Airlines are lining up the experts to add some polish to the in-flight experience and it’s a welcome improvement.The skies have become an interesting new frontier in dining as the captive audience on an airplane is a great stage to show off national talent. Delta Airlineshas been working with James Beard award winning chef Michelle Bernstein and Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson to impress fliers. For the Olympic Games British Airways enlisted the culinary genius of Heston Blumenthal to create a special in-flight menu. Of course there is always a density of culinary talent in France and Air France does dish up some of the best food at 30,000 feet.
There are many travelers who might well disagree, citing their own lavish (or awful) airline experiences on other airlines. The current online buzz is about the dining on Turkish Airlines, Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines. Indeed, airline food is such a hot topic, there’s even a website that posts meal ratings and images. Of course I haven’t flown every airline out there, and I can’t speak to every airline’s cuisine, but I’ve logged my share of miles and when I take my seat on Air France I am always well fed. Let’s start with coach cabin (because that’s where most of the world is flying these days). After the cattle call is complete and we are herded into our seats and cruising at 30,000 feet, a lovely thing happens: elegant French people glide through the cabin with a beverage cart teeming with an assortment of libations including Champagne. Real Champagne, in coach. On a recent trip I helped myself to several glasses, which nicely complimented my smoked salmon and cheese. One has to love an airline that freely pours Champagne.
The business class cabin takes things up a serious notch or two. Before departure you get to pop into their fabulous lounges and sip vintage French wines before departing. On board you’ll enjoy selections (such as a Crozes Hermitage Les Meysonniers or a Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux from the Haut-Medoc) from Olivier Poussier, voted World’s Best Sommelier in 2000. The airline has now enlisted the expertise and inspiration of several famed French chefs who are creating special meals for passengers. My flight featured specially prepared dishes from Michelin rated Chef Joel Robuchon (the most starred chef in the world, 24 total and counting). The entrée was Robuchon’s chicken thigh fricassee with sherry sauce, semolina and vegetables. I might have opted for the Sautéed Chinese noodles of a filet of sea bream or the pan seared beef tenderloin, but Robuchon’s special dish was astonishingly savory and rich (given the palate dulling effects of high altitude). And it’s not just the cuisine, it’s the elegant French touches, fetching boxes of Michel Cluizel’s artisanal chocolates, teas from Fauchon, you get the idea.
cheese plate on Air France business class
Just before landing we are treated to yet another dish: Shredded duck on a silky pillow of mashed potatoes. Hiding underneath is a flaky, crisp Parmesan crust, a nice foil for the rich texture of the duck. Paired with my glass of Henriot Champagne, the dish’s toe curling tastiness is mostly evidenced by the fork licking going on around me; landing seems almost a shame. They don’t skimp on their lounges either; the premiere lounge in Paris boasts a restaurant by Alain Ducasse, a nice way to savor French dining if you’ve only time for an airport layover.
The premium experiences on other airlines are equally impressive, but when one considers the whole plane, including the herd back in coach, I give the nod to Air France for raising the hospitality bar; everyone on the plane gets a nice meal and some bubbly; to that I can only say: bon voyage and bon appétit