Feature: Celebrity chefs

BY MARC WARDE

Marc Warde is a culinary consultant with a taste for the tasty, who tickles his tastebuds by watching worldwide trends. Here he checks out the trend for celebrity chefs and top restaurants increasingly making connections at 30,000ft

For years now, Michelin-star chefs, five-star hotels, restaurants and TV cooks have been working with airlines to create something special and a little bit different. Mostly found in First, these high-profile initiatives are now making their mark in all classes. What tastes good on the ground, of course, isn’t necessarily good in the air so Michelin-starred chefs need to use their culinary know-how to offer a wow factor onboard. Most take the task seriously and embrace local seasonal ingredients with pedigree provenance, and it seems now more than ever airlines are tapping into the kudos of the celebrity chef phenomenon to differentiate themselves.

Onboard restaurants

Choosing the right chef is key. The food airlines serve is increasingly one of the strongest ways to stand out from the crowd. Crew who really know their stuff and believe in the food, and a celebrity chef that’s respected can really turn a flight into a real “food experience” regardless of where the passenger sits on the plane.

Bringing in the big guns who really know about food gives airlines culinary kudos fast and the who’s who of Michelin dining onboard has begun to show great food inflight is truly possible. The celebrities of course are rarely actually onboard, although that has happened for the odd special event or publicity stunt, but some carriers, such as Turkish Airlines and Etihad Airways, have tried having in-house chefs onboard and others have invested in professional kit like toasters and the skillets and rice cookers used onboard Cathay Pacific. Others, like Singapore Airlines, make dishes such as scrambled eggs fresh onboard and Amercian Airlines has long been baking off cookie dough to give that oh so lovely freshly-baked sweet smell in the cabin. Here’s my who’s who of what’s what!

Air France

Chef partnerships have included Michelin-starred Joël Robuchon, Anne-Sophie Pic, Régis Marcon, Guy Martin, and Michel Roth. New to the crew is Jean Imbert, winner of France’s Top Chef television show in 2012. Imbert has created an á la carte menu (for long-haul flights) that includes an organic quinoa, poached egg and tarragon starter, a hearty stew, and fruit fondant. And for a full year (beginning in March), select flights departing from the US to Paris will be offering entrées from Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud.

Air New Zealand

Has been showcasing the delights of the fantastic Peter Gordon for some years now. It’s a great partnership with ANZ’s own talented in-house team, whose inflight culinary standards manager, Celia Harvey, is herself a talented and gifted chef and super foodie. Peter brings creativity and native style using unique, modern and native New Zealand ingredients onboard.

American Airlines

Chopped judge Maneet Chauhan and Hawaiian chef Sam Choy, as well as Dallas’ Italian food specialist Julian Barsotti, have all been onboard. For Europe, the very talented Michelin-starred UK chef Mark Sargeant gives the food some new sparkle. For travel within the US, the airline has partnered with The Trotter Project, a non-profit organisation founded in honour of the late, great chef Charlie Trotter. Dedicated to fostering a new generation of culinary giants, The Trotter Project has tapped its team of talented chefs to create a first-class domestic menu that will include lobster mac and cheese as well as chicken and sausage jambalaya.

All Nippon Airways

Japan’s largest airline has a parade of 25 high-profile chefs in its portfolio and this year a collaboration with the flagship Enoteca Pinchiorri restaurant in Florence, Italy, has created service for ANA diners that want a western alternative to the fantastic Japanese seasonal menu its own chefs offer.

British Airways

Forays with his holiness Heston Blumenthal and a shared attempt to really understand how food changes onboard an aircraft has been much respected by chefs. Whilst nasal douching First passengers to help them taste the food better was not embraced by many, lessons were learned.

Cathay Pacific

Having already changed the inflight dining game by introducing rice cookers and skillets into its First galley, Cathay Pacific now offers an ever-changing menu made in partnership with the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. This culinary collaboration has included pan-seared Kobe rib eye with black Australian truffle from Nicolas Boujéma of Mandarin Oriental Tokyo’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Signature, and Boston lobster from Uwe Opocensky, the executive chef who oversees all 10 restaurants within Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, three of which have Michelin stars. This year, celebrity chef Daniel Green will be creating a new menu too.

