I don’t care how good your airline is and how luxurious the amenities; airplane meals are typically terrible.
What surprised me, though, was that our host, Qatar Airways, blatantly admitted this fact. Not only that, they put their CEO, Akbar Al Baker, on stage to pretty much tell us that they knew they could do better. So we bloggers and journalists were gathered from the ends of the earth to be introduced to the team of celebrity chefs that had been selected to revolutionize in-flight dining.
The Al Gasser Resort ballroom in Doha, Qatar, was decked out in grand corporate spectacle. A 360 degree screen spanned the room, illuminated by a bank of projectors that hung from the center of the space. Giant booms with cameras televised the entire event on larger side screens. And news media from BBC to Al Jazeera were there to film and cover the event.
Why all the hoopla over airplane food? The reasons became obvious as the chefs were introduced one by one: Tom Aikens, Vineet Bhatia, Ramzi Chouieri, and Nobu Matsuhisa.
These are not just any names in the food industry. Chefs Aikens and Bhatia are world-renowned for their London restaurants, Chef Nobu is the founder of the amazing Nobu restaurants and Chef Ramzi is known around the world for his cooking shows and books. This was a stellar lineup.
As they took the stage, the press peppered them with questions. Of particular interest to me were the questions about “why” they had been drawn to the challenge.
“The average chef makes over a 100 moves on a single dish,” Aikens said at one point. “Our challenge was to get it down to three.”
Tackling the problem from this perspective, the chefs had to not just re-examine meal preparation techniques, but also what menu selections would work best. They also had to look at how to maximize freshness of the meal while balancing the ability of a cabin crew to make the final preparations.
With questions finally done, next came cooking demonstrations. Each of the chefs took to a station and assembled the portion of the meal they had chosen to create for the event. When asked about which was their favorite dish created for the overall menu, Chef Nobu answered, “The Black Cod that I am preparing for you today is among my favorites.”
The press was then given a sit-down luncheon to feast on a sample meal, served on Qatar Airways china and set with their signature silverware.
The meal was simple, as you would expect from an airline meal. But the taste was anything but. Using the same techniques as would be applied on a real airliner, the food was prepared and then finished by the crews back stage. Yet the simple meal of palate pleaser, soup, main course and desert was phenomenal.
Chef Nobu had not exaggerated. His palate pleaser of black cod covered in a sweet and syrupy sauce was simply one of the best pieces of fish I had even eaten. Chef Aikens’ peas and mint soup was completely delightful. And Chef Bhatia’s main course of herb-crusted lamb chops with roasted tomato sauce, wild mushrooms and morels khichdi was spicy and delicious. Then the meal finished with Chef Ramzi’s traditional desert called Mhallabiya which many proclaimed to be some of the best they had tasted.
Obviously Qatar Airways is a luxury airline that caters to sophisticated tastes, but this effort to revolutionize their menu and in-flight food preparation techniques goes above and beyond what other carriers are doing. Because even if you do put a chef on board a flight, it doesn’t solve the basic problem of how to serve delicious meals when you can’t actually cook things on a plane. QA has truly examined the problem well and the results are outstanding.
We Blog The World featured writer, Bob Knorpp, traveled to Doha, Qatar on behalf of the site. These are his dispatches from the tour and dining event sponsored by Qatar Airways.