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Food Week

The Most Opulent Meals You Can Eat In The Air

Black cod. Truffles. And Dom Pérignon. It's a long way from a stale bag of peanuts.

  • <p>Chicken tajine and vegetable semolina, lemon confit, and Thai coriander—Air France</p>
  • <p>Tender roast chicken fillet, carrots and celery, cumin suprême sauce—Air France</p>
  • <p>Grilled salmon with vegetable medley and creamy lemon—Air France</p>
  • <p>Pan-seared fillet of cod with sweet bell pepper relish—Air France</p>
  • <p>Seared beef tenderloin on a tangy slice of eggplant and avocado, tomato juice—Air France</p>
  • <p>Lightly breaded pigeon au jus—Air France</p>
  • <p>Braised chicken basquaise with chorizo, peppers, and saffron rice—Air France</p>
  • <p>Tomato braised chicken, four bean medley, and basil—Air France</p>
  • <p>Atlantic lobster, curried coconut sauce, and bok choy—Air France</p>
  • <p>Tonkotsu (pork broth) ramen "Soraton"—ANA</p>
  • <p>Original curry with Sangenton pork cutlet.—ANA</p>
  • <p>Okonomiyaki, a Japanese-style pancake-like dish made on a flat grill, by Tsuruhashi Fugetsu—ANA</p>
  • <p>Pan-seared Kobe A4 rib eye, black Australian truffle, artichoke paste and fondant potatoes—Cathay Pacific</p>
  • <p>Signature caviar service with crème fraîche, warmed blinis, chopped egg, and a glass of Krug Grande Cuvée champagne—Cathay Pacific</p>
  • <p>Braised beef short rib with a red wine jus, parsnip puree, and crispy shallots—Cathay Pacific</p>
  • <p>Truffle and potato ravioli with honey-roasted forest mushrooms and parmesan broth—Delta</p>
  • <p>Selection of Japanese cuisine—Delta Asia</p>
  • <p>Asian beer selection—Delta</p>
  • <p>Pasta, Union Square Cafe —Delta</p>
  • <p>Dom Pérignon with canapés, including cured duck with saffron poached peach—Emirates</p>
  • <p>Walnut baguette with feta cheese, fresh fig, and truffle-infused honey, and wild smoked salmon, lemon, and cumin cream cheese on Norlander bread—Emirates</p>
  • <p>Chicken thigh in green curry sauce—KLM</p>
  • <p>Filet of cod with mustard and parsley—KLM</p>
  • <p>Beef and beetroot meatballs—KLM</p>
  • <p>Lufthunsa dishes</p>
  • <p>Lamb chops with herbs, Turkish cabbage, medlars, and Lebanese couscous—Lufthunsa</p>
  • <p>Udon noodles with sautéed porcini mushrooms, soy, pickled sweetheart cabbage, and Japanese omelet—Lufthunsa</p>
  • <p>Feta cheese and ratatouille baklava—Qatar</p>
  • <p>"Mhallabiya moghli ammareddine mousse"—Qatar</p>
  • <p>Pea and mint soup—Qatar</p>
  • <p>Spinach and cottage cheese patties—Qatar</p>
  • <p>Wasabi paneer—Qatar</p>
  • <p>Grilled snapper—Singapore Airlines</p>
  • <p>Grilled veal chop with leek soubise and cherry compote— Singapore Airlines</p>
  • <p>Veal scallopini with fresh corn polenta and salsa verde brown butter—Singapore Airlines</p>
  • <p>Sushi—Singapore Airlines</p>
  • <p>Thai beef salad topped with sirloin steak, roasted pine nuts, and a chili dressing—Virgin Atlantic</p>
  • <p>Chicken with root vegetables—Virgin Atlantic</p>
  • <p>Rotating dessert—Virgin Atlantic</p>
  • 01 /39

    Chicken tajine and vegetable semolina, lemon confit, and Thai coriander—Air France

  • 02 /39

    Tender roast chicken fillet, carrots and celery, cumin suprême sauce—Air France

  • 03 /39

    Grilled salmon with vegetable medley and creamy lemon—Air France

  • 04 /39

    Pan-seared fillet of cod with sweet bell pepper relish—Air France

  • 05 /39

    Seared beef tenderloin on a tangy slice of eggplant and avocado, tomato juice—Air France

  • 06 /39

    Lightly breaded pigeon au jus—Air France

  • 07 /39

    Braised chicken basquaise with chorizo, peppers, and saffron rice—Air France

  • 08 /39

    Tomato braised chicken, four bean medley, and basil—Air France

  • 09 /39

    Atlantic lobster, curried coconut sauce, and bok choy—Air France

  • 10 /39

    Tonkotsu (pork broth) ramen "Soraton"—ANA

  • 11 /39

    Original curry with Sangenton pork cutlet.—ANA

  • 12 /39

    Okonomiyaki, a Japanese-style pancake-like dish made on a flat grill, by Tsuruhashi Fugetsu—ANA

  • 13 /39

    Pan-seared Kobe A4 rib eye, black Australian truffle, artichoke paste and fondant potatoes—Cathay Pacific

  • 14 /39

    Signature caviar service with crème fraîche, warmed blinis, chopped egg, and a glass of Krug Grande Cuvée champagne—Cathay Pacific

  • 15 /39

    Braised beef short rib with a red wine jus, parsnip puree, and crispy shallots—Cathay Pacific

