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Food for thought on your mid-air banquet

If variety is the spice of life- then private aviation catering firms need to be extra resourceful: Serving people who are used to the best of the best is a tough task - not least when those people will be dining 30-000 feet above the ground. Yet several companies are working hard to provide delicious menus that work well in-flight – all in the best possible taste- of course.

The menus that in-flight caterers create have to take into account the rigors that health and safety standards require for private aviation- as well as the many challenges; including issues of dehydration- altitude- and retaining freshness - all of which affect the quality of the food- and passengers’ taste buds. However- when firms step up to the plate- their services are certainly appreciated.

Alison Price On Air (APOA)- the London-based in-flight division of elite catering firm Alison Price and Company last year announced a 400% growth since its inception in May 2010- such is the demand for its services. APOA has a long list of aviation clients on its books including charter companies Gama Aviation- ExecuJet and Air Partner. Director of APOA’s in-flight services Daniel Hulme revealed- “We went from zero to twenty clients in just under twelve months.”

Executive Chef Richard Cubbin added- “All our dishes are extremely considered. We try to make everything in house. When specialist food is required- such as sushi and Arabic cuisine- we work with premier suppliers from London. For example- surprisingly at this time of year English cheeses are better than French ones.”

Catering fashions
Companies like DeLuxe appreciate that for many clients- time spent aboard an aircraft can be just as important as the business to which they travel to attend. Indeed- the client may be planning to fly prospective customers or key employees aboard the airplane- or may be transporting family and friends en route. With passenger comfort a key advantage of Business Aviation travel- catering in one form or another will probably be required - and multiple passengers will ultimately require individual tastes and dietary requirements to be catered for.

“Over the years- in-flight catering has developed to reflect many of the modern trends in dietary requirements- such as fusion foods and minimalist displays-” a DeLuxe spokesperson outlined. “Yet the bedrock of any in-flight order has changed little and- in recognition of this- we merge food fashions with consistent gourmet quality.”

The firm works with its clients every step of the way - from the itinerary planning stages through to the presentation and delivery of bespoke meals to suit passengers’ schedules and personal requirements. DeLuxe is a service partner to many of the multinational corporate giants and has a policy of hiring operations staff- who have personal experience aboard Airbus- Boeing and Gulfstream aircraft. It also offers a full array of complementary services- such as newspapers and exotic flower arrangements- and personal shopping and laundry services.

Designated Caterer
Many executive aviation terminals have their own kitchens- too- and Cuisine Air operates out of two such kitchens at London Luton and London Biggin Hill. With these two on-airfield kitchens the group can cover all the major London Airports within an hour.

Cuisine Air is a registered “Designated Caterer” by the UK Department for Transport (DFT). The DFT has given selected caterers legal direction to undertake various security measures- by following its guidelines for in-flight catering supplies and stores to be carried on flights from the UK. Staff must be security vetted and trained to meet the DFT guidelines- and must at least have cleared a criminal record check. Nominated security personnel must have a higher level of security- including counter-terrorist checks.

These issues will be particularly important during the Olympics this summer. According to APOA’s Hulme- his company has been preparing for months now and will take on extra staff for the duration of the Games. The company also anticipates extra work with flights out of the UK - and cultural sensitivities will play a part- as well as length of flights.

Cubbin explained: “We have to consider how the food travels- its longevity- how the different environments will affect its taste and texture- and the fact that as clients are often working while they fly in preparation for on-the-ground meetings- this may well be their main meal of the day.”

Flip Cards
Key to the success in food preparation is the APOA’s series of ‘flip cards’ that it uses to train flight attendants on how they should present and cook the onboard menus.

With 25% of APOA’s business serving long haul transatlantic flights- the firm is focusing on developing larger scale projects. “We just did a huge order for someone’s birthday on a flight to a Middle East destination-” Hulme elaborated. “The client chartered a Boeing 747 and we had to provide 600 trays for a breakfast and a light supper. We managed it- thanks to our experience in both in air and large party events. We would do it slightly differently next time though and provide our own catering staff on board. We like to make sure everything is perfect.”

Wish-lists versus Practicality
There are plenty of key considerations to be made before ordering food for a flight. These can range from considerations of fellow passengers’ likes and dislikes- allergies and cultural preferences through to the size of the aircraft itself (galley areas for food preparation will vary widely within Business Aviation) and the length of the flight- both of which might restrict your catering ambitions.

The experts are available to advise you however- whether that is the charter company you opt to use or the caterer you choose to deal with directly. With the sophistication of today’s in-flight catering industry- and a firm understanding of the practicalities for your planned flight- there should be no reason why your in flight hospitality should be anything other than a delicious success.

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