Air travel’s growing hunger for good food

Sarah Motherwell
(Australian Associated Press)

Stomaching airline food is no longer a punchline with carriers stepping up their game to give passengers the best deal for their dollar.

But staying ahead in the increasingly competitive industry takes more than just serving food suitable to eat at 35,000 feet.

For Cathay Pacific’s head of catering Aaron Claxton, the key to success is seen in companies like Uber and Airbnb that let people decide what they want.

“You’ve got to feel you’re in control as a passenger,” Claxton said.

“Most airlines will offer two or three options. In our menu we have more than a dozen different options.

“You can’t satisfy 350 people on an aeroplane and expect everyone to eat the same thing at the same time.”

Claxton said he did not think there would be much change in the way travellers eat food over time, although preferences are refining.

He said people were more demanding as they improved their education about what they ate.

“The old adage of chicken or beef or whatever – that’s gone now. People want to know what is it you’re giving me to eat,” he said.

“Menu cards need to be descriptive, people want to know what the source of origin is, are you considering sustainability.”

If you fly Cathay via its main hub, Hong Kong, your breakfast, lunch and dinner will have been prepared at the Cathay Pacific Catering Services.

This impressive kitchen spanning 13 football fields makes an average 83,000 meals a day for about 200 passenger and cargo flights.

Its omelette station alone fries up to 8000 dishes a day.

While technology is helping boost production on the ground, it’s also helping better the experience for tastebuds in the air.

“People know food in the air tastes different but they always compare it to what you can do on the ground,” Claxton said.

He said the lower cabin pressure in Cathay’s new quieter A350, which flies Melbourne to Hong Kong direct, changed a traveller’s taste.

Cathay has also designed its own Betsy Beer to be drunk at 35,000ft, also available at the airline’s Hong Kong lounges.

Hand-crafted by the Hong Kong Beer Co, Betsy is a fruity brew on the ground crisp enough to sway even the non-beer drinkers.

Claxton said new opportunities to cook and plate first-class meals on board also made it possible to serve travellers customised fresh food.

“There are technologies that actually bring it closer to what you can do on the ground,” he said.

But even with the future fast approaching, it’s really as simple as serving good food.

“You switch on your TV now and it’s just celebrity chefs everywhere. Thirty years ago it was a middle aged housewife,” he said.

“It’s completely different but ultimately what they’re delivering on a plate is the same.

“It’s well cook food that looks great. I think that will always be there.”


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