So, You Want to Know About In-Flight Food?
When traveling on air, airline foods are usually served with the touch of a delicately sculptured crystal image.
The average hostess may panic at the thought of catering for 20 people for a one-off dinner party – imagine then what it is like preparing 18,000 meals in a day, and all to be served at around 30,000 feet in the sky!
And, keep in mind, that most of the passengers on board any aircraft, the meal break is as much anticipated as the arrival at the final destination – in other words, the in-flight meal helps to break the monotony of flying!
It has to be a meal to remember, and, while top culinary expertise is attached to in-flight catering, so too is a certain amount of psychology.
When sitting back in comfort, at 30,000 feet in the sky, it’s hardly likely that a passenger is given much thought to the work involved in preparing the meal about to be served.
The aromas from the galley assail the passenger’s nostril, the anticipation of a five star, four or five course meal lies ahead.
The menu has been presented (a good five minutes of flying time is involved, just reading the words) the drink trolley comes around…anticipation heats the air. Check the watch, only so many more flying hours to go, the magazines have been read, the newspapers and the safety manual have been read and re-read.
The food then becomes the climax of the journey. For, after that, the other highlights are the in-flight movie (if you’re on long-haul), a doze and then descent to land.
Food is being prepared by the Catering Company for any airlines they served. A 24-hour a day, seven days a week operation and maintained to the highest possible hygiene standards. Separate areas are designated for preparation of fish, meat and vegetables. No food product is allowed to be prepared in any area other than that designated for its preparation. In addition to the main kitchen, there are separate refrigeration rooms for storage of all food.
Planning the menus for each airline is not quite as simple as it would seem to the laymen: Each airline decides on its menu choices either with the help of the experts or with their own in-flight catering department. After discussing the menu choices, progress to a meal presentation for the airline. This is being testing session when the meal compositions are agreed, the color combination of the foods and, very important, the weight of the each dish, are specified.
Once the menu has been agreed, the specifications – right down to the last sprig of parsley fro garnish are circulated, along with a photograph of each item, to all departments of the kitchen. The brigade of chefs then produces thousands of meals identical to the photograph.
Meanwhile, the airline receives a copy of each photograph, along with a detailed description of the menu items. And that’s all before the food is prepared, cooked, batched into the airline’s own containers and delivered to the aircraft.
Each team in the kitchen has the preparation so finely tuned that it is hard to imagine so many meals are being prepared so effortlessly.
Special diets and vegetarian food don’t pose any problems, for as soon as notice is received from the airline requesting special foods, the wheels are put into motion to ensure that the meal is prepared and put on board the right airplane. At 30,000 feet food tastes different from the way it tastes on the ground, due to the thinner atmosphere and cabin pressurization. It must be perfected the balance needed to ensure that food tastes good at all times.
So, the next time you’re settling down to a beautifully presented, deliciously aromatic in-flight meal – pause a little to think of the hours and perhaps days of work which have gone into its preparation – from concept of recipe to actual delivery to the aircraft. Quite a feat is it not?