Barbecued spareribs. Chicken stir-fry. Chilean sea bass. Ah, the sumptuous experience of airline dining. If that doesn't sound like mealtime on your last flight, that's because you weren't aboard Singapore Airlines, where the menus are designed by genial German chef Hermann Freidanck, 54, the carrier's food-and-beverage director. Serving 55,000 meals a dayhe has won dozens of awards for the way he accomplishes itFreidanck does not exactly rely on ordinary caterers. "Our business is flying a tube from A to B," he says. "The in-flight experience is what the customer is choosing."
Singapore has developed a database of more than 12,000 recipes since Freidanck's arrival in 1998. Nine top chefs on a rotating rosterincluding France's George Blanc and Britain's Gordon Ramsayare recruited to craft dishes for the first- and business-class cabins. Freidanck visits their kitchens frequently. "The panel provides constant new ideas," the former hotel chef says. "Like everyone at the moment is doing pork bellies or yellow beetroot or purple carrots."
Each dish is tested in a pressure-, temperature- and humidity-controlled kitchen that simulates the conditions of a plane at 39,000 ft. (High altitude dulls taste buds, so flavors must be intensified.) Menus are revised every four months on the basis of a plane's route and its passengers' profiles. The key is robust, flavorful cuisine. "Everything is reheated," Freidanck explains. "So mild foods don't work. Fragile fish fall apart. Fresh goose liver bleeds out."
Its catering distinguishes Singapore as one of the world's finest carriers, and rivals have taken notice. Air France signed on Michelin-three-star French maestro Guy Martin in 2002, and Delta now offers the fare of Miami celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein.
Freidanck believes air travelers are only going to get more sophisticated about what they eat when they're aloft. With the recent advent of cooking shows, he says, "every passenger is a gourmand."
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