June 25, 2024

Zeki Kocak talks about Air Astana’s catering and more

Zeki Kocak, Catering Manager at Air Astana, provides insights into his work and the food, drink and other aspects of onboard services aboard the principal airline and flag carrier of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

What do you most enjoy about your role?

I take great pleasure in perfecting my skills and fostering collaboration within my team to elevate our inflight service. There’s a genuine joy in consistently striving for excellence and enhancing the overall quality of our service.

What principles underlie the design of Air Astana’s menus?

At Air Astana, our commitment to crafting exceptional inflight experiences is reflected in the thoughtful design of our meals and beverage menus, aiming to replicate the ambience of a five-star restaurant in the sky.

Meticulous attention is dedicated to ingredient selection and presentation, ensuring a diverse culinary journey that caters to passengers’ preferences, all while navigating the challenges of the 30,000-feet altitude.

Recognising the need for healthier choices, we have enriched our menus with vegetarian options as a third choice in Economy class. Passengers in both classes can enjoy a selection of warm bread – featuring local specialties from the destination, including our cherished signature garlic bread – paired with an array of award-winning wine and well-known beverages.

Tailoring our offerings to flight duration, we incorporate traditional dishes from the destination, creating a connection to the local cuisine. In Business class, our innovative Dine on Demand service allowing them to enjoy their selected meals at their preferred times, adding a personalised touch to their journey.

To what extent does Air Astana’s food and drink reflect Kazakhstan’s culinary heritage?

We take pride in showcasing our culinary heritage through the food and beverages aboard Air Astana flights. Putting a spotlight on nomadic cuisine is a central part of our culinary approach.

To infuse local flavours, we incorporate a range of local recipes and ingredients, including the use of traditional products like our Kazakh curd cheese.

Adding a special twist, you might find modern creations like manti [a style of dumpling] with salmon filling. Passengers have the opportunity to indulge in signature Kazakh dishes such as beshparmak and delicate horsemeat during their flight – providing a genuine taste of the local culinary traditions.

We also provide a unique touch with our national tea service at all our flights with our nomad tea trolley, allowing passengers to immerse themselves in a complete and genuine culinary journey.

A Business class meal aboard an Air Astana flight.
A Business class meal aboard an Air Astana flight.

What dishes characterise the cuisines from other destinations on your network?

We consistently feature distinctive dishes from each destination across our network, offering passengers a taste of the local cuisine. For instance, you can expect to find iconic dishes like tom yum soup from Thailand, shepherd’s pie representing the United Kingdom, mouthwatering spätzle from Germany and a wide selection of traditional Indian dishes.

This commitment to providing destination-specific meals ensures that our passengers enjoy an authentic and diverse culinary experience tailored to the regions we serve.

We collaborate with various catering providers across our network, choosing them based on their operational capabilities and experience. Every three years, we go through a tender process to keep things fresh and maintain motivation.

Which dishes are proving the most popular?

Identifying the dishes that resonate most with our passengers is crucial and we employ a comprehensive approach to gauge their popularity. When selecting our offerings with catering partners, we designate certain dishes as ‘signature dishes’ from the destination.

Introducing new meals involves a two-fold evaluation process. Firstly, we gather feedback directly from our guests through our dedicated crew. Additionally, we conduct thorough offload checks to assess what works best and what does not.

To fine-tune our menu, we rely on a meticulous on-site design process led by our menu development chef and team. Weekly tasting sessions are a key component of this process, enabling us to closely monitor the quality of our offerings. This iterative approach, combining direct feedback from passengers, offload checks, and internal tastings, allows us to make data-informed decisions and continuously refine our menu offerings.

Business class food and drink on Air Astana.
Business class food and drink on Air Astana.

What do you offer specifically for children?

We are in the process of introducing a special treat for our young travellers in the form of a new Child Meal box, thoughtfully crafted to cater to their needs and preferences. Parents can conveniently order this as a Special Meal during the flight booking process.

On outbound international flights from Kazakhstan lasting over three hours, we extend themed amenity kits for our young passengers. These kits come in two ranges tailored for different age groups. For three- to six-year-olds, we offer themes such as Amazing Astronaut, Best Actor and Magnificent Magician. For seven- to 11-year-olds, the themes include Famous Photographer, Expert Scientist and Super Skater. This creative approach ensures an enjoyable and engaging experience for our young passengers throughout their journey.

How can passengers book special meals?

