Airline food – dining with Cathay Pacific

There’s eager anticipation flowing in the cabin as the flight attendant starts serving meals to the people in front. Time to straighten up your chair, pull down your tray and get ready to dine.

The arrival of a meal on a long haul flight can be a wonderful diversion from the fact that you’ve been sitting in the same seat for six hours and have more than six still to go. When it’s light and appetising, attractively presented and full of flavours the day suddenly seems so much better.

Flying from Brisbane to Hong Kong, on to London and back the same way gave me the opportunity to experience Cathay's economy and business class travel.   Of course business class was a much 'smoother' ride but economy was not too shabby either and the food on both exceeded my expectations.

While passengers only see their food travel a short distance down the aisle, there’s obviously a lot more behind the scenes action required. I had a chat with Cathay Pacific Manager Catering Services Aaron Claxton at Hong Kong's International Airport to find out more.

Cathay Pacific Manager Catering Services Aaron Claxton

Who creates Cathay's in-flight menus?

The Cathay Pacific Catering team has its own menu planning and concept design team of qualified chefs. They are responsible not only for the menu design and recipes, but liaise closely with our caterers around the network to ensure the best use of local ingredients is incorporated in to the dishes.

Each cabin class has a different proposition, for example the meal service within our First Class cabin is an A la Carte offering which can be provided at any time during the flight - a “dine on demand” concept.

The Business class in comparison is a more structured service but with dishes more akin to that offered in a high quality restaurant. Our philosophy is to provide a blend of Hong Kong Asian and International cuisines with a strong emphasis on lighter and healthier meals using produce derived from sustainable sources.

Which are the most popular dishes? 

Cathay has gained a reputation for exquisite authentic Chinese dishes and we have over 100 signature dishes on file which have been created over a period of years in collaboration with some of Hong Kong’s best known chefs and finest restaurants. Popular dishes are often those that also heat well in the air and those cooked in well-seasoned or spiced sauces, as the dulling effects on your taste receptors within pressurised cabins is now well known .

Which dishes are most commonly requested but can't be served?

One of the main complexities of in-flight dining is to provide a selection of meal options to suit most people’s tastes. This is extremely challenging but we do supplement the menu with a selection of special meals, 21 in total, which a passenger can reserve by booking in advance of the flight. These menu options are primarily available to accommodate those with specific dietary or religious preferences.

We do have some products that we do not offer, items that are restricted or perhaps protected species etc like - shark fin and we have a policy not to use Mono Sodium glutamates as we believe they maybe harmful.

How long does it take for a meal to get from the kitchen to the passenger?

In-flight meals are produced within extremely controlled environments and the process from production to delivery and service onboard is quite a complex process. Generally speaking meals are prepared on the day of flight departure and are assembled and placed into holding chillers +6 hrs prior to loading on the aircraft. These meals are then delivered to the aircraft just prior to passenger boarding and are kept in a chilled condition until the crews commence the in-flight services.

How did Cathay’s partnership with Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong come about?

During recent years Cathay Pacific has worked closely with Local Hong Kong based restaurants and hotels to promote and develop the Chinese signature dishes which are now an established favourite of many passengers.

Considering Cathay’s increasing global network, the thought of tapping into another International five star brand of Asian origin and with recognition for hospitality excellence was explored to support the development of onboard cuisine – thus talks began with the Mandarin Oriental hotel group.

What is the extent of the partnership and how long will it go for?

The partnership will concentrate on menu design exclusively served within our First class cabins and will feature foods from their Michelin starred restaurants within their properties around the world.

Dishes specially created by Dean Yasharian, Executive Chef of Bar Boulud, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London will run until 31 December 2014. During 2015 more Mandarin Oriental properties are planned to be featured covering properties from as far afield as North America, Europe and Asia.

Kerry Heaney

Disclaimer: Ed+bK was a guest of Cathay Pacific on their Brisbane to London via Hong Kong route.