Every year Emirates Flight catering bakes over 58 million bread rolls and uses over 1,250 tonnes of chicken. At that level of production, how is it possible to create food that actually tastes good? It all starts at the beginning, says Canadian-Indian Executive Chef Mukesh Tugnait.
“You can’t create food that doesn’t start off good. If you go to the Okanagan and take a peach off a tree, that’s the best peach you’ve ever had. You can do anything with that and it’s difficult to spoil. But if you bring the peach from some other place and you want to sweeten it up and play with it, you can never get it right…
“For example, I sample close to 16 varieties of basmati rice, only basmati rice, to pick one that I would like to use [in the Emirates menu].”
Chef Tugnait heads up Emirates Flight Catering, the part of Emirates that serves about 128,000 passenger meals per day. That’s over 1,500 menus with an option of 23 special meals per flight. How does such a large operation make sure the food it serves does not taste like typical airplane food?
“Nothing from my kitchen ever reaches a guest without someone from my team tasting it,” says Chef Tugnait. “On a weekly basis we do a Chef’s Table. We will pick a sector – at the last minute so no one knows [when their turn will be] – then the team that is on the floor (Executive and Sous Chefs) will taste it together.”
On recent Emirates flights between Seattle and Dubai, I was able to try out the cuisine in business class. On the departing flight, I started with the Traditional Local Arabic Mezze (hummus, moutabal (eggplant dip), muhammara (hot pepper dip), vine leaves and spinach fatayer (meat pie), and local garnishes) and had the Seafood Biryani for my main.
I skipped dessert (Rich Chocolate and Orange Pot, Raspberry Tartlet, a selection of cheese, or fruit), but each meal ended with Godiva chocolates anyways. Everything was restaurant quality and served on white linen tablecloths.
On the return flight, I had fresh fruit with yogurt as my starter for breakfast, with roasted vegetables and hash browns as my main. For lunch, I again started with the Traditional Local Arabic Mezze, but ordered a special Asian vegetarian meal of rice and dal for my main. A Marble Brownie Slice with mango sauce and citrus compote was the perfect way to finish it all off.
These menus change every month and are often indistinguishable from what you would find in a restaurant. Although the presentation has to be simple (due to the logistics of packing, transporting and storing), each dish is comparable to something you would see on a fine dining menu.
Dubai seems to thrive on having the best and the tallest of everything. In the case of its flagship airline, Emirates, the food is right up there.