JetBlue are on the search for great plane food, believing that it’s possible to create meals that taste great even in the air.
They hired chef Brad Farmerie in 2014 with the intention of making plane food that tastes just as good as a normal meal.
Hiring the Right Person
When Farmerie started his new development chef job, he was already executive chef at New York’s Saxon + Parole. Rather than researching airplane food as a starting point, he was instead determined to put his own food in the air.
It was a good job he skipped the research, too, as what he found would not have inspired him. Airline food is normally supplied by a small number of industrial caterers, and is often made with no concern over quality of the ingredients thanks to the low profit margins they have to work with.
There’s also the factor that cabin pressure and altitude along with the dry air can take away as much as 30% of your sense of taste, which means that the food you enjoy on your flight will never match up to what you eat on the ground.
Most airline food adds salt, but Farmerie went a different direction. He uses vinegar and root spices to add flavour that would be lacking once you are in the air, giving the food more oomph without adding salt.
He also had to struggle with practical concerns, such as how to keep the food fresh without refrigeration and how to get it cooked to the right temperature when ovens are not allowed to go over a certain heat in the air. He also had to learn how to keep meat tender when it is partially cooked and then heated through later.
A New Menu
“It’s a real burger, not one of those wimpy nebulous patties,” Farmerie says when describing the dry-aged beef burger topped with Havarti and bacon relish that they currently serve.
Those who fly ‘mint’ class with JetBlue will be served lobster, poached in a corn custard along with pickled chili peppers. They can also enjoy French toast with figs and toasted pecans, or a watermelon salad with feta, basil, and pumpkin seeds. Gnocchi and black truffle crostini are also on the menu, as are cold carrot and ginger soup and oxtail pot roast. Dessert is ice cream from Brooklyn.
‘Mint’ is a luxury service, though priced at around half the normal cost of first class fine dining. The hope for those using their service is that the competition will sit up and take notice, allowing some lower prices across the board as well as better services all round.
“If airlines are given an incentive to provide better meals—like if a carrier were to decide to do something radically different—the industry could change quickly,” says Richard Foss, a food author who is an expert on airline food. “The actual cost of better food is relatively small but there would need to be more major competitors.”
There are now 12 routes on which flyers can choose to go ‘Mint’ over the US and Caribbean, and they would like to expand the service even further.
So far, it has been a success. Sales on those routes with added ‘Mint’ options have seen sales rise by 20%, so there is no sign of slowing down for the airline.