Delta

On flights to Amsterdam, Brussels, Dublin, Frankfurt, London, Paris and Zurich, Union Square Cafe is now featuring with this airline. If you are flying from Atlanta to Europe, Atlanta-based, Linton Hopkins dishes up menus inspired by artisan foods of the American South on some flights. There’s an impressive array of regional cheeses, Carolina Gold rice and grits, local charcuterie and pork, mountain trout and plenty of seasonal fruits and vegetables. Delta works with many other high pedigree chefs and hotels, taking its food service forward in leaps and bounds.

Lufthansa

Features pedigree chefs from a parade of high-profile Michelin-starred establishments. First Class menus from Germany in May and June included dishes prepared by Harald Wohlfahrt, the only top chef in Germany who has held his three Michelin stars uninterrupted for over 20 years.

He has also been awarded the highest number of points by Gault Millau.

Wohlfahrt’s domain, the Schwarzwaldstube at family-run Traube Tonbach Hotel in the Black Forest, is one of the best restaurants in the world. On flights into Germany, Lufthansa works with Mandarin Oriental from the US and there’s an exclusive menu from executive chef Bastian Mantey of the The St. Regis Bangkok, from Singapore or Bangkok.

Qantas

Serves its First passengers a choice of 12 entrées or an eight-course tasting menu from the continent’s culinary master, Neil Perry, of Rockpool fame. Perry has been working with Qantas for 20 years next year, so clearly they are onto something. His team works with Qantas chefs worldwide in all classes giving really great food options for everyone onboard.

Qatar Airways

Is working with Michelin-starred chefs Nobu Matsuhisa and Vineet Bhatia to develop its First range, including dishes such as roasted salmon with mustard and dill, chicken tikka, and a vast array of selections that take account of religious and health-related dietary restrictions. Previously Qatar has worked with Tom Aitkins and others.

Singapore Airlines

Reflecting Singapore’s cosmopolitan mix, SIA offers a World Gourmet Cuisine menu culled from its own International Culinary Panel, which is made up of 10 top chefs from around the world. Members contributing to the meal design include Suzanne Goin (James Beard award winner for Best Chef: California in 2006), Alfred Portale (James Beard award winner for Outstanding Chef in 2006), Georges Blanc (three Michelin stars), Carlo Cracco (two Michelin stars), and master chefs from Japan, China, and India. Singapore was amongst the first to offer a book the cook service which is now offered by many leading airlines.

South African Airways

Has been working with chef Reuben Riffel and chef Benny Masekwameng to reimagine the onboard offering in a way that competes with top restaurants. Appetising starters and sumptuous main courses, as well as both savoury and sweet finales ensured the carrier was the first international airline to be granted honorary membership to the South African Chefs’ Association.

Thomas Cook

Has been working with celebrity chef and housewife’s favourite James Martin, creating some really homely dishes passengers can upgrade to on their holiday flight, from roast chicken and cheese souffles to Tandoori chicken and ginger puddings. The celebrity status of the meal selection has helped inspire travellers to cough up the £9 price-tag.

Virgin Atlantic

Has worked with TV chef Lorraine Pascale for some dishes in the upper class cabin and for children’s meals. Her dishes reflect her love of healthy eating – fresh, nutritious and simple meals with a home-cooked feel – and include the likes of Thai beef salad with roasted pine nuts and chilli dressing or a warm salmon and lentils with chorizo dish, with asparagus and balsamic dressing. For kids there is mac’n’cheese with pancetta pieces, crispy tender chicken strips with potato wedges and crushed peas, sweet and sour pork balls with sunshine rice. or a Mum’s chilli con carne with calypso rice.

Marc Warde is a trained chef and works as culinary consultant for Alpha LSG. He owns gluten-free restaurant Niche Food and Drink, in London.