Veggie or ragout?
The worst, the men agree, is risotto. Rockhard is how it arrives at the seat: you’ll never get it “all’onda” at 33,000 feet. “We strive to offer the quality of a restaurant: as wide a choice as possible, top-notch products, and for our First and Business Class customers even regional dishes specially created by some of Switzerland’s finest chefs,” explains Felix Kaufmann, Head of In-Flight Services at SWISS. “At the end of the day, though, we’re faced with certain limitations in an aircraft cabin.” As a result, Felix and culinary specialist Jan Trachsel have to ask themselves a series of key questions. Their fundamental challenge: what can we cook that can be reheated and still tastes great? And how do we produce that in logistical terms? Given these core considerations, it’s hardly surprising that mashed potatoes, polenta and ragout often end up on the passenger’s plate. They all keep creamy, they retain their taste and they’re not oversensitive to the processes involved. And most customers like saucy meals, too. Some 40 per cent of passengers also opt for a vegetarian meal, which explains the usually meat-free alternatives. And anyone who might assume that tomato juice is the preferred drink aloft would be wrong: still water is the most popular in-flight beverage.
Meal under 4.5 centimetres
It takes more than nine months to turn a culinary idea into a meal on a plate. “The planning is one of the most important elements of all,” Jan says. “So we can’t just go to the market and gain our inspiration there!” Zurich airline caterer Gate Gourmet and its partners around the world develop new menus every six months. Variety is essential: “Passengers won’t have the same meal on their outbound flight as on their return,” Felix affirms. On European services the menus are even changed every week. In logistics terms, too, life is never dull for the SWISS food team. Is the filet less than 4.5 centimetres thick, so it will fit on the trolley? Can we attend to several hundred passengers in just a few minutes? Is the sauce thick enough to stay on the plate in turbulence, too? They’re all questions that a restaurant will hardly ever face. On night flights the crew also take care to serve the meal promptly after take-off, to give their passengers ample time to rest. “On our daytime long-haul flights people tend to spend more time enjoying their meal,” Felix observes. The catering uplifts are adjusted accordingly: sometimes it’s 100 per cent, sometimes less. “Food waste is something we take seriously at SWISS, too,” Jan confirms.
Cheese from Switzerland
Customers’ wishes are becoming more and more individual, the SWISS team have observed. Some people want to enjoy their whole flight experience; others just want to get to their destination as cheaply as possible. In response to these trends, SWISS is increasingly offering individual food options that can be booked along with the flight. “This way, our customers can enjoy a little sushi above the clouds if they wish,” says Felix. “Or, of course, tailor their meals to any allergies they may have.” However individualised SWISS’s in-flight food offer becomes, though, some things will always stay the same. Like the Swiss chocolate, or a piece of good Swiss cheese. “Wherever our flight is headed to or coming from, the cheese it carries is always from Switzerland,” says Jan, with not a little pride. During winter, the First Class cabin will be even treated to fondue, stirred by the crew. “We even tried making our own cookies in the in-flight ovens,” Jan recalls. “But some of our flight attendants turned out to be better hosts than bakers – thank God!”
Text: Anna Miller / Photos: Jen Ries