Rosemary Lavosh Canapés with Eggplant Dip. Thai style Larb with Squid, Shallots, Galangal and Lime Dressing. Confit Duck Cassoulet with White Beans and Sausage. Rack of Lamb with Pearl Barley, Cauliflower Puree and Harissa. These are not the offerings of your latest local fine dining establishment but menu items for Neil Perry’s Qantas International Inflight Dining. And while the discussion of airplane food usually leaves so much to be desired, there’s no sense of irony in this program: it’s robust, delicious, and extremely ambitious. I was lucky enough to spent a few minutes asking Australia’s beloved chef how he brings quality ingredients and Australia’s best to diners at 36,000 feet in the air.
Matt: In-flight diners are treated to a Rockpool-designed meal on Qantas flights in first and business class. Have you ever included items that might veer away from this and come from your travels around the globe or say Spice Temple directly?
Chef Perry: Absolutely – I travel a lot and am constantly inspired by the food everywhere I go. That said, nothing would get a slot on a Qantas menu if it was not Rockpool style in terms of quality. Some of our Rockpool dishes have been translated to work in the sky. Travel is the greatest gift – it is my single greatest source of inspiration for my menus for Qantas and in all my restaurants.
Matt: I’ve read that our palates are affected by altitude and flying conditions. Has this had any affect on how you prepare a menu for in-flight dining?
Chef Perry: Yes, we are constantly doing checks from the ground to mid air and beyond to ensure that the levels of taste are consistent. If it tastes good on the ground it will taste good in sky.
Matt: What have travelers really responded to? Is there a single menu item that works well?
Chef Perry: The classic steak sandwich has become something of a signature dish in the sky – I’m not sure we can ever take it off the refreshment menu. For the most part though, our customers enjoy quality, unfussy food – the best produce cooked simply and beautifully, as is the Rockpool way.
Matt: Because menus are created on two different continents, how does one ensure quality control?
Chef Perry: The Rockpool Consulting group was created to help us control just this. I have a committed team of food professionals who create the menus, test the menus and spend a huge amount of their year travelling to the catering centres both domestically and internationally to ensure the quality of our product is both excellent and consistent across the board.This also carries through to service inflight where we consult in both business and first class.
Thank you Chef!