Does Airline Food Always Have to Suck?

The airline's first class passengers go through 20,000 bottles of wine and champagne each month. What's even more shocking is that no plane has more than 12 first-class seats. That's a lot of wine per passenger. (The airline historically is the second-largest buyer of Dom Perignon Champagne in the world.)

The cost of meals roughly doubles in each class of service.

So with all these choices, what is the most-requested meal? The lobster thermidor.

Cooking Dinner on an Airplane

There are other considerations for airlines. The unique cooking conditions at 40,000 feet require the airline to rethink simple things, such as the portion of water added into a dish.

"One of the difficulties is because we are cooking on the ground and then heating up [up in the air] the proportion of rice and liquid has to be just right because otherwise you end up with a pancake upstairs," Freidanck explained. "When they reheat, the rice sucks out all the water."

A dish takes about three hours from the time it is cooked to be loaded onto a cart, then loaded on a truck and then driven out to the plane. If there is a delay, it could be several more hours until passengers actually consume the food.

To help keep the food fresh, each item -- the meat, the potatoes, the vegetables -- are all kept in separate foil compartments for business and first class meals. Each item, including the sauce, is then re-heated separately by the flight attendant onboard.

"For example, a steak can be cooked in a convection oven so it can brown, while vegetables can go into a microwave to stay crunchy and the sauce is always applied to the dish at the last moment so that all the flavors remain distinct," Boyd said

The flight attendants then arrange each meal on a dish according to specifications set out in binders on each plane. There is even a photo -- taken by Freidanck and his team -- of how the dish should look.

(Economy passengers don't get quite the same treatment. Their meals come in one ready-to-serve dish that is just re-heated. But Singapore Airlines still tries to plan its dishes for the best presentations. For instance, pork and rice are separated by a wall of vegetables in one dish to help keep the sauces and tastes separate while heating and to prevent the rice from drying out.)

Finally, the premium passengers' dishes get a garnish.

"We always add one or two herb garnishes because it gives it a feeling freshness," Freidanck said.

What a Gourmet Meal at 40,000 Feet?

So why all this fuss, especially when passengers aren't expecting a gourmet meal. Well, because some passengers still do.

Airlines have often gone out of their way to treat their business and first class customers like royalty. Those customers often pay top dollar for the premium seats and airlines vigorously fight for their loyalty. Filling a plane with full-fare business travelers can make up for any losses from a deeply-discounted coach cabin.

For instance, a typical round-trip economy class ticket between New York and Singapore costs $1,500. A business class seat is $7,000 and a first-class ticket on the same route would be $10,000.

The giant table set up at Flying Food Group included dishes that Singapore Airlines planned to serve in the next four months.

Premium passengers are served a five-course meal and have plenty of choices: one of two appetizers, one of two soups, a salad, one of main courses, one of two desserts and then finally assorted cheese fruits.

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