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Swiss feasts tempt soldiers in Kosovo

Austrian and Swiss cooks work together preparing meals for Camp Casablanca's soldiers

Several times a week, the smell of Swiss specialties - raclette or fondue - wafts from an army camp in southern Kosovo.

Swiss, Austrian and Slovak KFOR soldiers work together at Camp Casablanca as peacekeepers in Operation Joint Guardian. Meals are a highlight of the day – especially when it’s minus 15 Celsius outside.

The canteen seats up to 1,000 troops at the three daily meals: continental breakfast; lunch with a meat-based menu and salads; and a smaller evening meal. There is no vegetarian option.

The 160 members of Swisscoy, part of the German-led multi-national brigade south, based in Prizren, provide logistical support to the 600-strong Austrian company, AUCON.

The Austrian staff sergeant prepares menus a week in advance, importing most supplies from Austria, and fresh fruit and vegetables from nearby countries.

Kosovo scarcely has enough to feed itself, and soldiers are not allowed to frequent the food markets. The Austrians bill the Swiss monthly for what they have consumed.

Toast in wine

In the kitchen, Swisscoy’s Stephan Roten is busy preparing the evening meal, which features toast soaked in wine and covered in ham, mushrooms, tomatoes and cheese, then baked in the oven.

The Austrians and Swiss have a different cooking culture, he says, which can lead to friction as the Austrians are in charge of the menus. The Austrians prefer sweet dishes, such as sweet dumplings with their meat, and make generous use of cumin.

The Swiss, on the other hand, prefer vegetables or rice with meat. When Roten is on the shift, he prefers to cook savoury, rather than sweet dishes.

Before he volunteered for Swisscoy, Roten ran a restaurant with his mother and father-in-law in Switzerland. The main difference with working in the camp is the volume – preparing meals for up to 1,000 thousand people rather than 100.

Stephan’s Austrian colleague, Rene Haller, ran a small restaurant with a colleague and was a landscape gardener before he joined AUCON. Haller says the key to preparing food for such large numbers is being well organized.

Fleeing the dumplings

Both cooks agree that, overall, the Austrians and Swiss work well together and try to be flexible. If the Swiss can’t face the dumplings, they can eat at the Swiss Chalet restaurant nearby.

Once a week, a Swiss platoon takes turns cooking in the Swiss Chalet with ingredients brought from Switzerland.

Additionally, raclette and fondue are available at the Chalet.

Fondue costs five euros per person and raclette, one euro. The Chalet’s small profit is spent on gifts and outings for the soldiers.

by Julie Hunt

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR