Update: (November 12 7:15pm This post was based on an interview published in the Phoenix New Times with an individual identified as in charge of designing onboard premium cabin menus for US Airways. I’ve since learned that he is not currently an employee there. As a result, it’s not fair to assign weight to his comments as indicative of current thinking at the airline.
In a surprisingly honest piece, we get “Nathan Brown, Menu Designer for US Airways, on What It Takes to Make Airplane Food”
After culinary school, Nathan Brown worked at The Phoenician, at a golf course, and at Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak as their executive sous chef.
He creates US Airways premium cabin inflight menus:
The job entails crafting four lunch and four dinner menus for the airline; the different menus are rotated throughout the year through different regions and routes. Each menu includes an appetizer, salad, entrée, and dessert, with several entrée options for each menu.
The author of the piece is impressed by the number of different items this entails, but it strikes me as rather very few.
Unlike the aspirations of the better world carriers, US Airways doesn’t even set out to do five star meals.
He also works with a completely different set of restrictions than a restaurant chef. For one, there’s budget — though Brown points out that international flight menus include a beef tenderloin option.
“You can’t do five star food,” the chef admits, adding that they do try to give the menu “some sort of fluency.”
They pre-cook the food for the flight attendant to finish off, and assume it’ll be left in the oven too long.
The bigger issue might be space. There’s no “kitchen” per se, on the plane so he has to create food that can be pre-cooked and finished in the on-board electric oven. Brown says the goal is to create “fool-proof” dishes that won’t be completely ruined if a flight attendant leaves the dish in there for too long.
They’re also not going to vary the menu seasonally.
Ingredients also have to be accessible all over the world and almost all year-round, so don’t expect any farm-to-table menus from this chef soon.
He really likes the domestic first class short rib with risotto and Brussels sprouts. I believe our last President referred to this as “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
Given that his menus include a dessert he must be at fault for the inedible cookie.
He’s never traveled to Southeast Asia and wishes he could go there, but US Airways doesn’t have any flights. He may not realize that American Airlines flies to Hong Kong, from which it’s quite easy and reasonably inexpensive (he could pick up some British Airways Avios and confirm an award ticket, if he wasn’t confident of flying as an employee on a oneworld partner) to hit several destinations in the region. US Airways of course used to be a Star Alliance member, and he didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to fly United, Singapore, or Thai Airways (or Asiana, Air China, etc.).
By contrast, here’s some airline food they don’t serve.
- Lobster Pad Thai, Thai Airways first class, Bangkok – Beijing
- Lobster thermidor, Singapore first class, Tokyo – Singapore
- Salmon biryani, Etihad first class, Washington Dulles – Abu Dhabi
- Dim sum, Singapore Airlines first class, San Francisco – Hong Kong
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