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In-flight food

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Hello people. An interesting article (and a letter) from CNN


In-flight food: Heaven or hell on a tray?

By Emma Clarke



LONDON, England (CNN) -- The "crime scene cookies", "baaji custard" and "sponge shafts" depicted in Oliver Beale's letter of complaint to Virgin Atlantic struck a chord worldwide.


The missive he sent to Virgin chairman Sir Richard Branson about a meal he received on board a Virgin flight from Mumbai to London in December spread across the web and email with a vengeance.


Not only was this a complaint letter par excellence, but it hit upon one of the most emotive subjects of long-haul air travel: the in-flight meal.


Read the letter here.


"Food gets everybody going, whether they are sitting at the back end or the front end of the plane," says Peter Miller, marketing director at Skytrax, a UK-based aviation research organization.


"Apart from the sheer fact you might be hungry, it is there to alleviate the boredom. Because of that people tend to focus on it more."


But the criticism passengers target at airline food is not always warranted, Miller argues.


Skytrax has been tracking airline service for a decade and every year it ranks airlines according to catering in economy, business and first class.


Miller acknowledges that there have been cut backs on catering across short-haul flights and a decline in spending on food in long-haul economy.


But Skytrax's research has also revealed a general improvement in standards over the last five years. "We are actually strong supporters of the overall quality that is served up across most airlines in most parts of the world," says Miller.


Standards have improved firstly as a result of greater competition between airline catering companies, says Miller.


Austrian catering company DO & CO has transformed the food served onboard Austrian Airlines and Turkish Airlines flights. Skytrax reported a 35 percent increase in customer satisfaction for Turkish Airlines since DO & CO was hired in 2007.


"In the last 15-20 years, the industry has focused on lean production. But we believe [airline catering] is not the job of a car manufacturer," says Attila Dogudan, CEO of DO & CO.


Good quality airline food not only depends on the quality of raw ingredients, he says, but also the intangible elements of good cuisine.


"If you have chefs doing 3,000 filets on the grill, after 300 they lose the passion," says Dogudan. To inspire enthusiasm in its kitchens, DO & CO says it employs an unusually high ratio of chefs to work on a greater variety of dishes.


They say they also insist on training cabin staff in food service; they replace the dreaded disposable food trays with crockery; and give passengers menus explaining where their fresh, local ingredients come from.


Airlines also use food as a marketing tool and improve standards to attract premium customers.


Austrian Airlines has won the Skytrax award for Best Business Class Catering for the last two years. As Michael Braun, spokesman at Austrian Airlines says, "the current situation in the airline industry is tough and costs have to be cut. But the competition is also very tough, so we need something that makes us unique compared to other airlines."


And for Austrian Airlines, one unique selling point is its food.


There is an on-board chef on every Austrian Airlines flight who puts the crucial finishing touches on premium-class meals.


The airline also offers a "Vienna coffee house in the air" and one quarter of flight attendants are trained sommeliers to guide passengers through the extensive wine list.


Airlines worldwide also hire celebrity chefs to add prestige to their culinary efforts. British chef, Gordon Ramsay is one of Singapore Airline's "Culinary Panel"; Juan Amador works with Lufthansa; and United Airlines enlisted the services of U.S. chef Charlie Trotter to inspire its in-flight menu.


Chefs help airlines design meals that perform at high altitude. As Michelle Bernstein, Delta's celebrity chef has said, palates weaken in pressurized air cabins, which means dishes need to be made a more flavorful and seasoned than they would be on the ground.


Miller at SkyTrax is skeptical about the true benefits a celebrity chef can bring to onboard catering. After all, Gordon Ramsay isn't actually in the cabin sautéing the potatoes.


But he does acknowledge that some chefs have influenced a new style of in-flight cuisine.


Chef Neil Perry, hired by Qantas in 2003, initiated a move to healthy eating in first and business class. His work has since influenced standards across catering in all classes.


Qantas won the Skytrax award for Best Economy Class Catering in 2008 partly as a result of simple enhancements such as the availability of fresh fruit between meals and from the self-serve bar in economy on its A380 aircraft.


But as airlines grapple with a deepening recession, can passengers expect treats to vanish from food trays?


Across short-haul flights, making cuts is an "easier game," says Miller. Passengers notice it far less if an airline switches a sandwich for a packet of biscuits and a plastic cup of coffee, he says.


But on long-haul flights, airlines are restrained in what they can cut.


Miller: "People measure the standard of their flight by the quality of the food or the size of the portion they get. If a meal is cut back too severely they are going to walk away."

Source and more related links


THE letter to Sir Branson




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Good stuff I'd tell ye'. Got my morning going. I reprint here but the pictures you have to see at the website.


The letter


Dear Mr Branson


REF: Mumbai to Heathrow 7th December 2008


I love the Virgin brand, I really do which is why I continue to use it despite a series of unfortunate incidents over the last few years. This latest incident takes the biscuit.


Ironically, by the end of the flight I would have gladly paid over a thousand rupees for a single biscuit following the culinary journey of hell I was subjected to at the hands of your corporation.


Look at this Richard. Just look at it: [see image one, above].


I imagine the same questions are racing through your brilliant mind as were racing through mine on that fateful day. What is this? Why have I been given it? What have I done to deserve this? And, which one is the starter, which one is the dessert?


You don't get to a position like yours Richard with anything less than a generous sprinkling of observational power so I KNOW you will have spotted the tomato next to the two yellow shafts of sponge on the left. Yes, it's next to the sponge shaft without the green paste. That's got to be the clue hasn't it. No sane person would serve a dessert with a tomato would they. Well answer me this Richard, what sort of animal would serve a dessert with peas in: [see image two, above].


I know it looks like a baaji but it's in custard Richard, custard. It must be the pudding. Well you'll be fascinated to hear that it wasn't custard. It was a sour gel with a clear oil on top. It's only redeeming feature was that it managed to be so alien to my palette that it took away the taste of the curry emanating from our miscellaneous central cuboid of beige matter. Perhaps the meal on the left might be the dessert after all.


Anyway, this is all irrelevant at the moment. I was raised strictly but neatly by my parents and if they knew I had started dessert before the main course, a sponge shaft would be the least of my worries. So let's peel back the tin-foil on the main dish and see what's on offer.


I'll try and explain how this felt. Imagine being a twelve year old boy Richard. Now imagine it's Christmas morning and you're sat their with your final present to open. It's a big one, and you know what it is. It's that Goodmans stereo you picked out the catalogue and wrote to Santa about.


Only you open the present and it's not in there. It's your hamster Richard. It's your hamster in the box and it's not breathing. That's how I felt when I peeled back the foil and saw this: [see image three, above].


Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking it's more of that Baaji custard. I admit I thought the same too, but no. It's mustard Richard. MUSTARD. More mustard than any man could consume in a month. On the left we have a piece of broccoli and some peppers in a brown glue-like oil and on the right the chef had prepared some mashed potato. The potato masher had obviously broken and so it was decided the next best thing would be to pass the potatoes through the digestive tract of a bird.


Once it was regurgitated it was clearly then blended and mixed with a bit of mustard. Everybody likes a bit of mustard Richard.


By now I was actually starting to feel a little hypoglycaemic. I needed a sugar hit. Luckily there was a small cookie provided. It had caught my eye earlier due to its baffling presentation: [see image four, above].


It appears to be in an evidence bag from the scene of a crime. A CRIME AGAINST BLOODY COOKING. Either that or some sort of back-street underground cookie, purchased off a gun-toting maniac high on his own supply of yeast. You certainly wouldn't want to be caught carrying one of these through customs. Imagine biting into a piece of brass Richard. That would be softer on the teeth than the specimen above.


I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was relax but obviously I had to sit with that mess in front of me for half an hour. I swear the sponge shafts moved at one point.


Once cleared, I decided to relax with a bit of your world-famous onboard entertainment. I switched it on: [see image five, above].


I apologise for the quality of the photo, it's just it was incredibly hard to capture Boris Johnson's face through the flickering white lines running up and down the screen. Perhaps it would be better on another channel: [see image six, above].


Is that Ray Liotta? A question I found myself asking over and over again throughout the gruelling half-hour I attempted to watch the film like this. After that I switched off. I'd had enough. I was the hungriest I'd been in my adult life and I had a splitting headache from squinting at a crackling screen.


My only option was to simply stare at the seat in front and wait for either food, or sleep. Neither came for an incredibly long time. But when it did it surpassed my wildest expectations: [see image seven, above].


Yes! It's another crime-scene cookie. Only this time you dunk it in the white stuff.


Richard.... What is that white stuff? It looked like it was going to be yoghurt. It finally dawned on me what it was after staring at it. It was a mixture between the Baaji custard and the Mustard sauce. It reminded me of my first week at university. I had overheard that you could make a drink by mixing vodka and refreshers. I lied to my new friends and told them I'd done it loads of times. When I attempted to make the drink in a big bowl it formed a cheese Richard, a cheese. That cheese looked a lot like your baaji-mustard.


So that was that Richard. I didn't eat a bloody thing. My only question is: How can you live like this? I can't imagine what dinner round your house is like, it must be like something out of a nature documentary.


As I said at the start I love your brand, I really do. It's just a shame such a simple thing could bring it crashing to it's knees and begging for sustenance.


Yours Sincerely



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