I love air travel. And at the risk of sounding like the black sheep of the foodie community, I’d still say, I like airline food. I still get excited when the trays come in…waiting to explore what’s underneath the foil. Here is what goes into making your meals taste delicious in the sky…and here is why you probably don’t find them delicious!
To begin with, a lot of planning goes into in-flight meals. Menus are planned up to 1 year in advance. This is because every ingredient counts. American Airlines saved $40,000 per year just by reducing 1 olive from the flight salad! All meals on all routes…everything, are planned well in advance. The meals & menus are created by renowned chefs who not only have to keep in mind the tastes and demands of the world travellers, but also a fine line between costs, taste, variety, the gourmet experience, easy on stomach factor and also the fact that they have to sometimes give in to the demands of a whimsical 1st class passenger!
Guess what? As you go up in the air, the change in the air pressure numbs one-third of your taste buds. Now you know why it all tastes so bland always! Even the way you perceive food is altered due to the constant loud hum of the engine. You are unable to taste the spices and herbs and get the real taste most of the times. Thus, very often, food is always tasted before in flight and then goes to serving.
This is the most interesting bit! Food is prepared by sky chefs on the ground, close to the airport. Airline kitchens are equipped for huge capacities and roll out up to 30,000 sandwiches a day and about 15,000 bread rolls every hour! To keep up with air traffic and heavy passenger rush in flight; meals are cooked about 10 hours in advance. Usually, chicken is cooked about 60% and steak is cooked about 30% and then blast chilled; then finally sent to the aircraft where the rest of the cooking is completed before serving.
This is a matter of art & high precision! Gourmet serving on a tray is a skill that has to be devised. While it’s important to ensure that everything fits into your tray, a thought is also given to your manoeuvring inside the tray and very importantly the fact that your set tray still looks nice and appealing. Studies are conducted about understanding hand movements and figuring out if people find it easier to pick bread from the left or the right side of the tray! Should the salad go parallel to the main course or to the top left corner will be easier? The entire tray goes into the microwave, the food is cooked to perfection and then the other stuff is added (bread buns, salad, preserves, cutlery etc). Extra quantity of tomato juice is always stocked because altitude flying makes your nose dry and people with sinus issues, unknowingly find solace in tomato juice!
All in all, airline food is not that bad and now we know, we have the suppressed taste buds to blame! After all, you are 37,000 feet up in the air!