Culinary Revolution In Air, Courtesy Blumenthal And Hulstone
The gastronomic pioneer Chef Heston Blumenthal is not satisfied until he stirs the culinary senses of his countrymen. His latest venture involves rustling up a culinary revolution on air as gourmet food on British Airways (BA) in the form of the new in-flight Olympic menu. Although, not alone in this venture, Blumenthal truly left his mark on the airline's food, when he visited London to launch the menu, along with co-creator Michelin star chef Simon Hulstone. With his Fat Duck restaurant getting 30,000 callers every day, it seems only natural that Blumenthal must be brought in to resurrect the airline menu for the British airlines.
1) Celebrity Chefs and Airline Menus
This is not the first time that a celebrity chef has been enlisted to improve an airline’s menu, especially because despite their efforts, airline menus are not much to talk about. With the reputed airlines looking to improve in-flight dining experience, celebrity chefs are constantly called in for inputs. Peter Jones, former head of the International Travel Catering Association, says, “However hard airlines try, the reputation of food on board planes is not very high.” It is this stereotypical image of airline food being tasteless that the airline owners are now wanting to change. Jones, now working as professor of hospitality management at the University of Surrey, adds, “Clearly, celebrity chefs are hugely successful and airlines are trying to overcome this stereotypical view of their food being unpalatable or stodgy.”
2) Blumenthal’s Olympic Menu
The Olympic menu for BA flights is inspired by the airline’s 1948 menus, which was also the last time the Games were held in London. Blumenthal has created this menu along with Hulstone, whom he has also mentored as part of BA’s Great Britons program. All BA flights would be serving Heston Blumenthal’s Olympic menu for the whole duration of the Olympic Games 2012, to be held this summer. The luxury menu boasts of dishes such as “Rillette of mackerel dressed on a pickled cucumber carpaccio with sour dough croutes.” Speaking about the menu, Blumenthal said, “The dishes celebrate our rich history and British talent at its best.” Hulstone says, “People were expecting Heston dishes like snail porridge, but we were never going to do that. What we wanted was comfort food that will divert people’s attention from flying and that is recognizable to all our customers. We went back to the airline menus from the time of the last London Olympics, in 1948, for inspiration.”
3) BA’s Olympic Menu Highlight
The highlights of this menu are:
- Potted braised beef with a potato and horseradish topping, served with hispi cabbage, baby carrots, roasted shallots, and a rich jus.
- Fish pie of sustainable hake, parmesan pomme puree dressing, and warm tartare sauce.
- For desserts though, the chefs have gone beyond the 1948 menu, which probably may have tinned fruits. The desserts are a homage to some other food of the time, like raspberry and basil compote served with lemon curd cheesecake.
The meals served under the Olympic menu are characterized by a savory umami flavor, which is reflected in the fish pie, parmesan, mustard, mackerel, and pickled cucumber.
4) Other Players in the Air
In addition to British Airways, other operators such as Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United Airlines, and Qantas, have also enlisted the services of celebrity chefs in the past few years while creating a fine-dining experience in air. Another British chef Gordon Ramsay has worked on the Singapore Airlines’ premium in-flight menus and Michelin chef Joel Robuchon is the brain behind Air France’s carte de jour for the business-class travelers.
5) The Reason
Explaining the phenomenon, Jones says, “Eating on a plane is not the same as eating on the ground. Humidity is very dry (and) there is very little water in the atmosphere, which affects our taste buds and sense of smell. Airlines select products to go on their planes that are consistent with their brand image and the celebrity chef is another factor that makes up a portfolio of an airline’s brands.” He also adds, “Their (chefs’) primary function may be to create new and interesting in-flight cuisine but it also makes airlines seem contemporary and in tune with the demands of modern customers.”
6) The Downside
The celebrity chefs may be busy churning out premium menus for the business and first-class passengers, the economy class passengers will be stuck in their usual “chicken or pasta” question before meal is served. According to Marco ‘t Hart, of the airlinemeals.net, “When flying economy, you’ll be ‘stuck’ with the ‘chicken or pasta’ question – if you are lucky enough to get a meal.” His website has been doing an analysis of more than 20,000 meals served across airlines all over the world. He explains, “On shorter flights the meals have been brought down to a snack, pizza roll or a simple sandwich. There are (also) the low cost carriers who offer buy-on-board meals.”
Well, the Economy-class passengers may have it hard, but the Business and First-class passengers will have a ball during mealtimes, especially after July this year, when the Olympics 2012 begin in London. So, in case you want a taste of it, book a ticket now.