Gourmet Food Even at 30,000ft

Air India interiors 4

All this technology and omelettes are still lovingly flipped by hand. – Marisa Garcia

They say that the way to a person’s heart is through his/ her stomach. Food isn’t merely a necessity and taste isn’t merely a sensory experience. A good sumptuous meal not only gives you a heightened sense of satisfaction and satiation but also has a way of lifting one’s spirits. Just life how a nice cup of steaming hot espresso can get you through the longest most hectic day, and a box full of chocolates or a tub of ice cream can soothe your cravings or even the urban legend of foods like oysters that work as an Aphrodisiac. At Air India Express we know that the best way to win the hearts of our passengers is to ensure that their tummies are filled with only the best quality food.

Where restaurant-style food is produced on an industrial scale…

Over the years Air India Express has employed the services of Casino Air Caterers & Flight Services (CAFS) to provide you wholesome yet delicious food onboard our flights.

CAFS Cochin
CAFS Cochin
The CAFS Cochin team who cater to Air India Express.
The CAFS Cochin team who cater to Air India Express.

CAFS is an enterprise of the CGH Earth group, known for their unique style that and their local flavour and serving up cuisine with finesse. CAFS sends out about 13,500 meals daily on different food trays on different airlines. Over the past 40 years CAFS has worked on the motto of – Clean, Green and Healthy – bringing you great food even 30,000 feet in the sky.

Workers assembling the various components of a meal into dishes at CAFS.
Workers assembling the various components of a meal into dishes at CAFS.

Right from procurement to loading food trays to aircraft, a set of SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) ensure that the quality of the food is safeguarded. The whole process line is planned thus too. The quality checks like microbiological tests are done at different stages of production and packing. CAFS doesn’t outsource any part of food production or storage. The Halal kitchen takes special care to keep the butchery separate for fish, fowl and meat. As CAFS doesn’t outsource any part of the food processing, the standards of quality is maintained across the different sections such as bakery, confectionery, ice plant, cold kitchen and hot kitchen. Each stage is monitored for quality and the system generates reports which are supervised by quality experts elsewhere.

The lab at CAFS runs hundreds of samples on a daily basis to ensure that the highest level of hygiene and safety is maintained.
The lab at CAFS runs hundreds of samples on a daily basis to ensure that the highest level of hygiene and safety is maintained.
Tasting the food before menus and meal plans are fixed for the airline.
Tasting the food before menus and meal plans are fixed for the airline.

The contents of an airline meal vary from one carrier to another. It also differs from one class of ticket to another. Generally, meals on first and business classes are served in multiple courses with tablecloth, metal cutlery and glassware. A typical airline dinner will include a choice between a protein or vegetable, a salad or bread and dessert. All the food that is supplied from the facility is delivered at below 10°C. “It is not hygienic to load it warm. The food is heated on the aircraft. Generally, we are preparing food eight to10 hours before a flight,” says
Gunasekaran C, Corporate Chef, CAFS.

Packaged continental meals before they're sealed, blast chilled and dispatched to the Air India Express.
Packaged continental meals before they’re sealed, blast chilled and dispatched to the Air India Express.
Traditional Indian meals being packed for AIE
Traditional Indian meals being packed for AIE

In recent years, airlines have started offering specialized and religious meals for passengers. Gluten-free, low-calorie and diabetic meals are becoming more common. But even in the vegetarian sphere alone, meals are divided into western and Indian cuisines.

The food served on an airline is prepared in a process similar to a manufacturing process where it is cooked in large ovens and assembled in a manufacturing cell fashion. The logistics of delivering the food to the airlines is well coordinated between the caterer and the airline so as to meet the strict time schedules of passenger flights. Any delay in adhering to flight schedules is costly to the airline as the airport authorities usually slap heavy fines to flights that do not stick to the schedule.

Air India Express' snack boxes being packaged at CAFS.
Air India Express’ snack boxes being packaged at CAFS.

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A typical airline catering facility will consist of:

Hot Kitchen – In this section, the caterer cooks meals that are eaten hot. There are various food types that are prepared here from meat and sauces to vegetables.

Cold Kitchen– Salads and bakery items are prepared in this section
Wash-up area – All the airline and kitchen equipment is washed in the wash-up area

Food is stored in blast chillers that cools it down to 5' Celsius
Food is stored in blast chillers that cools it down to 5′ Celsius

Equipment stores – Most airlines will store some of their equipment within the catering unit so as to make logistics simple. The returning equipment is washed and reused for assembling meals

Bonded warehouse – Here all the Duty free goods that go into the airline tray are stored in order to comply with laws that do not transit goods to be off-loaded into the local economy.

Prep and cooking at CAFS
Prep and cooking at CAFS

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Assembly – All the components that go into a meal tray are assembled at one point and loaded into airline trolleys

Dispatch– Transportation is done using specialized high-loader trucks that allow for trolleys to be loaded and off-loaded from the planes.

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Everything you need to know about airline food

1. Meals are meticulously planned up to a year in advance, right down to how many cherries should go in each fruit cocktail and the weight of each dish. That’s because every ingredient counts. A few years ago American Airlines realized that they saved $40,000 a year by removing a single olive from each of their in-flight salads.

2. Often, the food is tested in-flight, because cabin pressure affects your palate. The lack of humidity dries your nose, and as a plane takes off the change in pressure numbs one-third of your taste buds. It has been estimated that your sense of smell and taste decrease between 20-50 percent; the equivalent of having a bad cold.

3. As a rule of thumb, food is prepared 10-12 hours ahead and the trays are set 4-5 hours before it gets eaten. Generally, chicken is cooked 60% of the way, and steak 30% to done, with the final phase occurring onboard. Once cooked at the flight kitchen, it gets blast-chilled in special fridges into a not-quite-frozen-but-not-edible state before being transferred to the tarmac.

5. Meals then wait in their own flight-specific refrigerated gate lounge. If a flight’s delayed, and food has already been loaded onto the plane, airlines often dump the entire load and order a replacement shipment from catering. Costly and wasteful? Sure, but consider the alternative – in 1992, an Aerolineas Argentinas flight from Buenos Aires to LA poisoned its passengers with cholera-infested shrimp; 76 people got sick. If a delay’s announced early enough, the food’s preparation is held off or, if finished, it’ll be frozen.

6. Flight on time? Food on the plane? Time to finish the prep-work. Contrary to what most people think, planes generally don’t have microwaves. Your little tray makes its way into a convection oven for about 20min. Convection ovens have a fan (which pushes hot air onto the food) that’s both faster and means a lower cooking temp.

7. Ever wonder why an inordinate number of people drink tomato juice on planes? According to a study conducted by Lufthansa, bogged-up sinuses are caused by the altered air pressure, leaving most people craving acidity and saltiness.

8. What’s your safest bet while ordering in-flight meals? If it’s a hot meal, the stew or curry’s probably the failsafe option, as it’s pretty consistent no matter how under- or over-heated it is by the time it makes its way back to your seat. Skip chicken and pasta dishes, as proteins have a tendency to dry out and starches break down and get soggy.

Fun fact: Many airlines insist their pilot and co-pilot eat different meals to minimize the risk of them both getting sick. Both meals are cooked in different areas of the flight kitchen and prepared by different chefs.

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(Air India Express is one of few low-cost airlines that provide free meals onboard our flights. Fly with Air India Express and savor some delicious food made at our CAFS flight kitchen.)

 

 

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