Luxury Airline Menus - Trends in High Flying Flavors

Airlines are going the extra mile to offer their premium passengers with exceptional culinary experiences on-board. Here are some of the latest gastronomical trends in the aviation world

By: Akanksha Maker

Posted on: March 11, 2019

Aviation has seen a number of innovations in the past few years. Whether it’s the launch of new classes or the introduction of unimaginable cabin spaces, the business of flying has become a significantly luxurious one. Food is an essential part of any service industry — and it’s safe to say that it’s quite important in aviation too. A few airlines have recognised the discerning tastes of their premium passengers and have taken interesting steps to craft extraordinary gastronomical experiences onboard. Here are a few such trends. 

Chef George Calombaris for Qatar Airways

Collaborations with hospitality 

One of the most striking trends in the recent past has been airline collaborations with hotels. A number of airlines have partnered with hospitality players to recreate hotel-like dining experiences onboard. It is only understandable why airlines have chosen this move. Hospitality and aviation are two industries that always go hand in hand. Their premium passengers (first- and business-class) resonate with a certain league of hotels, and these carriers bring their food to life on airplane mode. Speaking to Qatar Airways gave me more perspective on what carriers are endeavouring to do. “It’s not easy to emulate an experience in the air to that found in your favourite fine dining establishments, but top airlines are moving away from the traditional inflight service by adopting an experience more aligned with that of a restaurant style — larger crockery, good glassware and cutleries and menus that are more extensive and complex,” says a spokesperson from Qatar’s national airline. 

One of the first airlines that partnered with a hotel group to give their passengers the five-star treatment is All Nippon Airways. In 2017, the airline associated with chefs from the Kowloon and Island Shangri-La hotels in Hong Kong for their new in-flight menus (for business-class only). The airline had already worked with the hotel group in the past and spread across three new elaborate menus across the year. Executive chefs of the Shang Palace (Kowloon Shangri-La) and Summer Palace (Island Shangri-La) restaurants designed the eclectic business class menu that ran until July. After which, menus curated by the restaurants were served onboard. Dishes offered in-flight included the likes of chilled marinated pork knuckle and stewed wagyu beef short ribs in royal style. 

In more recent developments, Lufthansa, in May 2018, partnered with The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts for their flights out and to India. Chef Vinod Soni curated menus across classes that blended traditional Indian ingredients with a contemporary twist. While the revamp spread across all classes, passengers in business- and first-class were served exclusive dishes. This included dishes like roasted chicken with sunflower seeds, carrots, honey, sesame oil and mint leaf and raw mango salad; martaban gosht (red meat cooked in spices and chilli); chandani murgh korma and shalgam gosht (red meat curry with turnips).

Lufthansa First Class meal with Leela Palaces Hotels and Resorts

A collaboration between Mandarin Oriental, Taipei and Thai Airways took place last year as well. Thai Airways’ flights from Taipei to Bangkok featured a new series of dishes developed in collaboration with the hotel and were served to business-class passengers until the end of August 2018. Each of the new dishes were inspired by those served at the hotel’s Michelin-recommended Italian restaurant Bencotto and the Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant Ya Ge. Some of the dishes served included smoked salmon with crostini, dill cream, and caviar and roasted US prime beef tenderloin, rucola flan, crushed potato, mushroom jus. 

Partnerships with chefs

Alliances with eminent chefs is another trend that’s made news in the airline industry. Air France is one of the forerunners of this trend. Back in 2011, the French carrier brought on celebrated chefs to curate dishes for business- and first-class passengers on its long-haul international flights. The airline has worked with names like Joël Robuchon, Guy Martin, Michel Roth and Thibaut Ruggeri to create sophisticated menus for their premium customers. Recently, Régis Marcon developed several à la carte options for first-class that featured items like free-range chicken with black morels and brill and shrimp with chanterelles. 

Chef Regis Marcon for Air France

A number of airlines followed suit and partnered with famous chefs too. Back in 2012, British Airways partnered with one of the most renowned chefs in the world — Heston Blumenthal. He was asked to overhaul their premium menus and add “umami” to meals on British Airways. (Umami, the savory taste, is one of the five basic tastes together with sweetness, sourness, bitterness, and saltiness). Some of the dishes served on the business- and first-class menu included mint, dill and lemon-cured Shetland salmon gravlax with vegetable caviar and lemon Cornish sole with saffron and pine nut sauce.

In the same year, Qatar Airways introduced its pathbreaking Culinary World Menu panel partnering with four celebrity chefs. Nobu Matsuhisa of the eponymous restaurant chain Nobu, and India’s two Michelin-starred Vineet Bhatia were brought on board. Thyme-roasted chicken supreme with potato gnocchi and seared tomatoes, oven-roasted mustard-dill salmon with dill pine nut rice and a banana-caramel tart were some of the dishes that were served in business- and first-class. “Currently Qatar Airways features menus on its Australian routes designated by TV chef and restaurant owner George Calombaris and soon to start in 2019 with US Iron chef and Michelin starred Geoffrey Zakarian who’s unique signature style of dishes will feature on menus to and from selected North American routings,” says the airline’s spokesperson.

Local, sustainable and more 

Donal Skehan for Virgin Atlantic

Sustainable is the latest buzz word, and it is relevant to the aviation industry too. Virgin Atlantic very recently brought this trend inflight with its partnership with Irish food writer and TV host Donal Skehan. Titled “Dine with Donal”, the menu takes inspiration from different cities of the world and stresses on sustainable, fresh ingredients which bring restaurant standard food to the skies. Some of the dishes that made it to this menu include aromatic Thai vegetable stew with jasmine rice, and charred cod with spicy mango salad and Nam Jim dressing. 

Virgin Atlantic wasn't the only one to bring this unconventional yet latest trend thousands of feet above sea level. Korean Air is one such airline that literally took the concept of farm-to-table to air. Back in the 1990s, the airline took over Je-Dong Farm on Jeju island. There after, Korean Air pioneered a unique “From Farm to Cloud” concept in which ingredients such as beef, chicken and vegetables sourced directly from Korean Air’s own farm were used to prepare dishes in their business- and first-class. 

Korean Air ad for Je-Dong farm

While most airlines have taken the fine-dining route to inflight dining, Cathay Pacific focused on local food for inspiration. Called “Hong Kong Flavours”, the airline rolled out a new series of menus featuring locally influenced dishes. A revamped restaurant-style dining concept featuring dishes like roasted duck with lai fun rice noodles in soup in business class and braised abalone with flower shiitake and choy sum-layered bean curd in first class is being served. The new menus will be available in business class across all long-haul flights by June this year. 

Two years back, the Hong-Kong-based airline went a step further to introduce its own brand of beer called Betsy. A pathbreaking innovation, Betsy Beer was brewed to defy the change of flavour that cabin pressure and altitude had on passengers’ tastebuds. Made using a combination of science and traditional brewing methods, it became the world’s first hand-crafted bottled beer brewed to be enjoyed at 35,000 feet. 

Betsy Beer by Cathay Pacific

From partnering with iconic hotel brands to bringing world-renowned chefs on board, it’s safe to say that airlines have upped their dining game to a significant level. Some have even gone further by bringing in trends like sustainability and local cuisine onboard. While the quotient of luxury remains a common denominator in these concepts, it’s definitely exciting to see what the future holds for inflight dining trends for business- and first-class.

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