Food has been served in the sky since October 11, 1919, when pre-packed lunch boxes were dished out on a Handley-Page flight from London to Paris. But, despite almost a century to get it right, fine dining at 35,000 feet has never really taken off.
Why? Perhaps the biggest issue is scientific. At high altitudes our taste buds simply don’t work properly. The low humidity dries out our nasal passages, and the air pressure desensitises our taste buds, which is why airlines often opt for salty stews or spicy curries. The other major problem is logistics and costs. Simply put, it takes a lot of effort to cook decent grub for more than 100 people in a pressurised steel tube. So is there any way to eat well in the sky? Some of the world’s top chefs have their say.
1. Ken Hom
“The food on Thai Airways flights tends to be very good, especially if it’s Asian food, which I think works great for an airline,” the chef and television presenter told Telegraph Travel. “The best plane food I’ve had was just simple Asian noodles with broth (and a sprinkle of my own chilli oil which I always travel with). It’s light, satisfying and perfect for a flight. Even a lot of non-Asian airlines offer it on board as well if you ask for it.”
2. Heston Blumenthal
The English celebrity chef known for his experimental and scientific approach to food, is a keen diner in the skies. “The food served in first class with Qantas Airlines is really good. Australian Michelin-starred chef Neil Perry has created a brilliant menu. The Qantas lounge in Sydney has a proper kitchen that is manned by his personal staff,” he told Telegraph Travel. “I love long-haul flights. I’m like a big kid – I don’t want to sleep because there are too many things I could do. I work, eat, drink and watch films. Sometimes, if I get on with the cabin crew, I’ll be a real pain and go into the kitchen to see how my steak is being cooked.”
3. Alain Ducasse
The celebrated French chef, however, is not as keen. “I am not a fan of airline food, apart from that served on All Nippon Airways, which is very good from Tokyo to the US. Plane food is very difficult; I know because we did it for Concorde in 2001,” he told Telegraph Travel. “Previously, we created dishes for the International Space Station, the ISS. It has all been comfort food, and essentially French – to remind space workers of dishes back on Earth: quails in Madiran wine; chicken parmentier and pommes Tatin, without pastry; spicy stir-fried vegetables. The challenge is to bring bacteria levels down; in space, that is really important.”
4. Anthony Bourdain
The US chef and TV presenter prefers not to eat on a plane, but cheese, port, and possibly barbecued ribs, would be his choice for long journeys. “Do I eat plane food? Never. No one has ever felt better after eating plane food. I think people only eat it because they’re bored. I don’t eat on planes. I like to arrive hungry,” he told Bon Appetit. “For a super-long flight, I’d order cheese and a s**t load of port. I’d eat some cheese and drink myself stupid. “If you want to be the most despised person in the cabin, bring some good barbecue on and have everybody in the plane smell it. I brought some Joe’s BBQ on the plane from Kansas City once, and the look of pure loathing on everyone’s faces as I gnawed on my ribs – I wouldn’t care to repeat it.”
5. Wolfgang Puck
The Austrian chef, who caters to A-list celebrities as the official caterer for the annual Post-Oscar Governors Ball, plumps for champagne with sushi (and sleeping pills) when travelling by plane. “My favourite plane journey ever was from Tokyo to Los Angeles on All Nippon Airlines with the Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa. I said to him, ‘You bring the sushi and I will bring the champagne’ and sure enough, when I came into the lounge, Nobu was delving into a plate of sushi already. Then we went on the plane and stretched out a picnic blanket on the floor because in first class there is so much space between the seats. So we drank champagne, ate with chopsticks and laughed. Then we both took a sleeping pill and three minutes later he was snoring away like the happiest guy in the world. Ten minutes later I fell asleep and the next thing I remembered was passing over San Francisco as the plane got ready to land,” he told Telegraph Travel. The lucky so-and-so.
“I generally take the red-eye and I don’t need food on that flight. I have a glass of red wine, take a sleeping pill, and go to bed. Ambien is more my dinner than anything else. I need to watch my weight and planes are a good place to diet,” he told Conde Nast Traveler.
…but he wouldn’t say no to smoked salmon on a bagel – and takes his cheese very seriously.
He told Telegraph Travel: “One time I flew back from Paris to Los Angeles with Air France and I ended up having an argument over cheese. I was hungry but didn’t want to eat meat so I said, ‘Just give me the cheese course.’ But the cheese was as hard as a rock as it was kept in a freezer. So I asked the steward to warm it up in the oven and he refused, saying, ‘I can’t. It might catch fire.’ So I said: ‘Are you planning to heat it up with kerosene?’ I had never heard of a cheese catching fire in my whole life. I’d paid for five seats in business class for my party, which wasn’t cheap, but he refused to budge so I just said ‘I’m never going to fly Air France again.’ “If the airlines served some good smoked salmon and toast or a toasted bagel, I would be happy. Maybe with a little lemon, some capers. Most people eat just to pass the time on a plane. I like to read,” he told Conde Nast Traveler.
Source : Telegraph.co.uk