Chef Mashama Bailey Is Bringing Dishes Inspired By Her Savannah Restaurant to Delta's First Class Menu

In-flight meals from the James Beard Award winner will be available to passengers flying out of Delta's Atlanta hub.

Delta x Chef Mashama Bailey, The Grey
Photo: Nydia Blas; Courtesy of Delta Air Lines

Delta is giving you one more reason to upgrade your next flight.

Today, the airline announced it is partnering with Chef Mashama Bailey — winner of the 2022 James Beard Foundation's "Outstanding American Chef" award and Executive Chef and co-founder of The Grey — on a Southern-inspired menu curated for first class. And the meals sound so good you may never want to land.

"We have a few things that are going to resonate with people who are away from home," Bailey tells Food & Wine about her comforting food now available in the air. "It's for those who want something that's feel good."

That feel-good food includes dishes similar to those served at The Grey: short ribs with kanni sauce and smoked collard greens; vegan vegetable tagine with roasted sweet potato topped with a chermoula sauce and, for dessert, buttermilk cornmeal tres leches with candied kumquats and mandarin oranges.

Delta x Chef Mashama Bailey, The Grey
Courtesy of Delta Air Lines

There's also one extra special dish everyone should try — a flounder and oyster dish with fumé blanc, green apple, potato, bok choy, and turnips.

"We have this really fancy dish that we do with flounder, and we're using local oysters," Bailey excitedly shared. "There's only one oyster man in the state of Georgia. His name is Ernest McIntosh, and he is the only Black oysterman in the country."

While you'd assume shucking oysters mid-air is a feat, you may not realize that creating a menu at high altitude is a mission, even for an acclaimed chef.

"Things just register very differently [in the air]," Bailey explains. "That's why people praise things like bloody Marys because you can actually taste all the salt in that. When we thought about dishes that we were doing, we wanted to make sure that they were the sort of dishes that could be reheated well and also using techniques that are done often."

However, Bailey admits her food is highly nuanced, "almost like you look at it, and you say, 'well, it needs a little bit more butter, or it needs a little bit more stock, or it needs to reduce more.'" So, she ensured every recipe she picked was foolproof, and items she could "sign off to someone who has a general understanding of food and that can accomplish it successfully."

It's a partnership that Kristen Manion Taylor, the senior vice president of in-flight service at Delta, says just makes sense for its flights.

"[Chef Bailey's] food is really grounded in Southern culture, Southern roots as are we, being based here in Atlanta," Taylor shares. "There's a real connection there with her, but she also shares a lot of our values around diversity, equity, inclusion, sustainability, and local sourcing. So, for all those reasons and not to mention her amazing delicious food, we were really excited that she wanted to partner with us."

Delta x Chef Mashama Bailey, The Grey
Nydia Blas

Chef Bailey's meals will make their way to in-flight service this week on flights departing from Atlanta. The food will be available for lunch and dinner in domestic first class flights with hot food service.

Additionally, passengers departing from Atlanta and flying internationally in Delta One will have the option to pre-select the menu items curated by Chef Bailey in advance of their flight.

But, this isn't the only project Bailey is taking on for Delta. She will also serve on the newly formed Delta Culinary Council to help guide the airline's culinary strategy alongside a collective of chefs and industry experts.

"We're taking onboard to a different level with the help of a lot of these chefs," Taylor says. "We've just started this process of forming the Delta Culinary Council together. We're bringing industry experts and renowned chefs to help us. We're just at the beginning phases of it, so we'll have a lot more to share in the coming months."

And just in case all this isn't enough, Bailey is also ready to teach you a thing or two about her cooking techniques at 30,000 feet. She's now featured on Delta Studio, the seatback entertainment platform, as part of the airline's partnership with MasterClass, which features 10 lessons from Bailey that dive deep into Southern cooking techniques.

Don't worry if you're not departing from Atlanta anytime soon. The airline may roll out more partnerships in the future in different destinations, and for now, it's adding seasonal menu refreshes across its network. The updates include a Korean-style Impossible burger with mushroom and scallion bulgogi topping; chickpea, potato, and spinach chana masala, roasted cauliflower with cilantro, basmati rice, and naan; and for dessert, decadent chocolate chunk and sea salt cookies from Bell's Cookie Co.

And, first class flyers departing from Los Angeles can also now enjoy a vegan antipasti plate from Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo with roasted broccoli, romesco dip, yellow squash, gigante beans, red onion, and mushroom. Those flying out of Boston and Detroit aren't left out either. They'll be treated to new menu items like avocado toast with ricotta, figs, and truffle honey; prawn salad with cocktail sauce, hard-boiled eggs, and Kalamata olives; and a braised beef tart with potato mash, horseradish mousseline, and thyme jus. So maybe use this as your excuse to book that first class ticket you so richly deserve.

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