Catering, and cooking on board. Flight attendant secrets!
Have you ever wondered how we (corporate flight attendants), serve a perfect looking and tasting meal at 40,000 feet? It is, by no means easy! However, experience, trial and error, and tips from colleagues and culinary expects help us to successfully pull over 5 star meal service in the sky.
From the Beginning: When I was making the transition from Commercial to corporate flying, I was asked one important question at interviews: “what culinary skills do you have?” To be honest, besides my simple home cooking and reheating airplane packaged food, I really didn’t have any. The interviewees did not care as much that I had 6 years’ experience on commercial planes. They carefully explained to me that my job onboard a private jet, was exceptional food service, not babysitting the general public and passing out cokes and head phones.
When I was miraculously hired for my first corporate flying position, I was sent to culinary and etiquette school before I could even board a jet. I learned all the proper serving procedures, wine paring education, re-plating catered food, as well as actual COOKING! I had to learn about course timing, garnishing, plate trimming, even how to create the perfect looking omelet. The list went on and on.
As the months past, and with each flight, my skills improved. However, I find that the learning never stops. I continuously look for cooking classes to take, cook books that can be helpful, or culinary experts tha can share their secrets with me
So for the newbies out there, or anyone just curious how we pull it off, I am going to share some of my secrets to( corporate je)t- fine dining meal service.
The first thing you need to understand, is that while we do actually cook at times, for the most part, we re-heat and re-plate prepared meals from restaurants and personal chefs.
The restaurants we use are either by request of the principal passenger, or our choice. But it is always the very best. while I am out on the road, I personally like to try out any restaurant I chose to cater from. ( time permitting of course). I actually make an appointment with the head chef, design a meal with them, and try it out- prior to serving it to my passengers. I cannot speak for every flight attendant out there, but this is common practice of the good ones ..
In more remote locations in the world, I utilize my hotel chefs, or concierge to help me locate the best places to eat and order. I also have a fancy app on my phone to find” VIP catering” around the world!
Another secret to properly serving catered meals is timing. Everything must be as fresh as possible. The food is usually prepared and delivered as close to departure time as possible. We make sure it is packaged to perfection for delivery and storage. It is also stored in temperature specific places in our galleys/ kitchens, utilizing even dry ice if needed.
Once I have placed an order, The food is purposely under cooked for me so I can complete the process on board. Steaks for instance, need to be cooked to the person’s individual tastes.(Similar to any 5 star restaurant). On board we have ovens, broilers, fryers, and microwaves (although usually just used to re-heat soup or make popcorn). So anything is possible to serve.
Salads are made fresh and made to order on the plane. Most of us have been specifically trained in things such as salads, fruit trays, caviar presentation, vegetable crudité, egg courses, and cheese trays.
We either heat or cool our serving plates depending on the meal. For instance, we serve hot meals on warmed plates, and cold dishes on chilled plates.
We then perfectly garnish our plates for presentation. And yes, I can make flowers out of lemons, etc.
As I previously mentioned, there are specific courses such as salads or omelets that are made to order on the plane. We can also prepare and cook many more complicated many dishes for longer or international flights. Pretty much anything requested can be served! People are always amazed when I tell them that, but its true. We are not only creative and crafty, These magnificent aircrafts are prepared with all the cooking utensils, and appliances that may be needed. Aside from ovens and microwaves, we have blenders for fun cocktails or smoothies, cappuccino makers, and even food processers!
On the day of departure, we gather the freshest ingredients from a grocery store or farmer’s market We bring on board fresh meats and fish, herbs, seasonings, and produce. Then create sauces and sides such as pasta, potatoes, stews, and casseroles.
Personally, I find it more efficient to carefully label and store the ingredients in a specific manner to keep things organized. For instance, I tore each course contents together. My appitizers and soup ingredients are placed where they can be accessed first. Then, the salad ingredients separated and labeled in sequence. Next the main course and finally desert. ( main course contents are sometimes more difficult to store together because the vegetable cant be kept in the same temperature as the meats, etc. ) but you get the picture.
I also ask my caterers to label everything as well- so nothing gets lost and I know what goes with what, the specific temperature to cook an item or what order something is prepared, to successfully replicate the dish as it would be in the restaurant. I also prep the more difficult food prior to the passengers arriving so when they are ready to eat, I have everything organized and can create and serve out meals in a timely fashion.
I will also mention, if you are working alone, you can utilize your own system, as compared to working with a crew of flight attendants on the larger private charted aircrafts. In this situation, you have a designated cook, and assistant that handles the bulk of the catering and cooking.
I don’t really have a preference; both work environments have their own pros and cons for meal service.
The end product
Regardless of the aircraft type or staffing, the meal service must be flawless. It must look and feel as a four seasons in the sky. In my opinion, Meal service is really what can make or break the experience. It can be the deciding factor if you are chosen to work with those passengers again or even on that specific aircraft. AS they say, “ you only get one chance to make a first impression”. And those words are in my head every time I board a plane for work…
Cobblestones and Heels