A recipe for success in the sky

A recipe for success in the sky

The plan was simple. First, transport dozens of the world’s travel press to Doha and unveil the new all-star chef menu available in Qatar Airways business and first class cabins.

Next, fly in the four high profile chefs from the corners of your airline network, and line them up in front of an audience inside a brand-new multi-million dollar event centre to answer questions about the ambitious plan to take their multi-Michelin-starred reputations into the sky at 35,000 feet.

Throw in cookery demonstrations, a high-profile airline boss with a charismatic (and forthright) style, and a 500-strong gala dinner (at which Qatar’s most important travel dignitaries, the world’s press and some hob-nobbing Middle-Eastern socialites will be served your airline food) and you have the launch of Qatar Airways ‘Culinary Ambassadors’ project.

There was some coyness as to whose idea it was to bring together this supergroup of culinary wizards, but airline CEO Akbar Al Baker’s friendship with the eponymous Nobu Matsuhisa seems key to the birth of his company’s Culinary Ambassadors idea.

As well as the Japanese fusion-master, the CA line-up includes London fashion-set sweetheart’s Tom Aikens (pictured, above), who has a seasonal philosophy to food that has delivered him Michelin stars from the age of 26 and seen Tom’s Kitchen named one of the world’s top ten restaurants.

From India via Chelsea and back again, Vineet Bhatia has created successful restaurants and won Michelin accolades in both West and East, perfect for Qatar’s aspirations to be at the centre of both. Finally the instantly-likable Chef Ramzi Choueiri is perhaps the least celebrated, but is the Arabic world’s most famous chef, beaming into their homes on the LBC pan-Arab satellite channel. And yes, he is called Chef Ramzi, and he says it with a knowing smile.

With a soon-to-arrive Boeing 787 beamed behind their heads, the four chefs and the company boss took to the stage, confident they were going to impress. Aikens is a measured character, but he’s boldly up for this; “We are a dream team. We are a very strong group and we offer a very different take on food from around the world. Together we are going to be unbeatable. I’ve known all of them for a number of years.”

He admits the project to take first class food into the luxury seats for the airline around the world, part-cooked, reheated, presented by cabin crew and served to customers with taste-inhibited senses (altitude affects the palette), was not without its problems: “The taste has to be notched up and enhanced. The part-cooking and reheating is a challenge, but we’ve all learnt so much working together on this.

“You even have to limit the number of moves of the food on the plate the cabin crew can deal with, it all has to be thought about. I’ve come up with dishes that I think are distinct and special. They use what’s in season to get the best from the products available.” Nobu says it is obvious why the four came together. “I am a friend of Mr Al Akbar and wanted to support him, but we have successful restaurants in five continents – that’s why we are here.”

The four gave the impression they were here for the long-haul, no pun intended. The result are dishes reflecting their Asian, Arabic and European sensitivities, providing four different styles and dozens of dishes that will rotate around the Qatar Airways fleet from this week.

After the cookery demonstrations (complete with live video link-up) and taster-lunch, came the full gala dinner. The journalists had been taken for pre-dinner cocktails at a nearby hotel, in case their metabolisms seized up at the lack of alcohol available at the dinner itself. This is Qatar, and while drinking at hotels is a given, it will be a ‘dry’ dinner. The food is delicious, though a glass of wine would not have gone amiss.

Perhaps more importantly, on our flight back to Heathrow I pick Tom’s fresh pea soup again from the Business Class menu, and whatever the altitude (and vintage Champagne) is doing to my tastebuds, it tastes as delicious as it had on the ground a few hours earlier. Perhaps it is the Champagne, but who cares. This is great food, airline or not.

There’s no doubt that Qatar Airlways’ desire to bring Michelin-restaurant food to the skies will not be without the occasional reheated setback. Whether or not the standards at 35,000 feet can ever match that of a restaurant will be disputed by many. But doubters should remember this is the same country that persuaded FIFA that this would be a great country to hold the 2022 World Cup in, despite its 44C temperatures and an alcohol ban. With belief like that, anything is possible…

From this week, Qatar Airways Culinary Ambassador menus are available on all flights in Business and First Class. For more details visit www.qatarairways.com

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