Flight of Fancy: Rethinking The Future of Dining in the Sky

Flight of Fancy: Rethinking The Future of Dining in the Sky

The thought of plane food rarely makes us salivate – it’s no wonder passengers are turning to packed lunches. As airlines collaborate with big-name chefs and employ the latest tech to make our in-flight food more appealing, we ask four chefs to rethink the future of dining in the sky.

Plane food is well worth travelling for.

This article appears in Volume 29: The Taste

nobody ever. Not even in business class. Think of in-flight
fare and images of pre-made, reheated foil trays of food and
puffed-up packets of bread spring to mind. Choreographing elbows
with our neighbours, we push around mystery meat, limp veg and a
whole lot of beige drowning in a whole lot of sauce. What makes it
into our mouth is hampered by the sky-high trinity of low cabin
pressure, dry air and engine noise which, together, dulls our taste
buds and sense of smell. Even the onboard hot water has a somewhat
unsanitary backstory. Don’t Google this while eating.

It’s no wonder that there’s a growing trend for passengers
packing their own meals or eschewing food and instead fasting for
the long haul. Airlines aren’t blind to this, however. In 2010
Lufthansa commissioned a scientific study into the changing flavour
profiles of food in flight, which led to an increased use of salt
and sugar in its recipes, a reduction in acidity and the
introduction of umami-rich ingredients – think soy sauce, sharp
cheeses and tomatoes. Seven years later, Hong Kong carrier Cathay
Pacific introduced Betsy Beer, a brew featuring honey and
loganberries that is specifically designed to taste good at

There’s been a slew of airlines collaborating with big-name
chefs in a bid to counter plane food’s bad reputation, too. Gordon
Ramsay consulted for Singapore Airlines, Joël Robuchon was hired by
Air France and Heston Blumenthal helped British Airways with its
menus as part of the Channel 4 documentary Heston’s Mission

But is it really so impossible? In a world where doctors can
transplant faces and plans are being made for human settlement on
Mars, it seems odd that airlines haven’t evolved far past the
squeaky- wheeled trolley in a bid to dish up some decent grub. Gaze
into the future of aeroplane food, however, and the horizon is
peppered with hopes of robotic galleys, automat-style ordering and
innovative approaches towards making our food greener – literally
and figuratively.

Among these is Singapore Airlines
freshly launched Farm to Plane initiative (currently being trialled
on its lengthy Newark-to-Singapore route). Meat will make a less
regular appearance on menus, instead being replaced by MSC-
certified fish and produce from AeroFarms, a pesticide-free
aeroponic operation which uses 95 per cent less water than
traditional field-bound practices. Situated mere miles from Newark
Liberty International Airport, its peppery rocket, heirloom
tomatoes and the like make their journey from farm to airborne fork
in the space of a few hours.

Other airlines are following suit: Emirates has teamed up with a
vertical farm near Dubai International Airport while Japan Airlines
and industrial automation company WAGO will open an agritourism
attraction near Tokyo’s
Narita International Airport in 2020.

Inspired by these sky-high dining dreams, we asked four chefs to
let their imaginations run riot and reinvent the in-flight meal.
Practicalities do not apply.

Douglas McMaster

A trailblazer in zero-waste gastronomy, the cookbook
author and founder of Silo, a sustainable restaurant in Hackney
Wick, offsets air miles with his eco-minded menu.

My dream plane meal would begin with a fig-leaf spillage if
things get turbulent. Pickling is a great kombucha spritz. It’s
simple, light and refreshing way of using up imperfect veg; even at
30,000ft, the – plus, nervous fliers can add a large shot of

The main course would follow the same ethos, as my restaurant
Silo, which is guided by sustainability. In the sky, I’d let plants
do the talking. A soba-noodle salad with pickled broccoli stem,
cherry tomatoes and lovage would be dressed with tahini and served
with a wedge of fresh lime. It’s the ultimate, easy-to-eat in
flight main – plus, there would be no spillage if things get
turbulent. Pickling is a great way of using up imperfect veg; even
at 30,000ft, the plane could be stocked with jars of the stuff.

My main would be served on a dish made from Shellworks – a
bioplastic formed from upcycled shellfish bones – or, for vegan
travellers, a plate made from pressed corn husks. These materials
are a great way to reuse waste the would otherwise go in the bin.
I’d end with a super-smooth blackcurrant ice cream finished with
douglas-fir caramel.

Vanessa Lavorato

The co-host of Viceland’s cannabis cooking show Bong
Appétit and founder of marijuana confiserie Marigold Sweets shares
her playful recipe for sky-high cuisine.

My in-flight goals are to relax and snack, so my menu would be a
parade of cannabis-infused bites as opposed to a four course
affair. To get things off to a comfortable start, a tincture that
combines CBD with a little THC (the psychoactive part of cannabis)
would be dropped under then tongue.

Chips- freshly fried before take-off and tossed in a glaze of
hash,honey and butter- would be served as the munchies kick in.
It’s Difficult to eat just one so the THC dose would be kept low.
With bingeing territory dangerously close, I’d serve cannabis-leaf
dolmas, a healthy snack filled with lemon-scented
rice,herbs,currants and onions flecked with a little strains of the
plant here; the leaves are slightly broader and make rolling the
dolmas much easier.

Travellers would have consumed around 40mg of THC by this point,
so a single-serve Calabrese style pizza would be kept plain.I’d
wrap up the voyage with a combo of vanilla ice cream topped with
expresso and a nip of my homemade pot-and-walnut liqueur.

Ivan Tisdall-Downes

Head Chef and founder of London
Bridge’s Native restaurant, Tisdall-Downes champions ingredients
foraged at the point of departure with his take on the in- ight

I’d kick off the meal with a glass of zero-alcohol sparkling
wine. At Native, we serve the Träublein from Schloss Vaux in
Germany – it’s fermented in the bottle, like champagne, which gives
it a soft, natural effervescence so you can have some bubbles
without the headache when you disembark.

For a winter ight, I’d serve a pie containing venison from the
South Downs National Park – pies e ectively come with edible
packaging and, for those ying from Gatwick, the food miles accrued
would be tiny. Mushrooms foraged at the port of departure – such as
ceps or chanterelles – would be served with garlic butter. A big
part of what we do at Native is using hyper-local ingredients; we
believe that sourcing produce from within a few miles not only
reduces the environmental impact of transportation, but very often
means that flavours combine perfectly.

For dessert, I’d serve a light and chilled hay panna cotta.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for something to make you sleep
for the rest of the ight, a chocolate-and-mushroom crémeux is rich,
intense and sure to send you into a doze.

Santiago Lastra

Ahead of the opening of his Mexican restaurant Kol in
London in early 2020, the alumni of Noma Mexico injects theatrical
air into his onboard dishes.

Ironically, my dream plane meal would be a dish that is
traditionally cooked underground: cochinita pibil. Suckling pig is
marinated with achiote chillies and sour oranges before being
wrapped in banana leaves and slow-cooked in a pit, giving it a
complex smoky avour – it’s a long process, but one that’s
Individual portions could be wrapped in banana leaves for
reheating in ight, before being served with chard-habanero salsa
(extra spicy; altitude numbs the senses), a nutritious herb salad
featuring succulents such as portulaca, and panuchos, which are
refried tortillas – making them fresh in the cabin kitchen would be
near impossible.

Mains cleared, a dessert trolley with a at, frozen top would
snake down the aisle, on which ight attendants would pour a
bright-yellow jackfruit- and-mango juice, creating a sorbet as the
liquid crystallises on the surface. Finish that with a touch of
mezcal and pinch of sea salt, and you have my dream in-flight