There’s one thing that unites all of humanity, a hatred for airline food. Let’s face it we all complain about airline food. We think it tastes bad, we think it’s cheap and we think they don’t want to put any effort into what they serve. But we are all wrong. Cooking in the sky is difficult an most airlines have done a pretty good job to master this delicate process.
After designing menus for two airlines BMI and KLM, I realise what REALLY goes into designing a menu and then implementing at 30,000 feet . It’s a herculean task.
Providing food to passengers certainly is not easy and most airlines take this job very seriously. Not only does feeding millions of passengers a year take huge support and catering team but keeping the menus fresh and healthy requires lots of talented culinary professionals to develop the menus and research the best ways to implement food their food program. Most airlines try to stay traditional to the country of origin which means even more complexities since their meals will be catered in many different facilities at many different airports around the world.
This is not an easy job but it is one that has intrigued a lot of great chefs. In fact many celebrity chefs have given their hand at what they think should be designed to be eaten in the sky. British Airways have had menus on their Bangkok route from the prestigious Chiva Som Spa. The Peninsula hotel chain has helped Cathay Pacific and Gordon Ramsey was one of the culinary advisors for Singapore Airlines. These are culinary powerhouses who all now a thing or two about the art of fine dining.
With that said does all of this food knowledge and credibility really help when the budget for an economy meal can be under $2.00 US dollars? Well if there is passion and inspiration yes it does matter. Smart, dedicated chefs can and have changed how the airlines normally do things… all for the better.
I wanted to create for KLM a more exotic feel for their economy class meals so I created a Thai chicken curry and a miso salmon (which is one of my signature dishes) and kept both on budget for 2 million passengers a year. That was no easy feat. But it was incredibly educational for me.
Some airlines have taken their food programs to the next level. Turkish Airlines, Gulf Air, Qatar Airways and others have added on-board chefs. These employees are trained chefs but they are also trained as cabin crew so that they can also be on board for the safety and well-being of passengers, as well as to faithfully execute their airline’s food program. These chefs can more expertly assemble the dinners for their premium class passengers and they can do it in a style that makes the pax feel like they’re dinning in a five star restaurant.
Singapore Airlines was one of the first to pioneer this. Cabin crew would take those foil dishes and then plate the food on white Givenchy china, giving it a fresh look. Cathy Pacific is known for their delicious noodle soup in first class and for steaming rice on board giving the most wonderful aroma throughout the cabin. British Airways actually doesn’t pre-cook but but scrambles eggs fresh on board while American Airlines bakes cookies which of course also offers another wonderful aroma. The airlines continue to strive to pioneer better food which pushes them to be ever more innovation and creative.
However despite all the get ideas inflight food always, ALWAYS comes down to budget and how to properly implement the meals on a massive scale. The problem is that most food has to be frozen, made in a central kitchen and then transported to the airport. Reheating isn’t an easy thing, often it is overcooked and then cooked again because of the logistics of airline’s schedules which often includes delays. And let’s face it any food kept warm at a proper temperature continues to cook so we get dried out food. Beef should be just undercooked, the same as many fish dishes and so when we reheat it we basically ruin it
So what can airlines really do to make delicious food in the sky? Keep it cold keep it simple and Japanese is the perfect example. The sushi tray, would never change its flavour and it’s the perfect meal to have on any flight, smoked salmon and grilled prawns all on a cold salad are also perfect.
I also like a salad nicoise, cold pesto pasta salad, seafood salad Italian style, Thai pomelo salad, Thai beef salad, etc. I could go on and on but these are enough examples to show that inflight meals can be quite healthy and tasty.
Oh and lastly bean salad. On no I was told I could not do that. Only 20 % beans are allowed in inflight meals, they don’t need any more help on the gas up there.
I should have thought of that!
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.