Passengers interested in booking special meals can easily do so up to 24 hours before their flight through Air Astana’s booking channels. Whether through our website or other booking platforms, we provide a convenient window for passengers to request special meals to accommodate their dietary preferences or specific needs.

What do you think makes the food, drink and hospitality aboard Air Astana flights stand out?

What distinguishes the food, drinks, and hospitality aboard Air Astana flights is our unwavering commitment to delivering a distinctive and unforgettable dining experience for our guests.

In an industry where many have moved away from complimentary offerings, Air Astana continues to provide complimentary food and beverages in all classes independently of the flight duration.

Something that we take pride in is that we do not rely on frozen meals, ensuring that all our offerings are freshly made with the best local and seasonal ingredients. This aligns with current food trends and has become our signature touch.

What do you do to ensure that your food and drink services continue to evolve?

To ensure the continual evolution of our food and drink services at Air Astana, we are dedicated to serving renowned local dishes that cater to the specific tastes of our onboard passengers. In addition to actively promoting these local culinary trends, we consistently analyse both global and local trends. This comprehensive approach helps us to ensure that our offerings remain current and reflective of the diverse preferences in culinary experiences.

By staying up-to-date with the ever-changing landscape of global and local gastronomy, we aim to adapt and enhance our services, providing a dynamic and engaging journey for our valued passengers.

To what extent is seasonality an aspect of your food and beverage offering?

At Air Astana, we recognise the pivotal role of seasonality in shaping our food and beverage offerings.

Emphasising our commitment to delivering fresh and high-quality dining experiences, we actively collaborate with our caterers and this close partnership allows us to carefully select and incorporate seasonal ingredients into our offerings, ensuring both the flavour, authenticity, and nutritional quality of our meals.

Business class food and drink aboard an Air Astana flight.
Business class food and drink aboard an Air Astana flight.

What processes and practices do you follow to maximise sustainability?

At Air Astana, sustainability is ingrained in our operations through a robust Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) policy. We actively seek to minimise our environmental impact by avoiding non-recyclable or non-recycled plastic items, opting instead for compostable products to reduce our carbon footprint.

Our commitment extends to an ongoing overhaul of service ware, favouring lighter and reusable packaging materials to enhance sustainability. Aligning with global initiatives to reduce single-use plastics, we’ve replaced plastic with eco-friendly alternatives such as bamboo, kraft paper and reusable trays.

In addressing the critical issue of in-flight catering waste, we recognise the significance of reducing food waste for a more sustainable industry. Our approach involves refining waste management practices and utilising data analysis to accurately predict food consumption.

We actively take on the responsibility of minimising waste generation during flights. Our future sustainability endeavours include leveraging innovative software solutions and fostering collaboration with catering service providers to make substantial advancements toward a more sustainable and eco-friendly future.

What are you doing to manage and minimise waste during flights?

We are actively working on waste reduction during flights with a focus on key materials such as paper, plastic items, transparent polystyrene and aluminium cans.

Our strategy centres on targeting these recyclable materials, utilising recyclable or rotable items onboard to facilitate our waste reduction and recycling programme.

In a significant advancement, a new software tool slated for implementation in 2024 will provide a visual layout of our aircraft and galleys. This tool aids in determining optimal galley and cart plans, featuring automated reloading capabilities for onboard provisions based on weight and convenience. This initiative not only reduces our carbon footprint but also plays a vital role in minimising food waste.

Overall, our comprehensive approach, integrating material-specific reduction efforts and innovative technology underscores our commitment to sustainable and responsible waste management practices in the aviation industry.

To what extent do sustainable and rotable choices feature in your tableware?

Our commitment to sustainability extends to the tableware we use for serving food and beverages in both classes at Air Astana. We prioritise rotatable items, ensuring that all tableware is reusable.

In instances where disposables are necessary, we opt for environmentally friendly alternatives, such as disposable tablecloths and napkins made from textiles. This conscious choice reflects our dedication to minimising environmental impact while providing a high-quality and eco-friendly dining experience for our passengers.

Is there anything else that you would like to say?

We take immense pride in our commitment to delivering a unique and globally recognised in-flight dining experience. Our dedication to quality, sustainability and innovation has earned us prestigious awards, reaffirming our position in the aviation industry.

We extend our thanks to our passengers for their continued trust and support and look forward to welcoming travellers on board to experience the service and culinary excellence that define Air Astana and our Kazakh hospitality.