For Singapore Airlines passengers aboard world’s longest commercial flight—a nearly 19-hour non-stop between Singapore and Newark—the airline has teamed up with chefs and nutritionists of integrative wellness brand Canyon Ranch to develop an onboard program of sleep strategies, stretches, and lighter fare menus.
Calories consumed in the air don’t count, right? That’s a fine theory when choosing the lasagna over the salad on a three-hour flight from New York to Miami, but a nearly 19-hour flight to the other side of the world means having to be a bit more conscientious about what you’re eating and drinking if you don’t want to feel terrible on arrival. For Singapore Airlines passengers aboard world’s longest commercial flight—a nearly 19-hour non-stop between Singapore and Newark—the airline has teamed up with chefs and nutritionists of integrative wellness brand Canyon Ranch to develop an onboard program of sleep strategies, stretches, and lighter fare menus.
Resist rolling your eyes at the words "lighter fare"—this is no masochistic menu, but one that includes chocolate cake, steak, crab, lobster, and all the indulgences premium passengers have come to expect of a meal on a five-star airline, just with lower fat, carbs, and sodium counts to mitigate the effects of spending 19 hours on a plane surrounded by dry air and creeping jet lag.
With rehydration beverages like sparkling rosehip pink lemonade and pineapple ginger turmeric soda available as alternatives to cocktails; dishes that rely on technique and inventive ingredients to replace heavier sauces (read: butter); and complete menu transparency detailing nutritional information—from calories, carbs, and sodium in a dish, down to how many grams of protein—a fantastic and filling three-course meal totaling under 700 calories is not only possible, it’s the goal.
Even with a menu that reads something like this:
- Starter: Alaskan King Crab Singapore salad with coconut-passion fruit vinaigrette, cashews, vadouvan, and pomelo
- Main: Grilled grass-fed beef tenderloin with twice-baked sweet potatoes, creamed Swiss chard, and black garlic bordelaise
- Dessert: Lemon-chamomile panna cotta and olive oil shortbread with lemon confit
The Canyon Ranch collaboration dishes are available on all three of the airline’s routes to and from the United States using the Airbus A350-900ULR— the "ultra long range"—Newark, San Francisco, and Los Angeles non-stops to Singapore. This year brings the second iteration of the collab, but the first version to reflect passenger feedback (such as, more decadent desserts). Though the new dishes won’t appear on flights until later this year, the chefs gathered last week at Canyon Ranch’s resort in the Massachusetts Berkshires to cook and taste, and ultimately whittle the list from 60 dishes down to 30, then 15, until they agreed on eight or nine to present to the airline’s executives and then place on in-flight menus. It’s a grueling process, with even the actual plates and serveware used on the flights flown in for the occasion.
Every dish must look as good as it tastes while staying within Canyon Ranch’s stringent nutritional limits (like, no desserts over 180 calories).
“It’s about trial and error, and with this development we’re 90 percent of the way there,” says Antony McNeil, Singapore Airlines Director of Food and Beverage. “We don’t want our guests to feel like they’re getting anything less just because it’s a Canyon Ranch dish. It’s actually quite substantial. It’s tasty. And it presents as if you were dining at a five-star hotel restaurant.”
The real miracle isn’t making healthy food taste and look good on a plane, but doing so and maintaining the quality on a grand scale.
“Psychologically you feel good because you know you’re making a healthy choice, and visually you’re having a beautiful experience with the colors and the textures of the dishes. And yet you’re not missing out on having the experience of full flavor,” notes Singapore Airlines spokesperson James Bradbury-Boyd.
Flights departing Singapore’s Changi International Airport have their meals made within the 1.1 million square foot SATS catering facility, where 2,000 employees and 21 executive sous chefs turn out 90,000 dishes every day across 65 airlines. By the time the meal carts are loaded onto aircraft, more than 90 percent of the dish is complete; in other words you can rest assured that it’s chefs and not the flight attendants who are behind the creation of your meal. This individual level of attention is put to the test with the Canyon Ranch options, especially as the second version of the collaboration is set to introduce a new lobster main.
“I don’t get satisfaction from throwing something in a pan, tossing it, and putting it onto a plate,” says David Varley, Vice President of Food & Beverage at Canyon Ranch. “For me it’s about the story of the dish, taking the ingredients and magnifying them through great technique, and from this perspective the most complex dish we’re working on is the ‘Maine Lobster en Papillote with saffron and orange farotto, caramelized endives, and Piquillo peppers.’ The mise-en-place is the hard part, since it’s a project with about five steps before it makes it into the pouch, during which you have to love the dish and be attentive to it if it’s going to be great.”
The Lobster en Papillote will be the second lobster specialty to grace Singapore Airlines menus. For years the airline has offered guests the option to go “off menu” on flights via a pre-order meal program called "Book the Cook." From dishes for specialty diets to highlights of Asian regional cuisines (mmm Penang laksa), the extensive Book the Cook options are available for passengers in premium classes to reserve up to 24 hours before their flight. A mainstay of the program is classic Lobster Thermidor, and it’s not going anywhere.
“There would be riots in the streets among our loyal passengers if we took Lobster Thermidor off the menu but, at the same time, we can evolve,” says Bradbury-Boyd. “So now there may be two lobster mains to choose from, one for pleasure and one for prudence.”