Singapore airline | first class cabin menu
If you already haven’t noticed, I absolutely love travelling. Travelling is not a cheap experience on any measure, especially if you enjoy the finer things in life – aka expensive food, and comfort travel. Yet I was yet to experience first class flying, and probably a good thing for my wallet that I hadn’t. That however, was all to change when I was kindly lured to Melbourne airport’s catering department – courtesy of Singapore Airline and Liquid Ideas – to peer into the internal workings required to put together Singapore Airline’s premium menu.
You ever wondered what the food was like in first class? Sure they use crockery instead of convenient reheatable containers, but can the food really be that much better? It is pre-packaged airplane food after all is it not? How much can you possibly improve on it? I would be proven VERY wrong on this notion…
The behind the scene workings was a completely new world to me, and like everyone else probably would have remained alien to it if not for this special opportunity. I think I now really do appreciate the level of care, time and effort required to execute and present the food to passengers on flights (*Ahem, not all airlines though). Below I have attempted to break down the process into 5 “motions“ in the simplest manner possible.
Step 1: Dish creation. Dishes are created and submitted I believe quarterly by a panel of chefs.
Alongside other premium airlines, Singapore airline has its own panel of celebrity chefs (Matt Moran, Alfred Portale, Georges Blanc… and the list goes on) that are always striving to push the boundaries on what it can to improve the dining experience of its travelers. One year they tried to have a deep fryer on board, which obviously did not pass OH&S.
The menu constantly changes with new dishes being presented all the time.
Step 2: Dish selection. Dishes for the eventual menu are selected based on a multitude of factors ranging from: taste, presentation, market suitability which varies for each region, and importantly whether it is practically possible to replicate.
Step 3: Replication en masse.
There is a lot of back and forth between step1-3 – from the creation step by the culinary panel, to recreating by the catering department, then re-measured and tasted by the evaluation team, who feedback changes to the catering team.
Also, getting it right and identical each time is imperative – each ingredient is weighted, each cooking process is timed to the second, locally sourced ingredients are constantly quality controlled. To preserve freshness in many of the premium ingredients, many are flash frozen too. Allowances have to be made for in-flight food preparation and last minute reheating – with pasta for example, is undercooked at catering, and then heated up on flight to a precise amount of time so that it is presented al-dente. Such an arduous process…
Step 4: Menu evaluation. This is where I come in – trying the food.
As the only unofficial person there (i.e. non-airline, non-catering and non-PR company) I felt just a little out of place. Plus, I don’t think I really had a say as to what was good, or what needed improvements. But just as well I didn’t have any official role, leaving me to enjoy the food and be bemused and amazed at the whole process.
The evaluation team, which consisted of some of the execs flown in from Singapore headquarters, local management, catering chefs, and sometimes the celebrity chefs would make an appearance (unfortunately, no Matt Moran this time), were responsible for assessing the presentation, scrutinizing the serving size, ingredient portioning and balance to the most minuscule detail, and most importantly evaluating the taste.
These events occur multiple times each year at each airport across the globe, in attempt to maintain quality control. What a job that would be ey?
Step 5: on flight experience: wine and dine in style.
Apparently there is a lot of extra training required of first class cabin crew. From the psychology of being able to read passenger needs / mannerisms, having cultural empathy, to practical aspects such as being able to put together the final presentation of a dish being served. There is a minimum number of “motions” (i.e. steps involved) to put together any one dish in flight; with more steps with higher passenger class. Presentation of the food is on Givenchy china (for real!), cutlery, bleached white tablecloths – the whole shebang.
Aside having multiple courses – entrée / main / dessert / light meals / refreshments – available at your own preferred time, there’s also matched wines, options to book the cook (i.e. pre-order some of your dishes). Apparently there is also “flight of wines” available to those who want a little more than a tipple. *cough – responsible drinking / serving still applies.
So you’re probably wondering how did the food fair?
I was quite simply blown away by the whole experience – not just of sheer precision, immaculate presentation but the actual depth and nuances of flavour, freshness and quality of produce used was simply worlds apart from my expectations. The choices vary from the more indulgent and hearty, to light and refreshing, to finally the pared back homely nostalgia for those times when all you want is a bowl of congee. Nothing however was bland / insipid or boring. Sure there are some things you won’t ever be able to get on a plane (i.e. freshly deep fried tempura), but from the dishes presented if I had not known better, I would easily have sworn they came straight out of a restaurant kitchen.
Wish I could afford such luxury every time I travelled. It would sure make my long haul flights a whole lot less nauseating!