Bland pasta and rubbery chicken served alongside some wilted pieces of lettuce usually comes to mind with the phrase "Airplane food," at least in economy class. For those that can afford business and first class travel, the food, and the overall experience, is marginally improved. Now, a number of airlines are even going as far as to bring chefs on board serving up fine dining experiences in the air.
Etihad Airways has hired expert chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants with its "Flying Chef" service on long-haul flights. The Abu-Dhabi airline has won the award for best first-class catering at the 2012 Skytrax World Airline Awards. Werner Kimmeringer who is head of guest experience and catering at Etihad Airways, said to CNN ""Our first-class guests receive unparalleled attention and choice -- for example, the opportunity of having their personal chef tailor-make dishes based on their individual tastes and preferences."
The five star menu includes menu items like pan seared scallops with Parmesan sauce and balik style smoked salmon. The chef can speak directly to passengers and make suggestions of what they might like in their meal.
Gottfried Menge, group director of culinary excellence at Gate Gourmet which is an airline catering service believes there to be a number of obstacles when it comes to in-flight cooking. He mentioned things like not having a frying pan because of safety limitations so chefs have to cook things up differently than they might normally. Knives are also not normally permitted aboard airplanes. Menge said that as a result the food is often prepared on the ground then reheated in a steam pressure oven on the plane. He said to CNN, "The cabin pressure of being at 35,000 feet in the air means you lose about 10% of your taste buds," he says. "Therefore the food always has to be stronger or there will have to be a little bit more seasoning, which obviously alters the taste."
The airlines website states, "We have consistently elevated our inflight dining experience by putting culinary experts in airline roles as opposed to airline experts in culinary roles. In this way, our innovative team is challenging industry standards and finding new ways to bring a fine dining restaurant experience to our guests, both on ground and in air."
The airline said it has hired nearly 110 chefs since announcing the new changes last year and that First Class Chefs are provided with a pantry that is stocked with sauces, prime cuts of meat, par-cooked items, spices and chopped vegetables which allows for them to personalize dishes a way a chef would in a restaurant.