food

British airways height cuisine


‘Chicken or beef?’ Gone are the days of only two choices on-board a long-haul airline carrier. Advancements in aircraft technology, and with more demanding passengers than in 1927 when the first airline meals were served (consisting of a choice of sandwiches or biscuits, coffee or tea and beer, whisky or mineral water), it is often the case nowadays, that you are handed a menu of options when you’re seated. There’s also usually the opportunity to pre-order a Kosher, Halaal, vegetarian, pescatarian or other special meal when you book your tickets. Many agree that the food offered on-board is a deciding factor when it comes to booking preference. Let’s face it though – airline food is hardly the most desirable of fare. In my experience food has been over-salted or bland, congealed or rubbery and in some cases, almost unidentifiable! I accept, however, that it can’t be an easy feat to tackle the quality of airline meals. Consider the challenge of pleasing as many people as possible, in a very limited available space with very few ovens that sometimes only have two temperature settings (hot and nuclear). In at least a third of the plane, you’re also dealing with a bunch of rather uncomfortable and stressed passengers. Add to that the huge impact that the high altitude plays on one’s sense of taste, and you have a mammoth task on your hands! British Airways believes that the in-flight meal enjoyment directly affects their sales, and so they made it part of their long-term investment goal to improve their offering. With many odds against them, they decided to call on a chef they knew would rise to the challenge. Enter Heston Blumenthal, lauded as a culinary alchemist, pioneer of molecular gastronomy, holder of an honorary doctorate of science, and star of a new TV series, Heston’s Mission Impossible, of which episode three’s point was to show the route and research behind improving the on-board cuisine. If anyone was going to approach the, as it’s been dubbed ‘Height Cuisine’, assignment with lateral thinking, it would be him. The fact that the taste of foods naturally high in umami (the savoury flavour often referred to as the ‘fifth taste’), such as tomatoes, seaweed, Parmesan cheese and Porcini mushrooms, are very marginally affected at high altitude was possibly his most relevant discovery. Moreover, thanks to varying degrees of humidity (or lack thereof) while in the air, foods high in acidity help rehydrate your mouth, improving the eating experience. The inclusion of the umami flavour profile has since been implemented as much as possible in an attempt to improve the in air dining experience, and focus is on simpler dishes with, as far as possible, locally sourced, seasonal ingredients and regional specialities from around the globe. In Club World (business class), there is also the added option of helping yourself to light snacks including treats from Cadbury’s and Waitrose, and items from small British producers, such as The Ice Cream Union, Teonis, and Beckleberry’s. In First class you can eat when you choose to, and can opt for a formal meal service or informal a la carte bite. There’s also a bistro selection available. While the on-board meal may not be the deciding factor when booking a flight, it’s worth taking into account that it makes for a more pleasurable overall trip when the food is good. It may not be akin to eating at Heston’s Fat Duck restaurant, but kudos to British Airways for taking great strides to get there. For more information visit britishairways.com/travel/mission-impossible. Text: Raphaella Frame-Tolmie