“Hello, I’ll be your flight attendant today.” Daniel Boulud, the Michelin starred chef behind the eponymous as well as 19 other restaurants from Montreal to Singapore, said cheerily as he greeted passengers walking up and down the rows on a recent Air France flight from New York to Paris. Boulud, in his chef’s whites, was working the aisles of the Boeing 777 to commemorate the second year of a partnership with Air France that has the chef designing dishes for both business and the luxe La Premiere classes. While Boulud designs dishes for the Paris-bound flights, Air France tapped renowned French chefs like Guy Martin and Michael Roth to create food for North American-bound flights.
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F&W got to join Boulud on the flight and sample his work, which shows a striking amount of precision and delicacy for dishes that ultimately need to be stored in tight columns in a small alcove refrigerator. Besides the space constraints Boulud had to overcome a number of well-known issues that trouble fine dining at 35,000 feet. “You can't make a dish that requires any last minute work, which is most cooking,” he said. “You can’t add seasoning or a touch of dressing [to complete a dish], and you cannot expect the steward to finish the dish.”
Airline food also all needs to be precooked, which presents another ongoing in-flight problem. That made it all the more impressive that Boulud executed something that tasted as fresh as his asparagus with morels and peas. That dish in particular was noteworthy, because so often meals on a plane, even in business or first class, are stews and braises—which can be delicious, but can also eventually run together visually texturally and gustatorily. Seeing so much green on an airplane tray table (and making the only vegetarian dish the standout of any menu—airline or otherwise) was an impressive feat. Although for all the meals he designs for airlines Boulud said he tries to think about seasonality. “Asparagus in the spring, tomato during summer, and squash during the Fall can give an accent of seasonality that works even in the air.”
He did strike a note of caution on airline eating generally though, saying, “Often food served on planes is pretty lame, and I try to avoid eating it unless I am in business class flying international. And, while I am partial to Air France, they and a few other airlines do a good job with their food.”
But, if even after reading you're still be dubious of eating at altitude, flying international or not, Boulud did mention that, under the right circumstances almost anything is possible: “Once I made scrambled eggs with black truffle at 15,000 feet with only a plastic salad bowl, a spoon and a microwave, and I managed a beautiful, runny and perfect French-style scrambled eggs over toasted brioche.” Just something to think about the next time you’re looking down at your tiny bag of pretzels, or, if your lucky, Boulud's curried lobster salad.
If you have a Paris trip in your future you can sample chef Boulud’s cuisine. Look for it on Air France flights direct from 11 North American cities in business and La Premiere classes.