Yes, there was a little too much spice in the Yellow Quinoa Salad, yes, the Pumpkin Gnocchi was a fraction on the dry side, and yes, I admit it, I did manage to get lumps in the passion fruit sauce that went with the mousse. But, the Jalapeños were wonderful the Tomato and Orange soup simply divine and it was the creamiest Mushrooms with Puff Pastry my mouth had had the good fortune to taste. What’s more, the evening was a truly wonderful experience. Kate and I met some really fascinating people, shared a flavourful meal accompanied by some good wines and came away with all the recipes for us to try and recreate in our own kitchens.
If you would like to recreate this scrumptiously decadent dessert I thought I’d post the recipe, let me know how you get on, would love to see your pics…
Hiltl’s Chocolate Mousse with Chilli (serves 4)
- 120g bittersweet couverture
- 120g grand cru couverture 72%
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 teaspoon ground chilli
- 70g pasteurised egg yolk
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 400ml cream
Melt the couverture with the milk in a bain marie. Beat the egg yolk and sugar until you have a light and, very foamy mass. Mix with the liquid couverture and chilli.
Whip the cream (until just stiff), fold it into the chocolate and egg mixture and refrigerate until needed (at least 30 minutes but as long as possible).
Passion Fruit Sauce
- 5 passion fruit
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon corn flour
- 100ml orange juice
Halve the passion fruits and spoon out the pulp. Add the passion fruit pulp to the orange juice and sugar into a pot on the stove and bring to a boil.
Mix the corn flour with a little water and stir into the sauce. Let it simmer for 2 minutes.
Set aside to cool until serving.