Asiana and Turkish Airlines latest carriers to introduce inflight chefs

In 2010, airlines such as Air New Zealand, ANA and Cathay Pacific have further raised industry standards by rolling out new cabin interiors. In recent years several airlines have also been investing in ‘softer’ elements of the inflight experience, such as inflight concierges (ANZ), Sky Nannies (Gulf Air) and onboard bar tenders (Emirates, Kingfisher and Virgin Atlantic). To add an extra dimension to the inflight dining experience, airlines such as Gulf Air, British Midland and Austrian Airlines have also employed ‘Sky Chefs’ for several years. Recently, these carriers have been joined by Asiana and Turkish Airlines.

Asiana ‘Inflight Chef and Somelier’
Asiana Airlines (winner of the 2010 Airline of the Year award) has just announced a new ‘Onboard Crew Chef & Sommelier’ service in First and Business Class on flights between Seoul and Los Angeles as well as Seoul and Frankfurt. The restaurant-like service is provided by Asiana flight attendants who have acquired licenses from international cuisine schools (e.g, Le Cordon Bleu) and sommelier courses (e.g, M.C. Sommelier, Wine & Sprit Education Trust) under an  airline program that supports staff to take service courses at world-class institutions.

Asiana’s ‘Chef Service’ is formed by a team of three flight attendants who wear chef uniforms and serve a variety of Canapés and Lamb Chop dishes that have been developed by themselves. As part of the ‘Sommelier Service’ flight attendants decant wines and provide guidance in chosing the wine. The ‘Chef & Sommelier’ service will initially be provided just once a month on the two routes mentioned, but Asiana says it will soon increase the number of attendants with chef and sommelier skills and expand the service to New York flights by the end of 2010 as well. Since 2006, Asiana also employs an onboard sushi chef in First Class on flights between Incheon and Los Angeles, which provides passengers with freshly made sushi as well as some ‘culinary theater’ (see also this video).

Turkish Airlines ‘Flying Chef’
Turkish Airlines in July 2010 introduced a ‘Flying Chef’ on flights between Istanbul and New York. The Turkish Do & Co trained chefs explain the inflight menu and prepare the meals for Business Class. Turkish Airline expanded the Flying Chef service to Hong Kong flights last October and Chicago and Tokyo are reportedly next on the list. Besides offering a ‘chef experience’ in its premium cabin, Turkish Airlines was also voted ‘Best Economy Class Catering’ at the 2010 World Airline Awards.

Austrian Airlines, British Midland
Since several years, both Austrian Airlines and British Midland employ an ‘Onboard Chef,’ although British Midland reportedly offers the service only on flights to Saudi Arabia at the moment. Austrian’s chef puts a finishing touch to dishes from DO & CO in Business Class, prepares scrambled or fried eggs for breakfast and percolates coffee for Austrian’s signature coffee service. BMI’s chef also serves steaks cooked to order thanks to galley equipment that can do double duty as a standard oven and steamer. Both carriers were acquired by Lufthansa last year and despite going through a restructuring phase still offer the onboard chef service.

Gulf Air ‘Sky Chef’
Since 2002, Bahrain-based Gulf Air has a ‘Sky Chef’ that serves passengers in Business Class on long-haul flights as well as on select regional route where it operates widebody aircraft. Gulf Air says that rather than partnering with top-class restaurants it prefers to recruit the chefs directly as an extra member of the crew. Says an airline spokesperson, “We experimented with our regular cabin crew and chef training, however this didn’t really work. We decided we needed a chef who was also a crew member. For them the challenge is to create fine dishes using only dry cooking techniques.” The airline today employs over 120 Sky Chefs from more than 26 nationalities.

However, on a critical note, while the Sky Chefs on for example Turkish Airlines, Austrian and Gulf Air do provide an extra dimension to the inflight dining experience, their main task seems to be taking pre-plated Business Class meals and reorganize them in a more presentable way. The limitations of the onboard galley equipment allows them to prepare little other than for example a fresh omelet egg for breakfast. At the other hand, Gulf Air for example requires their Sky Chefs to have a diploma from a renowned hotel or culinary college and at least 3 years of experience in a quality restaurant kitchen. Furthermore, as Gulf Air cabin crew often work across economy and business classes on both short and long haul flights, they don’t have the specific routine of a Sky Chef in order to be able to prepare dishes quickly and up to a constant standard.

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