A meal in the airlines is hardly ever a pleasant experience, with cold, bland and unappetising dishes packed closely together in a plastic tray, served wrapped in a cling foil to avoid spillage. However, Taj SATS with its newly-launched “table set-up” concept for Air India’s business class travellers, is looking to change this for the better.
“We want to elevate the experience of in-flight dining. Our guests today are well-travelled and thus, connoisseurs of food from across the globe,” says chef Satish Arora, director of food production at Taj SATS and a veteran in the hospitality industry with more than 40 years of experience. With this initiative, the airline plans to move away from casserole-style presentation to a set up that will emulate a restaurant experience, where each course will be heated in the galleys and plated up before being served by the cabin crew.
At the company’s Santacruz office, Arora is prepping for a masterclass on setting up an airline table, and other culinary etiquettes to be perfected by the airline’s cabin crew. “Do you know why large quantities of tomato juice is consumed on airliners? Or why in-flight meals tend to be more salty?” he asks before offering the scientific explanation for the dismal quality of airline food.
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“Airplanes fly above 35,000 feet above sea level, but the pressure inside the cabin is maintained at not more than that of 8,000 feet. This manipulation numbs taste buds and dries out our nose, thus impairing our sense of taste and smell.” Tomato juice, which otherwise has a strong flavour, is therefore more appealing to the palate, and the meals come with excess salt and pepper. Airline food also bears the brunt of rigorous heating and chilling , rendering it far from edible in many cases.
Demonstrating the serving process to be adopted in the airlines, Arora places a piece of seared fish on a bed of rice and carefully plates salads on the side. He then adds a dash of lemon butter sauce and carefully places a twig of thyme to finish off the dish. “Today, people eat with their eyes. When we design a menu, we look at things such as seasonality, profile of guests, destination and even colour combination on the plate,” adds Arora emphasising on the fact that presentation is the key.
Initially, the concept will be tried on long haul flights to destinations such as Milan, London and New York. The airline also plans to fly chefs from Taj SATS on certain trips to monitor the handiwork of the cabin crew.