This week my goal is to surprise you and offer an unvarnished, behind the scenes view into how much thought and prep actually goes into the planning of an inflight meal. And I’m not just talking about some of the most prestigious airlines in the world, I’m talking most major international carriers.
Many of us sit on an airplane and complain about the food thinking that it lacks flavor. I want to tell you after now creating menus for 3 international airlines, the food and beverage team does everything they can to make it the best experience possible. And that’s not just for the premium passengers but economy class too.
Did you know that our taste buds are very different at 30,000 feet than on the ground? As well we have the issue that for food safety everything must be reheated for 20 minutes. This takes a toll on freshness and it impacts taste and presentation.
When you’re traveling on a major carrier in first class, the crew can plate the food so that it looks like a restaurant. Unfortunately, they cannot do this for 300 of the remaining passengers in economy class. So reheated food won’t look too appealing.
How do airlines design their F&B program?
It starts with the menu creation in a test kitchen. From there it goes to pricing to see if it’s possible to create the dish on board within the budget alloted. Assuming this all works out then there are many test runs to prepare the dish as you would for a passenger. The team will then make dish, plate it into the serving dishes they will use on board, and finally reheat it the same way that the flight attendants would and then have a taste test.
The taste test can be with a panel of 10-15 people who may try up to 60 dishes at a time.
The chefs also look to import not only the best ingredients they can buy but they also want to ensure consistency so that the dish will always taste the same. Some airlines will change the menu every six months, while others can be monthly. So consistency matters.
I think most airlines try very hard however some airlines have really invested in creating innovations on board.
Cathay Pacific have rice cookers in first class which creates the most amazing aroma throughout the cabin. British Airways make fresh scrambled eggs up at 30,000 feet and Austrian, Turkish Airlines and Etihad have trained chefs on board to prepare food in first and business class.
All the airlines I have worked with have very high expectations, they are passionate about delivering quality food that the customer will enjoy and hygiene and food safety are always at the top of their list.
Walking through an airline kitchen you’ll instantly realize how fastidious they are. The kitchens are always as clean as I have ever seen. The hats, scrub down and hygiene is second to none.
So the next time that you have an airline meal, just stop and think about how effectively and efficiently this has been delivered from catering to the plane; especially when most airline kitchens can be making 80,000 to 140,000 meals a day.
It’s pretty impressive!
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.