Photo credit: dnata

 

Have you ever wondered how airplane meals are prepared? dnata, an in-flight caterer at more than 60 airports across the globe, including Changi Airport, gives us a sneak peek into the meal preparation process. From how the meal is cooked to taste tests, we speak to Lee Farrelly, Chief Operating Officer from the Catering Services team to find out what goes on behind the scenes. Perhaps you’ll gain a new appreciation for in-flight food after this!

Whipped up by top chefs

Most chefs take a lifetime to master a specialty dish, yet dnata has perfected several cuisines for over 20 airlines — adding up to more than 80,000 in-flight meals prepared each week just in Singapore!

Plated dishes by in-flight caterer dnata

dnata was awarded PAX International’s Best Airline Caterer in Asia for both 2017 and 2018. Photo credit: dnata

Deep down, we’re avid foodie travellers who have trained and eaten in many corners of the world!

“Many chefs in our network come from Michelin-star restaurants! We’re constantly reviewing food trends — from ‘eco-packaging’ to ‘dishes of yesteryear’ — not only to raise standards, but to create innovative dishes by complementing classic cooking techniques with modern methods.”

In fact, did you know dnata customises its menus for the airlines it serves, taking into account many factors such as the origin and destination of each flight? For example, Lufthansa’s Singapore to Frankfurt flights lets you taste German favourites like Beef Sauerbraten before you even set foot in Germany!

 

Taste-tested and proven

dnata chef whipping up a dish in the central kitchen

Fun fact: Our tastebuds become less sensitive to salt when we’re in the air. Photo credit: dnata

Despite the chefs’ expertise, cooking for in-flight meals is no mean feat. Our tastebuds are affected when we’re more than 10,000ft up in the air due to the difference in humidity and air pressure, so even the best recipes have to be adapted for consumption above ground. That’s where food tasting comes in:

“All our dishes go through taste tests to make sure they allure to the five senses. If the airlines have any feedback, we pass them on to the chefs immediately so they can make changes to the recipes. At the end of the day, our aim is to ensure our food caters to the palates of the passengers on every flight.

Keeping things fresh

That’s not all. To ensure quality, dnata pulls no stops in getting the freshest ingredients.

Fantastic dishes start with great ingredients.
Tray of dumplings in the making at dnata

dnata makes dumplings from scratch using a traditional recipe. Photo credit: dnata

“We use fresh ingredients and source the best produce as part of our ‘go local, go seasonal’ commitment. This refers to us sourcing and recommending ingredients for the airlines’ menus that are generally available and in season around Singapore. And we aim to keep our food offering as fresh and natural as possible. In many cases, we use the exact same ingredients and techniques used in the world’s top restaurants!”

Fun fact: dnata has seven kitchens: Halal, Chinese, Japanese, Western, Cold dishes, Pastry and Bakery — in which they produce and pack over 10,000 fresh bread rolls everyday!

 

Fresh from the oven and straight into the chiller

To retain the flavours and texture of in-flight meals, dnata uses a process called ‘blast chilling’, which reduces the temperature of food from 70 to 3 degrees Celcius or below in 120 minutes.

“Blast chilling locks in the colour, texture, structure and nutritional value of the meal. For example, pasta is protected longer as dehydration is reduced. It also maximises food safety by minimising bacteria growth.”

The finishing touches, with a human touch

With several aspects done at such a large scale, you’d imagine everything is automated. But while machineries do make complicated processes more efficient, dnata prefers to add a personal touch to the finishing.

dnata chefs plating in-flight meals

While its operations are extensive, dnata functions almost like a large-scale restaurant. Photo credit: dnata

“There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all.”

“We have to keep stock of all our airline clients’ crockery, for example their tray sets, as they are all bespoke — which means there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all in serving and packaging our dishes. Some customers even prefer and request personal hand-wrapped food portions instead of machine cut packaging, and we gladly do it!”

Once that is done, the meals are sealed and ready to be delivered to the aircraft. And there you have it, your meticulously, professionally made in-flight food.

 

Many factors contribute to a wholesome flight. Beyond airline services, a meal can make or break an experience. You’d be intrigued to know that over 100 people put in an enormous amount of effort to ensure your tummy is absolutely satisfied when flying in and out of, or through Singapore. Now that you know, go ahead to add on a meal in your upcoming flight if you haven’t already done so.

P.S. Eat light, avoid fried and oily food, and stay hydrated right before you take-off to maximise the mouth-watering experience you’re bound to have on board. Bon appétit!