Fresh take on in-flight fare

Celebrity chef Neil Perry is set­ting stan­dards sky high as he works to change the way air­line food is viewed, writes Grant Jones

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - CRUISE RUSSIA -

IT WAS meal time dur­ing a trip on a small air­line.

‘‘ Would you like din­ner?’’ the flight at­ten­dant asked one man.

‘‘ What are my choices?’’ he asked. ‘‘ Yes or no,’’ she replied. It’s that dreaded trip to the in­ter­na­tional air­port, know­ing there’s a long-haul flight in front of you, a plas­tic con­tainer on the tray ta­ble your only sus­te­nance.

For 16 years, Neil Perry has been try­ing to change the view that food served by air­lines, Qan­tas in par­tic­u­lar, comes cov­ered in foil and is barely ed­i­ble.

Perry’s in­ter­est in Qan­tas food op­tions starts on the ground at kitchen level and he is just as con­cerned about what is served at lounge level as he is at the front and back of the plane. First-class pas­sen­gers, in par­tic­u­lar, ex­pect first-class food for their not in­con­sid­er­able out­lay.

Ex­pec­ta­tions are also much higher now as for­eign gov­ern­ments plough vast amounts of money into sta­te­owned air­lines – Emi­rates and Sin­ga­pore among them – hop­ing to garner global at­ten­tion and se­cure a big wedge of the high­end tourist dol­lar, Perry says. The qual­ity of the food is an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant as­pect of that pres­tige.

‘‘ Peo­ple who travel in pre­mium classes, gen­er­ally they travel well. They stay in good ho­tels, they eat in ter­rific restau­rants around the world,’’ he says in the Qan­tas First Class Lounge in Sydney.

‘‘ They kind of un­der­stand what’s go­ing on in a food sense. They ap­pre­ci­ate good wine, they like great cof­fee, they’re re­ally savvy.’’

In the 16 hours it takes to fly to Sin­ga­pore and back, Es­cape joined Perry to see how he achieves res­tau­rant-qual­ity food in the sky.

‘‘ They want to eat lovely fresh in­gre­di­ents,’’ he says of first-class pas­sen­gers. ‘‘ They want to en­joy food that is con­tem­po­rary. They want to have an ex­pe­ri­ence in the air that re­lates to a high-street res­tau­rant ex­pe­ri­ence.’’

But how can you achieve that at 10,000m?

‘‘ Food that tastes great on the ground still re­ally tastes great in the air so it was re­ally that phi­los­o­phy that we were work­ing with,’’ he says.

Perry’s menu on the A380 is the real deal. It of­fers not only light meals, sal­ads, sides and main cour­ses but also fine wines, pe­tits fours and de­cent cof­fee to fol­low. And each and ev­ery one of the dishes must be avail­able to all 14 pas­sen­gers. It’s not as if you can run out of some­thing or try ex­plain­ing to a first-class pas­sen­ger that it’s no longer on the menu.

‘‘ I do think it’s def­i­nitely a flight with a Neil Perry meal,’’ quips the chef. ‘‘ We have to re­mem­ber why we are get­ting on the plane – that’s to get from point A to point B.’’

On the flight, af­ter din­ner or­ders are taken, Perry ob­serves as cabin at­ten­dant Vi­vian Chow works in the tiny gal­ley kitchen, piec­ing to­gether el­e­ments of a salad from sev­eral con­tain­ers, mak­ing a fresh sim­ple vinai­grette then putting the timer on the spe­cially de­signed oven for the pan-fried salmon, roast Chi­nese duck, rack of lamb or beef short ribs. Cook­ing at this height and in these con­di­tions needs to be ex­act.

‘‘ It’s hard to do re­ally high food be­cause you have set pa­ram­e­ters in height that you can stack in trays and things, but the re­al­ity is there aren’t a lot of things you can’t do. Yeah, sure, they might freak out if you start flam­be­ing some­thing, cer­tainly souf­fles and things like that. But we ac­tu­ally cook in the air, that’s why we’ve been able to pro­vide fresh food, and that’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween us and a lot of other car­ri­ers.

‘‘ The other great thing is be­cause we work so closely over time with crew, from gal­ley man­age­ment right through to train­ing in the gal­ley in cook­ing, we’ve been able to, I think, get the best out of them.

‘‘ You have to get the best out of your chefs, you have to work closely with your sup­pli­ers and you have to work closely with your front-of-house staff to de­liver a great amount of hos­pi­tal­ity and gen­eros­ity and won­der­ful ser­vice.’’

Perry says that sort of ‘‘ buyin’’ from the cabin crew makes all the dif­fer­ence. ‘‘ They re­ally love the fact that they have this great op­por­tu­nity to have won­der­ful fresh food, cook it nicely, present it beau­ti­fully and have peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate it,’’ he says.

Perry ded­i­cates sev­eral hours a week to the Qan­tas project, on top of his other com­mit­ments.

‘‘ I have 520 staff now di­rectly em­ployed by the Rock­pool group in seven restau­rants but I re­ally feel part of the Qan­tas fam­ily so I feel like we have 4000 in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic flight at­ten­dants who work with us as well,’’ he says. The pres­sure is on to de­liver. ‘‘ We wouldn’t have it any other way. We thrive in that sce­nario. One of the fan­tas­tic things, the re­ally bril­liant things, is that the longevity of the 16 years has built that trust with crew, has built their in­volve­ment, their job sat­is­fac­tion and their fo­cus on mak­ing sure that it’s about the cus­tomer,’’ he says. ‘‘ I don’t think Aus­tralians re­ally some­times recog­nise how proud they should be of this air­line and how it’s been run and how in­no­va­tive it is, given that it’s a com­pany work­ing in a very com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment against peo­ple who don’t have the same com­pet­i­tive is­sues.

‘‘ To see an Aus­tralian com­pany in­volved in an in­dus­try that is about dis­tances, to be in a coun­try that is the last place that you stop on Earth, ba­si­cally, and to think that we are up there bat­tling it out to be one of the best air­lines in the world is some­thing to be very proud of.’’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.