A question of taste on board
Inflight fine dining has become a serious business. Ask Derek Freeman, founder and director of Bon Soirée, who spends much of his time listening and talking with operators and flight attendants, whose passengers are increasingly particular about what they eat on board.
The poster child for business aviation may happily tuck into McDonalds as he crisscrosses time zones on Air Force One, but regular business flyers have become extremely nutrition conscious. They want fresh, high quality protein fare for fuel as they work on board and easily digestible food to soothe and help them sleep. “The number of special requests we get these days – gluten-free, non-dairy, vegan, diabetic, no wheat,” has increased ten-fold,” notes Freeman. So much so it inspired the team to pioneer a unique food labelling system on its mainstay dishes. Alongside clear cooking instructions for the flight attendants are colour photos detailing the presentation of each dish, while pictures of 14 different allergens are marked up with a tick.
The evolution is also ideal for a relatively new trend this exciting sector is throwing up with ‘shared flights,’ where seven or eight passengers who don’t know each other put in individual requests for differing meals.
Bon Soirée’s new inflight menu, its most extensive yet, available for flight departments and charter brokers to book online and via app (downloadable from the App store) reads like a smart restaurant menu. It has food that will take you from dawn to dusk (breakfast to dinner).
Your taste buds (and sense of smell) change dramatically at 30,000 ft, highlights Derek. Bon Soirée advocates the use of pink (Himalayan) salt in its cooking, which has far less sodium and the same 84 trace minerals and elements that are found in the human body, including calcium, potassium and magnesium. It also uses umami-rich (savoury) ingredients such as spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms and shellfish to enhance in-flight meals. This is a pleasant taste at altitude and also explains why Virgin and Bloody Marys are popular tipples inflight. Champagne can be acidic – so that’s best served at the start of the flight, apparently. Exotic teas, with health inducing benefits – like white leaf and turmeric – are regularly requested too.
Derek knows a thing or two about taste and altitude, knowledge which has helped his business entice and importantly, retain, a steady flow of blue chip business jet operators over the past 21 years, including NetJets. Of late the business has catered for GainJet, Air Alsie and Qatar Executive out of London airports.
Derek started his career at Michelin star restaurants and hotels in France, Switzerland and Bermuda, before moving to luxury yachts to work with affluent clients like the Getty family. Sir John Paul Getty himself was instrumental in getting Derek into private jet catering, inviting him to travel on his personal aircraft and appraise the menus, unsatisfied as he was with the quality of food offered on board.
When Derek first moved into business jet inflight catering, with first customer Harrods Aviation out of Luton, the business aviation industry was akin to cottage industry. Simple platters of fresh fruit and sandwiches were ‘de rigeur’. Today, private jet passengers enjoy the widest range of business aircraft available for charter, flying to Europe, the Middle East and across the Atlantic. Aircraft are flying further – eight to 10 hours plus, and food is a big part of the experience.
We especially like the sound of Bon Soirée’s lobster and crayfish ravioli with pan fried halibut and red pepper coulis, on its latest summer menu. It also sources from London’s Michelin star restaurants, including Nobu, Tamarind and Novikov in Mayfair, on demand.
Bon Soirée’s ability to prepare and deliver bespoke menus within the flexible times needed when flying privately helped secure the renewal of a contract with VistaJet earlier this year, after a competitive pitch. Bon Soirée secured its first formal contract with the global charter operator in 2013 but has been catering for them for eight years.
“Its excellence in preparing and presenting high quality food, to suit a range of tastes throughout the world, and its flexibility in working with the most distinguished customers, gave them a critical advantage when we were looking for the most appropriate VistaJet partner,” commented Diego Sabino, Vice President of Private Dining at VistaJet.
“The quality of our on-board service is one of the key reasons our Members fly with us, so regardless of the distance or destination, the food we serve is a vital component in creating a memorable experience.” Signature designed dishes Bon Soirée has designed for VistaJet include Char-grilled Poussin Breast on Toast with Creamed Morels to start, followed by Sea Bass Provençal and a dessert of Rhubarb Parfait.
Bon Soirée’s inflight team was bolstered recently with the arrival of celebrated consultant chef Alan Bird. He brings 23 years’ experience at The Ivy, menu creation at private members’ clubs Soho House and Daphne’s, to name but a few. Working together with Head Chef Alan Bell, the team focuses on the flavours in each dish, but equally important is adhering to a simple preparation process. “Because,” as Alan Bird observes, “the only similarities between cooking in a Michelin-starred kitchen and the small galley of a business aircraft is the use of high-quality ingredients, crockery and glassware.” Otherwise, flight attendants are extremely restricted in comparison. They need to be able to prepare and plate up food efficiently and speedily and many aircraft galleys are cramped.
To help them Alan Bird and Derek have designed a simple tool kit – a fine dining chef’s survival kit, if you will. It features a palette knife encased in a small leather pouch, a temperature probe, wet wipes, a pinch pot of Maldon sea salt, slotted spoon, pairing knife, tweezers and a mini light. Paula Kraft, inflight dining supremo spied the kit at EBACE and wants to sell them at her new DaVinci Inflight Training Institute in Florida.
Being close to its customers (heads of catering and flight attendants) has always been important to Bon Soirée, which also runs a busy artisan café, front of house at its kitchens in Northchurch in the UK’s Home Counties. The location is ideal for many London centric airports like Luton, Northolt, Stansted and London Oxford.
“We are always learning and never complacent,” says Derek, who, as we go to press, is busy preparing food orders for World Cup charters to Russia – for VistaJet and a few new clients the business hasn’t catered for before.