  • 16 /39

    Truffle and potato ravioli with honey-roasted forest mushrooms and parmesan broth—Delta

  • 17 /39

    Selection of Japanese cuisine—Delta Asia

  • 18 /39

    Asian beer selection—Delta

  • 19 /39

    Pasta, Union Square Cafe —Delta

  • 20 /39

    Dom Pérignon with canapés, including cured duck with saffron poached peach—Emirates

  • 21 /39

    Walnut baguette with feta cheese, fresh fig, and truffle-infused honey, and wild smoked salmon, lemon, and cumin cream cheese on Norlander bread—Emirates

  • 22 /39

    Chicken thigh in green curry sauce—KLM

  • 23 /39

    Filet of cod with mustard and parsley—KLM

  • 24 /39

    Beef and beetroot meatballs—KLM

  • 25 /39

    Lufthunsa dishes

  • 26 /39

    Lamb chops with herbs, Turkish cabbage, medlars, and Lebanese couscous—Lufthunsa

  • 27 /39

    Udon noodles with sautéed porcini mushrooms, soy, pickled sweetheart cabbage, and Japanese omelet—Lufthunsa

  • 28 /39

    Feta cheese and ratatouille baklava—Qatar

  • 29 /39

    "Mhallabiya moghli ammareddine mousse"—Qatar

  • 30 /39

    Pea and mint soup—Qatar

  • 31 /39

    Spinach and cottage cheese patties—Qatar

  • 32 /39

    Wasabi paneer—Qatar

  • 33 /39

    Grilled snapper—Singapore Airlines

  • 34 /39

    Grilled veal chop with leek soubise and cherry compote— Singapore Airlines

  • 35 /39

    Veal scallopini with fresh corn polenta and salsa verde brown butter—Singapore Airlines

  • 36 /39

    Sushi—Singapore Airlines

  • 37 /39

    Thai beef salad topped with sirloin steak, roasted pine nuts, and a chili dressing—Virgin Atlantic

  • 38 /39

    Chicken with root vegetables—Virgin Atlantic

  • 39 /39

    Rotating dessert—Virgin Atlantic

I might start with the terrine of foie gras, shaved asparagus, truffle oil, and toasted brioche from Cathay Pacific. Then I’ll enjoy a few canapés of cured duck with saffron poached peach and a glass of Dom Pérignon 2005 from Emirates. Then maybe chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa’s black cod with lemon—it doesn’t appear to be the exact same dish that I’ve had on the ground at Nobu, in which the fish has been soaked in a miso and sake mixture for days before searing a perfectly sweet and salty and funky charred skin—but since I'm at 30,000 feet on a Qatar Airways plane, it will have to do.

I really should stop—oh but if you insist—I’ll take the grilled veal chop with leek soubise and cherry compote from Singapore Airlines. But that’s it. No sundae. No cheese service. No caviar. I’m full—until their flight attendants wake me in the morning to cook my eggs made to order.

Trio of dishes: "Mhallabiya moghli ammareddine mousse," Qatar

This is first-class dining on the world’s most elite airlines. It’s the upper crust of the $13 billion in-flight catering industry, which has recruited a small army of world-renowned chefs to impress customers accustomed to luxury—customers who might have spent as much as $20,000 for their seats.

Grilled veal chop with leek soubise and cherry compote, Singapore Airlines

For flight crews, the challenges are many. Food has to be cooked before it’s brought onto the plane—due to a mixture of regulations and practicality. So caterers prepare dishes, flash cool them (rapidly chill to a temperature just above freezing), and see that they’re delivered to the right plane among a million other meals going out that day. Then it’s up to flight attendants, who are not allowed to use sharp knives or open flames, to reheat and often plate the meal. For this task, they have either convection or steam ovens: Qatar Airlines has actually developed a multi-zone combination oven with various heats and humidities to heat different items to different temperatures. Singapore Airlines has even been known to undercook their proteins, such as beef and chicken, on the ground to be finished in the air.

Meanwhile, in the quest for the best flavor, Air France has enlisted Daniel Boulud, who is developing an approach to airline dining that seems obvious in retrospect: Create dishes, such as soups or stews, that traditionally taste better reheated the next day. Depending on the airline, each item may be heated in a shallow aluminum pan—which can be precarious when turbulence hits. (For more info on cooking in turbulence, check out this classic story by a Pan Am flight attendant who, due to a mix up of food service, had to crack and cook eggs for 100 people.)

Chicken with root vegetables, Virgin Atlantic

Airlines are also pushing the boundaries on the fresh-food prep equipment they can keep on board. Singapore Airlines, which invests $500 million a year in its food service, has rice cookers and toasters, for instance, to prepare these simple, carb-bomb pleasures as well as they can be made on the ground. (They refuse to tell me how they cook their eggs, incidentally, calling it a "closely guarded secret.")

In the end, every airline and chef has to work against the inherent problem with eating in the air: No matter what you serve, the dry air of an airplane diminishes a passenger’s ability to taste food. That's why Virgin Atlantic doesn’t shortchange the briney olives in their latest menu, and bold reds are in ready supply with any wine service. Indeed, if there ever was such a thing as a first-world problem, fine dining at 700 mph would be it. Peruse the slideshow above to see the delectable creations for travelers who operate on unlimited budgets.

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