02 OCT 2014: Food isn’t a new encounter on board Lufthansa German Airlines. Serving pilsners, pretzels and schnitzels have been a wunderbar experience for the flight attendants ever since the early flights.

But since 2000 so has haute cuisine. The national German air carrier that introduced its Star Chefs programme has worked with renowned Michelin-Star chefs like Paul Bocuse, Marc Haeberlin, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Now Lufthansa at its special seventh Culinary Academy held last week wants us to take notice of a new turn: getting back to the original experience.

In-Flight investment

“Flying over the Atlantic is usual but we want to get back to the original experience,” says Dr. Ingo Bulow, director and head of in-flight service and lounges outlining the huge hospitality investment ongoing until next year.  

Expect to find business class service remodelled with an attendant for every five or six passengers. “Gone is the trolley,” he notes.

Pilot Project study

In a recently completed pilot project Lufthansa took a look at its US routes dividing America into four regions to create regional menus using locally inspired recipes from local chefs.

“We read between the lines that our (business class) passengers didn’t want special, instead they wanted to keep it simple,” says Ernst Derenthal, head of catering for Lufthansa describing typical comments on the star chef programme which he relayed is a difficult programme to implement on its non-European routes.

So come next March Canadian passengers on board Lufthansa’s Canadian routes will find more regional fare in keeping with the airline’s new regional approach to food suppliers as locally inspired recipes are sourced from local chefs.  The airline reports Lufthansa executives are currently in discussion with local Canadian chefs on this new food concept.

It’s all in keeping with a new food programme that Derenthal declares as the celebration of local foods. “The product is the star and not a celebrity chef,” he tells me.  

“We are constantly looking at where we can improve,” he further explains admitting that for years the airline couldn’t understand why these Michelin starred menus weren’t up to snuff from passenger feedback.

Try 35,000 feet. Agents will be happy to know there is a foodie solution to their picky eating clients who loathe dull airline food and scream that the salad’s too sour. It’s thanks to a tried and tested formula using spices, an even a dab of salt and yes even sugar.

“There is never enough dessert. Men who say they don’t like chocolate lie,” he laughs noting that desserts served on board are popular.

The airline hired the services of Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute, the inventors of the MP3 format, to study its recipes and menus. The country’s best known research organization devised a pressurized aircraft chamber with changing altitudes and invited volunteers to sit in this sea-level setting for hours to taste the same gourmet dishes at varying altitudes in a ground breaking two year study.

What they found is surprising.

Tasting results

“We learned in order to get the same flavour profile in the air you have to actually increase the sugar and salt by thirty percent more to get the same perception as on the ground,” he says adding, “Acidity on board increases on board so you have to be careful with this.”  

The answer to help alleviate acid levels which according to Derenthal impacts you 50 percent more in the air is using savoury umami. “This is like miso and soya sauces the Asian flavors stay pretty stable on board.”

On top the findings revealed natural warm spices such as curry, ginger, and chili came out on top with curry being a big favorite that according to Derenthal doesn’t change its taste profile.

“The easy answer okay is just to fly curries but we can’t just offer curry, we are Lufthansa,” he reasons. However for its Asian and Indian routes, Lufthansa features Asian and Indian-style menus.

The answer is...

So a happy medium is the introduction of what Derenthal describes as natural aroma intensifiers. Those sour-like flavours from tomatoes and citrus are available as serums and oils that are used in the recipes.

As for lemon, it’s the pith, the pulpy part beneath the lemon peel that gives stability in food storage. “We don’t want more acid because that’ll just create a whole new set of problems,” he notes.

The passenger consumption of tomato juice he claims is also the same amount as their beer cravings.

And what about those glasses of wine you enjoy on board? Next time stick to the full-bodied ones. “Wine selection changes, for less acid wines on ground level you have to have full bodied wines (in the air) so you don’t get irritated by the tastes of harmony. Your wine perception also changes with the food itself.”

Seasonal cuisine

Clients during Oktoberfest which ends on October 5 are currently enjoying Lufthansa’s dessert, a fun spin-off on Tiramisu. “We call it Beeramasu,” jokes Derenthal about their version of the Italian dessert made with alcohol-free beer.

Don’t think the upcoming holidays are forgotten either. Lufthansa’s annual Christmas goose dinner is a longstanding tradition, and like the airline’s food programmes, this one is closely monitored.

“We stay away from getting industrialized geese and order them starting as eggs,” says Derenthal adding last year approximately 40,000 geese were prepared for the annual Christmas holiday inboard dining.

The other detail: Derenthal reports Lufthansa annually flies 60 million passengers. Simply translated over 1 million dining passengers a week decide between meat, fish or vegetarian. That’s 60 million food critics and experts to satisfy.

Not bad for a limited seating restaurant in the sky.

Lufthansa Culinary Academy

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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