People love to complain about airlines and one of their most favorite topics is airplane food. But I’m here to set you straight. Read on if you want all of your preconceived notions washed away.
Many people think in flight meals are tasteless and that no thought has gone into creating them. Well you could not be further from the truth. I designed menus for KLM for 3 years and served 6 million passengers in economy class. Your taste buds are very different at 3,000 feet and the constraints of feeding you well at 30,000 feet are immense.
Budgets are tight and every penny counts. It is an intriguing part of the catering business. To make meals for millions of passengers, and to keep a consistency is not easy. To do it quickly, safely and within a reasonable budget just adds even more complexity.
Airlines will normally use their hub base as a catering facility and have a team of people that travel the world, finding caterers to make their food on returning flights to their hub. KLM uses a facility in Montreal and this company will also make millions of meals for the likes of Air Canada and more. They are all made, frozen and trucked across the country, ready to board a flight
When I was asked to design the menus for economy class, I wanted it to be more special than the norm I had a small budget but airlines don’t offer large size potions so I knew I could design a menu that was distinct. However as I went through the process I realized that there are many restrictions. So I decided to do an upscale style menu and my first menu that would run for 6 months was Miso Salmon. I wanted a high end Japanese feel that was healthy and light.
My 1st battle was the starch that is placed into meals in the sky. Startch is used to when frozen meals are re heated, and as such the sauces do not split. As I am an advocate of healthy eating I worked on ways to reduce this. It had not been looked at in a very long time, so we managed to get it down by 40%. A big win. I always felt that sitting on a plane with nowhere to move, passengers needed to have healthier options. So this was my chance. We began in the test kitchen and came up with a salmon dish that was very low in fat, very high in flavor and the fit the budget we needed.
Airlines will depend highly on machines. Machines are necessary because labor is too high to make millions of meals by hand. So by just wanting a chopped herb on top of a dish, which could not be done by machine, I learned that it would cost .05 US cents more. That doesn’t sound like a lot but if you multiple that by 6 million meals you’ll see why it was enough to throw the ideas out of budget.
Airlines have a huge amount of hurdles to create a good dinner tray for you up in the sky. Most airlines take this challenge very seriously. They know they have a budget but they always want to be creative and innovative and let’s face it this is a very competitive industry.
My best meals have been a Japanese option. I would love to see more of these options available, apart from routes just to and from Japan. The reason is simple. Cold food tastes as close to it does on the ground as it does up high. A simple sushi tray looses nothing in flavor whereas reheating dishes can often destroy a meal. If it does not destroy it then the presentation will at least suffer. Taking off a silver foil cover to reveal a burn around the edges of a plate is not what we want to see
So what’s the future? How about an iPod to order a sushi option? Steamed rice on board and miso soup. That would get me excited. For now though let me share a great recipe with you.
I designed this dish for the airline KLM, they serve this on the transatlantic routes into Amsterdam. It is modern , tasty and Japanese cuisine at its best
2 fillets salmon 4- 5 oz each
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 clove garlic crushed
2-3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoon’s Miso paste (buy in Asian stores)
Juice 1 large lemon
Mix all the marinade together, brush it on the salmon and place under the grill to caramelize for 3-4 minutes, then lower the fish on a shelf in the oven and cook for another 708 minutes at 400 deg
Keep basting the fish to add more marinade
To serve add a little more marinade and eat with jasmine rice and enjoy!
Daniel Green, the Model Cook is a Celebrity Chef known for his healthy approach to food and living well. With TV, books, magazines and live appearances, Daniel spends his time helping fans to cook better, feel better and live better. He’s also an avid traveler and a self-confessed Foodie.