Interview with top Swiss chef Meta Hiltebrand

Pure passion shaped into cooking

She is tough, she is charming, and she is absolutely passionate about what she does: Meta Hiltebrand is one of the top chefs in Switzerland with her own restaurant, Le Chef, in Zurich. The 34-year-old redhead is not only a mastermind in the kitchen, but also a strong character. So it comes as no surprise that she competes against internationally renowned chefs such as Tim Mälzer and Tim Raue on TV. In an interview with European Food, Meta Hiltebrand explained how dropping a tray was the start of her career and why she gets well along with her male colleagues.

European Food: Why did you decide to become a chef?

Meta Hiltebrand: To cut a very long story short: My family used to travel a lot, so I ate out at many different places when I was young. I also remember a restaurant owner in our village called Alice. When I dropped a tray in her restaurant once – because I was impatient – she ordered me into the kitchen to help the staff. In the beginning, I thought this was a punishment. But in fact, it turned out to be great fun. There, I discovered my affinity for cooking. When I later had to decide what profession I wanted to follow, I spent time with a florist, a bricklayer and a chef. It soon became clear that cooking was my favourite. I was hooked immediately.

European Food: What is it that fascinates you about cooking?

Meta Hiltebrand: Cooking is a very sensual experience, and it is fun. At the end of it, you have something tasty to eat. My motivation is simplicity. I like to create dishes from scratch and reinvent the classics. To me, cooking is pure passion. It is never the same. I do not know many professions in which the field of activity offers such diversity. What I also like is the fact that you see the result and get feedback immediately. To me, there is nothing more beautiful than experimenting with different herbs and flavours.

European Food: How did TV discover you? Do you see yourself as a TV chef?

Meta Hiltebrand: Actually, it was a lucky coincidence. My manager, Reto Dürrenberger, put me forward for a program, and I was invited to do a test. That was my chance, and I tried hard. Fortunately, I was able to refresh the show, and the viewing figures started to rise. I do not know whether that makes me a TV chef. What does that mean? I love cooking, and I love being in the spotlight. TV cookery shows are great stages.

“First of all, I am a person. I am Meta. I am a cook from the bottom of my heart.”

Meta Hiltebrand

European Food: How do you define yourself? Are you a chef, an entrepreneur or a brand?

Meta Hiltebrand: First of all, I am a person. I am Meta. I am a cook from the bottom of my heart. Cooking is my passion. I have my own restaurant, and that probably makes me an entrepreneur. For my partners, sponsors and managers, I am a brand.

European Food: You work in a field which is still dominated by men, especially on TV. You are also relatively young. How does that feel?

Meta Hiltebrand: I get along well with my male colleagues. Sometimes, it can get a bit loud in the kitchen, but I appreciate that men tend to speak their minds. I have never had a problem with the pressure to perform. Men are honest and do not talk behind your back. They say things to your face. I was trained by several men. At the end of the day: If you are a member of a team, whether you are a chef or not, it does not matter whether you are a woman or a man. We are all individuals. We have our strengths and weaknesses.

European Food: Looking back on your career so far, what do you think you did right, and is there anything you got wrong?

Meta Hiltebrand: To be honest, I still feel too young to look back on my career. I’ve had some great moments, and of course, I also made mistakes. I believe it is important to learn from your mistakes. I was lucky that there were many people, especially my older sister Sarah, who believed in me. They all helped me to become what I am now.

European Food: Do you have a motto?

Meta Hiltebrand: Do more of what makes you happy – every day.

“I’m not the plan A and plan B type of person. I try to make the best of every day and do what I like doing.”

Meta Hiltebrand

Meta Hiltebrand: Do more of what makes you happy – every day.

European Food: And what about an idol?

Meta Hiltebrand: There are many chefs and people I admire. I do not have a specific idol. I admire my sister. She is very talented and makes the best of her talent. She also always has an answer for me.

European Food: As chef you probably know hundreds of recipes, but could you name a favourite one?

Meta Hiltebrand: To be honest, I don’t have a favourite recipe. I like cooking, and every dish or menu has its own charm.

European Food: Let’s have a look into the future. Is there a plan mapped out for your career? What are your goals?

Meta Hiltebrand: I don’t know. I’m not the plan A and plan B type of person. I try to make the best of every day and do what I like doing. There are so many things I would like to do and projects I would like to pursue. I am currently working on my new cookery book, which is taking up a lot of my time. Of course, I can see myself with a family in the future. I am just a normal person, and I have to admit that in some respects I am quite traditional.

Photos by Tobias Stahel

People in Focus

Meta Hiltebrand

CV in numbers

Born: 1983, Bülach (Switzerland)

Chef: Meta Hiltebrand was trained as a chef at the restaurants Rigihof and Bauhaus in the Swiss capital Zurich. In 2011 she opened the restaurant Meta’s Kutscherhalle and took over Le chef as a second location in 2012. In 2016 and 2017, she was part of the show “Kitchen Impossible” on the German TV channel VOX.



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European Food

Food Special 2/2017

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