Chef Babu Badhrinarayanan, from Bangalore, helps his guests travel light. At Heathrow Airport’s Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, one of the biggest airline lounges in the world, his kitchen caters to over 750 clients daily. He is credited with introducing a la carte dining at the clubhouse, which has now been adopted by other airline lounges. Before this, Badhrinarayanan ran the show for an American luxury cruise liner and also worked at The Taj West End and The Leela Palace in Bangalore.
“It takes amazing food, fantastic facilities and a chilled-out atmosphere to help jetlagged passengers rejuvenate and relax in between flights,” he says, while instructing his team to set up the lunch buffet, “The food here cannot be fiery or caffeine loaded.”
Serving 170 people at a time, the Bangalore boy talks about keeping in touch with his Indian-ness. “Chicken curry is already a national dish here in the UK; we serve it on a banana leaf.” He still sources curry leaves, mustard seeds and cumin from India.
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Badhrinarayanan recently introduced a la carte dining at the lounge, which is now being replicated elsewhere too. “Guests here come from diverse cultures, and have varied tastes. In fact, the concept of a la carte works better, so that they don’t have to mould their palates to a buffet,” he says.
But the biggest challenge, he says, to work at a place like this, is to create the menu, since there are no fixed meal hours. So he works on a cyclic menu, and keeps it seasonal. “Besides a rotating buffet menu, our new tapas option offers choices suitable for afternoon or evening meals. We make sure the dishes are light. With prior notice, we can even offer gluten-free diets, Jain food and Jewish meals. Most importantly, it is not a re-run of the in-flight menu,” says the chef.
And what about a menu for children? “Children are our flyers of tomorrow. We understand how demanding they can get when it comes to food, so we have their favourites including cheese on toast, pasta, wholemeal pita ham, tomato pizza and ice creams,” he says.
The writer travelled to New York City at the invitation of NYC & Co and Virgin Atlantic