When it comes to airline food you have to hand it to Singapore Airlines as they go to amazing heights in order give their customers the very best they can.
And one way they show that is by operating their very own flying kitchen!
To call it a flying kitchen is not strictly true, as it never leaves the ground. However they do have a catering facility at their base in Singapore where their head chef and Manager Inflight Services, Hermann Freidanck can be taken on a pressurized trip to 30,000 feet without leaving the ground in order to test the food he has created.
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Taste and smell are both affected at those heights so in order to give their customers in all classes the best their food samples are taken to those heights in a pressure chamber. Here time can be spent analyzing dishes of food and adjusting quickly tastes where necessary.
With regular menu changes being set by the airline throughout the year Hermann travels to key operational airport hubs around the world in order to pass on his new menus directly to their catering partners, testing, tasting and adjusting as he travels.
Last week Hermann was at Heathrow with airline food caterer alphaLSG Sky Chefs where they were working in partnership on the up and coming season’s menu checking every aspect from delivery to the completed dish as it would be presented to their customers in all the various classes on their planes.
Herman spends around 3 months every year creating a whole series of menus, which then go forward for the new planning cycle and if you consider that on a flight to Singapore from London in First class that’s two starters, two soups, four main courses plus two desserts and on that route they serve 2 meals so that 16 recipes on just one flight in just one class. Less choices of course in other classes and even there the same care is taken to ring the changes with new dishes changed on a monthly or two monthly basis.
At Heathrow a team of chefs from the airport caterers prepared the new dishes with Hermann leading as the vast selection of food were judged and tasted with members from both sides making detailed notes of changes such as ingredients, flavours, increasing or decreasing portion sizes.
On these regional test days all of the airline food served on Singapore Airlines from a packet of crisps to a piece of Kobe beef is poured over by Hermann and Catering and Premium Services Executive Phillip Parker.
Working in some months in advance the caterers have to continue to be able source ingredients during the length of time that a particular menu runs for. Therefore choosing short seasonal ingredients are avoided.
Robert Eller who works for the catering company tours the UK and Europe sourcing items from hundreds of different producers ensure that the dishes that are produced by them for a particular airline that they are at their highest quality and the price agreed in the contract for that menu period.
With thousands of items coming into alphaLSG every day on a ‘just in time’ basis getting those costs and delivery right for their airline customers is a highly skilled logistics role. At most times the company produces around 35,000 meals per day rising in the peak season to around 70,000.
Hermann explained, “We try to source ingredients as local as possible even for our economy class customers even where larger amounts are of course needed. Everything is fresh and freshly cooked. The big trick is to cook it on the ground to the perfect right point, finalizing the dishes on the plane. Its then that the crew reheat our food to perfection on board and then finally put the plate together for our customers.”
He added “ Simply by placing a cabbage leaf to shield a portion of rice so that as its finalized in the air the dish comes out perfect and the leaf is discarded before serving. These touches are very important.”
When you consider all the various dietary types of today such as vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, lactose free plus religious choices, Herman has a huge amount on his plate!
I have to say I take my hat off to him and the team that cater for his airline and are constantly coming up with dishes that any top class restaurant would be proud of.
In Hermann’s case its just that his happens to be at 30,000 feet and not a mile down the road!