April 15, 2024

Kosher cuisine from Wembley, London 

Stuart Forster interviews two members of the team at Hermolis, the producer of kosher meals that was founded in 1956 and is based in the Wembley district of London, England. 

Chef Hady El-Sawah worked with dnata and LSG Sky Chefs in Europe and the US before joining Hermolis around 25 years ago. Avi Lisser is the company’s Chief Operating Officer.  

Stuart Forster (SF): Chef Hady, what do you regard as the biggest challenge of working in a kosher kitchen? 

Hady El-Sawah (HES): It was hard for me to adapt non-kosher recipes to kosher recipes. For example, with a kosher meal you can’t mix meat and milk, so you can’t mix cheese and meat. Also, you can’t use seafood and shellfish under kosher law. 

When I came to kosher, I brought my experience and aimed to develop flavours using the same style of development. In kosher cooking, you can’t use, for example, meunière sauce. I make meunière sauce with soya milk and margarine. I’ve managed to get it to the right taste and colour. 

I needed to draw on all my experience to change recipes to kosher, especially when you produce a frozen meal going into the aircraft. Most people, when they taste our meals, they do not believe they do not have any fresh cream or cheese.  

We make it look right and taste right, all with natural ingredients without any additional chemicals or flavouring whatsoever. 

We really educate ourselves with what’s new and what we can do better to improve ourselves. 

In our kitchen, we make everything from scratch. We produce between 10,000 to 12,000 meals a day from one shift from 7.00 am to 4.00 pm. 

Kosher cuisine prepared in the Hermolis kitchen.
Kosher cuisine prepared in the Hermolis kitchen. (Image courtesy of Hermolis.)

SF: What changes are you seeing in the kosher food sector? 

Avi Lisser (AL): In recent years there’s been a lot of development in the kosher menu. Not long ago it was very traditional with dishes such as roasted chicken and gefilte fish.  

As a Jewish person, I remember around 10 to 15 years ago. I’d go to a restaurant or at home and eat the same style, I’m from a Hungarian background and our Friday night meal was the same good old classic, gefilte fish and you had your poached salmon. Even if I’d go to a restaurant I’d have a schnitzel and garnished potatoes. The food I’m eating food now has changed dramatically to the Hungarian style that we used to be accustomed to. 

The main thing that we are blessed with our Egyptian chef is the spice. It used to be that our clients were very Ashkenazi style, in the sense that they liked a relatively bland style of food – chicken with a little bit of paprika. We now do an adafina cholent – cholent is a traditional dish with beans, potatoes and meat.  

Five years ago, if you’d have served that at a kiddush – the ceremony for my daughter when she was born – people would have asked what I was serving and said it was spicy hot. They were licked clean.  Spice is definitely becoming more popular. 

To the kosher world, chicken was usually served on the bone. It was far less common to see dishes such as stir-fried chicken, chicken kievs and chicken stroganoff. We recently presented around 20 different chicken dishes to an airline that does not carry beef on its aircraft. 

We also now serve sashimi-style slices of marinated salmon plus tuna carpaccio and beef carpaccio. About 10 years ago I guarantee that if I went to a restaurant with friends we’d be petrified of eating raw meat. 

In the Jewish community, you used to go to a kosher restaurant with friends and get the menu we’re used to. We’re now being asked to menu match the dishes served in top restaurants and hotels – styles that the Jewish people weren’t accustomed to. Around 10 years ago canapés just were not a thing in the Jewish community.  

We’re now offering a toasted ciabatta with cold cuts inside. We’re now putting offering it to airlines and getting amazing feedback.  

HES: Each day we’re doing about 70 different types of menu plus our own menu. We often need to match dishes being offered to non-Jewish guests dining at the same event at restaurants and hotels. The feedback is very good.

A kosher meal from Hermolis ready to eat during a flight.
A kosher meal from Hermolis ready to eat during a flight. (Image courtesy of Hermolis.)

SF: Sustainability is becoming ever more important; what changes are you noticing? 

AL: Every single animal we use has a pre-check from our veterinary side. We use eggs and animals coming from farms are fully checked for the way that animals are treated.  

There is absolutely zero wastage of any meat that comes in. As Ashkenazi, we’re only allowed to use the front of the animal and make use of every single part. For example, breaking down the animal, we’ll use the sides for beef goulash and the skin of chickens that we’ve skinned chicken breasts to make a Jewish dish called grieven.  

We’re using reusable cutlery whenever possible. We use lids. All of our food will leave here with a lid on to ensure that food doesn’t move. All of those are recyclable plastic but, sadly, there’s no way of reducing the plastic that we use. Every single plate has to be wrapped and then wrapped again. So it’s got to be double-wrapped so that the non-kosher shouldn’t penetrate. These could be in an oven with pork at the same time. 

HES: The van that delivers meat contains a variety of meats, each in a sealed bag. The rabbi breaks the seal himself. No one’s allowed to break it apart from the rabbi. Kosher law, at its basics, covers hygiene and health and safety. 

You can’t put chicken and fish in the same oven. Preparations are kept separate.

Plates being prepared in the Hermolis kitchen.
Plates being prepared in the Hermolis kitchen. (Image courtesy of Hermolis.)

SF: Plant-based dishes have become more popular. How is that reflected in kosher cuisine?  

HES: We supply gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian kosher dishes to the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. 

AL: We’re beginning to see more and more demand for vegan and vegetarian dishes.

SF: Does recipe development and the approval of dishes differ from non-kosher cuisine? 

HES: When you develop a menu you need to freeze it up first, to test it when it’s defrosted so that the passenger does not feel the meal was frozen before. 

AL: Kosher food cannot be probed. If a dish is taken out of the oven and probed then they’ve broken the seal. For the cabin crew to be safe rather than sorry, they’re going to heat it for potentially a little bit longer. Look inside our cold room now and steaks will be looking a little bit red but they will be perfect when they reach passengers on planes.  

A massive part of this business is bearing in mind that we’re going to do something to a level of 80% to 90% ready, knowing that on the receiving end, it’s going to be heated. When people see the packaging, automatically the psychological thing is that they’re going to heat it for a little bit longer.  

If you go into First class or any higher level of cabin, the cabin crew will plate your meal for you. A massive part of our development is that the plate gets to the passenger the same way as it’s left our depot. 

Underneath our desserts, we have a little pipe bag of custard or something sticky to keep whatever it is in place. All dishes are tested so that they do not move across the plate. We seal the plate first, then put the lid on and seal it again, so that it’s completely stuck to the plate. We pay a lot of attention to that.