The Best of Airline Meals in Premium Cabins ran a piece today on premium cabin meals, the emphasis on first class dining options from Asian carriers.

The opening picture is of one of my favorite features — dining opposite your travel companion as though in a restaurant. The example in the piece is Cathay Pacific, and I have much enjoyed moving over to the buddy seat to dine with my wife. Of course I don’t really like Cathay Pacific’s first class for traveling as a couple, the suites are too private and there’s no option to sit ‘next to’ each other in a meaningful sense. But dining together makes up for it. Cathay adds a table extender, the buddy seat has a seat belt, and it’s a lovely way to pass some time. Now, Cathay’s meal service isn’t my favorite (I much prefer ANA, Asiana, and Singapore, even Lufthansa) but the ambiance more than compensates.

The piece covers celebrity chefs, and the author takes up the explanation that I offered her about signaling — American carriers aren’t known for their cuisine but they send a message by borrowing the name of a well-known master to suggest to customers that they’re investing heavily in their food product. Sadly, perhaps outside of Lufthansa’s ‘Star Chefs’ program, the trick doesn’t usually turn into better meals as anyone who ever tried the Charlie Trotter offerings on United could testify to.

The description of some of the challenges in selecting and preparing meals onboard is interesting:

The meals must fit on trays that have to be easily stacked, so large or vertical foods like whole chickens or lamb shanks don’t work.

If there is turbulence that confines flight attendants to their seats, the food may sit in a reheating oven longer than planned, so it can’t be something that dries out too easily.

Once they work around those obstacles, the chefs put together a blueprint that contains the recipes and the presentation of the meals “to the pea,” Choy said.

Caterers use the plans to prepare the dishes within hours of the flight. After it’s cooked, the food is blast-chilled — or quickly cooled to about 38 degrees Fahrenheit — and delivered on board.

Flight attendants, who reheat the food, have photos and “a whole folder of notes and instructions” on what the meals should look like when served to passengers, Bernstein said. They may add extra touches, like spooning out sauce or adding a fresh garnish.

As for what impresses me most with inflight dining, readers of this blog won’t be surprised:

Leff, who calls himself a “terrible food snob,” has been impressed by the truffle risotto with actual shaved truffles served on South Korea’s Asiana Airlines. He also raved about the “out of this world” Kaiseki meal — a traditional multicourse Japanese dinner — offered by All Nippon Airways.

Then, there’s the farm-fresh breakfast on Cathay Pacific.

“They actually do make your eggs to order, by which I mean they’ll crack the eggs,” Leff said.

“So it’s not like here’s a reheated omelet or something. The flight attendants working first class are all quite proud of their ability to make a mean scrambled eggs.”

Leff also enjoys the flexibility of first-class dining. You can mix and match entrees and appetizers, he said, or go with something else entirely. On a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong, he special-ordered the lobster Thermidor for breakfast instead of opting for the usual morning offerings.

And of course no first-class dining experience would be complete without an extensive and premium alcohol selection. Leff seemed to know the champagne offerings of some airlines by heart: ANA serves Krug, Singapore Airlines offers both Krug and Dom Perignon, while Asiana has Taittinger.

Though domestically I’m just happy with a warm chocolate chip cookie.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Jet Airways is a major darkhorse player in the Premium Class food derby that deserves mention.

    Their Indian selections have been top notch in terms of variety, taste, presentation in Business Class.

    On the flip side, flew China Southern from DXB-CAN a few months ago, and the food in J was worse than Alitalia, as if that could ever been possible!!!

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