Sunday, December 07, 2008
Plane food has a bad reputation. There isn't a need to explain why. You know it and I know it. We also understand the challenge that comes with presenting edibles that not only look good but taste good while you're in mid-air. That is why when it comes to plane food, expectations dip to an all-time low. So low that it might not be surprising if someone says that he will choose greasy fast-food over a serving of plane food. This unfortunate judgement has its truths most of the time. There are indeed limitations of serving food that's cooked a-la-minute and especially when it is a fact that food tastes different in a high-altitude environment. With so many factors going against the hardworking chefs who create airplane meals fit for consumption, you wonder how they eventually decide what goes into your meal.
Airplane brochures never fail to print glossy photos of delectable airplane meals. In these photos, the juicy-looking meat glistens, the fish looks fresh and everything looks picture perfect. However, the skeptic in us starts to doubt and assume that it only looks good because it's a photo. This is how it has always been. Perhaps that is the case but not anymore. Not for Etihad, to say the very least. Not when they have a food and beverage manager on board - a capable stewart who ensures that these pretty photographs are not just a fantasy or a figment of each passengers imagination but rather, a great-tasting reality:
Since I have yet to fly on Etihad Airways, I cannot confirm that what you see in those photos is what you get when you're thousands of miles up in the air. But I do know that the food beats most airplane food. I learnt about this because Eithad invited me to a press conference and media lunch in celebration of their first year in Singapore. As the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, Etihad is known for its quality service and well-trained staff. They also announced the launch of their new Inspired Service for premium passengers (Diamond First and Pearl Business Class) arriving into and departing from Singapore.
An important part of the Inspired Service involves food. Not only will the food be of top quality, the crockery, linen and glassware will be more tasteful - think normal dining size classic white porcelain. The menu will also boast a wide variety. You will be able to choose from the a la carte or the kitchen menu. The a la carte menu needs no explanation. However, I do think that the kitchen menu is a smart idea. This menu offers an array of invidual snack-sized dishes that can be eaten at any time during the flight. That means if you skip the a la carte meal because you were not hungry during the time set aside for dinner, then you can request for an item on the kitchen menu whenever you feel the rumbles in your stomach. Some items on their present kitchen menu includes Arabic baklava, warm truffle popcorn with porcini salt, warm bella olives, orange, garlic and rosemary, Providore natural ice cream, selection of cheeses etc. Etihad's menu changes every few months so passengers (especially frequent flyers of Etihad Airways) will not be bored.
Before lunch began, we were provided with a demonstration of how the dishes are usually assembled on the flights. It was rather interesting. The food and beverage manager explained how they take pride in good food presentation as well. Here's a snapshot at the long table of airplane food:
After hearing about all that goes into making each passenger feel comfortable not just with palatable food but good service, I was starting to feel that the food on Etihad Airways might just have one of the best plane food around.
For lunch, we could choose our appetisers, main course and dessert. I chose smoked salmon terrine, baby herbs, parsley oil, Spanakopita with ratatouille and baked rhubarb and strawberry pie with double cream.
The food was not bad, considering that it was made just the way it would have been made on the plane - pre-cooked and assembled on board. I think what I do understand that day, was that since it is impossible to cook food on the plane, everything has to be pre-cooked. The food will then have to be warmed up and assembled before serving. What sets Etihad apart is the way their system functions. Preparation for each dish is precise. The flight staff are given a 'manual' of sorts that provides clear instructions on method of heating & placement of each ingredient.
I did not bring my camera with me that day so that's why you don't see shots of each individual dish. However, I managed to get from them a shot of their three-way bread. Three-way because it's actually three types of bread together in one loaf:
One's normal white bread, the other's a slightly spicy one, and if I remember correctly, the last one is the multigrain one. Served with quality french butter, this is Etihad's signature bread. It's pretty impressive I'd say. It is served on all of their flights.
So with this, I suppose I have less reasons to be judgemental about plane food. Sometimes all you need is an ambitious vision to re-align and correct prior judgements of plane food. For Etihad, their answer is a food and beverage manager. As mentioned, this manager is the point of contact with passengers, in charge of talking to them about their food preferences and making recommendations. Now don't you think you have one more reason to give plane food a second chance?
Etihad currently offers flights to 48 destinations in the Middle East, Europe, North America, Africa, Asia and Australia.
To find out more, please visit www.etihadairways.com/inspiration