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Hot food on a airplane? Chef breaks down the logistics

Tuesday, Jun 28, 2016,13:15 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

New Delhi | Food on airplanes is typically unappetizing but airline catering company, TajSATS, which has recently been awarded the ‘Best Inflight Caterer’ for the year 2016, attempts to incorporate inflight innovations through food preparation and presentation .

Seasonal specials, presentation and cost-effective planning are crucial while preparing an inflight meal, says Chef Arun Batra, Executive chef TajSATS who recently hosted a chefs table, organised by Vistara, a TATA-SIA airline service in India here.

TajSATS is a joint venture of the Indian Hotels Company, popularly known as the Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces and SATS (formerly known as Singapore Airport Terminal Services) and their clientele includes Vistara, Air India, Jet Airways and many more airlines. From the moment it is cooked till the moment it is served, there is a science behind the way airline food is prepared and presented to make sure the customer is happy, says Batra.

Starting off with an a ‘paper exercise’ during which different combinations and permutations are thought of, the menu planning, he says, is an extensive and exhaustive process with health and safety checks, food standard guidelines, compatibility with customers and the cabin atmosphere and storage temperature being just some factors that go to shape a single meal.

This is followed by a sit-down with the costing team who cut through some ambitious projects before a final meeting with the senior management is held where more inputs are given to tweak the menu. The menu changes according to the season and availability of seasonal fruits and vegetables, says Daman Pathak, Head, in-flight services.

While the summer menu features desserts like ice cream and kulfis, the winter menu promises warm gajar halwa among other delicacies. A six day rotation cycle of the menu across all the sectors, business, premium economy and economy classes, ensures that frequent fliers don’t have to eat the same meal each time they travel.

Out of 12 meals offered in total in the business class, for example, 10 are consumed by the passengers and the crew consumes the ones left. Wasting food in the state the world is in, is not an option, says Pathak. Airlines like Vistara depend on customer feedback while deciding meals.

Some items like the Arabic Mezze platter, deserts like Rasmalai have been a constant because the customers have asked for them, says Chef Batra. Another unique strategy adopted to keep customers happy has been changing the menu in accordance with different festivals or even specific menus for specific region.

The recent menu for the premium economy offered ethnic Bengali food to commemorate daily flights between Delhi and Kolkata. It included regional delicacies such as Kolkata fish fry with Bengali style chicken chop with potato wedges besides Radhaballavi, a Bengali specialty of lentil stuffed fried bread served with dry spicy potato curry and beetroot cutlet with desserts like Chanar Payesh, cottage cheese dumplings in flavoured milk.

The next custom menu for the upcoming Eid, from July 6 to 7, and will offer dishes like mutton biryani, kebabs and more. Customer feedback has also influenced the way food has been served on the airlines. The use of plastic cutlery was reduced to minimum with biodegradable materials being implemented, says Pathak.

To keep in mind logistics of serving meals smoothly on flights a compact biodegradable box with separate panels for hot and cold food was proposed by the airlines. A ‘step-down’ box for the economy class, like a ‘gift box’ will be presented as a whole to the passenger. It is designed to be simple for both the passenger and the crew, said Gladys Chia the general manager of cabin services, Vistara.

The design allows the crew to focus on the customer and not the tray where they would have to arrange the food. The design and details adds to the service we give to the customers, she says.