When plane food is best

By Shandelle Battersby

A peek behind the scenes at Cathay Pacific's kitchens fascinates Shandelle Battersby

Fruit preparation at Cathay Pacific Catering Services in Hong Kong. Photo / Shandelle Battersby
Fruit preparation at Cathay Pacific Catering Services in Hong Kong. Photo / Shandelle Battersby

I once sat next to a man during a flight from Amsterdam to Malaysia who whipped out his camera to take a photo of every meal we were served.

When he saw me staring he explained he liked airline food so much, he wanted to keep a record of it all.

I could see where he was coming from - there is definitely something pleasing about receiving a compartmentalised self-contained meal on a tidy tray that has an element of surprise to it during a monotonous flight.

I thought of my snap-happy fellow traveller when I had the chance to look around Cathay Pacific's Catering Services (CPCS) on a recent trip to Hong Kong. His eyes would have been popping out of his head.

This enormous facility provides the inflight meals not just for the national carrier, but for more than 30 airlines and their staff, and can produce up to 80,000 meals a day - though the average number sits around the 69,000 mark.

The sheer scale of the operation is mind-boggling, though two of its biggest challenges are functioning as environmentally friendly as possible, and cleanliness and sanitation, with food sources from around the globe. A "decanting room" is even set aside for removing packaging to prevent bacteria and foreign objects from entering the production process.

Staff are covered in protective clothing from head to toe and use photos to ensure meals are consistent.

Meals for business and first-class passengers are prepared by hand while economy meals are created using more of a production line, but still carefully monitored for quality. The attention to detail, even on this huge scale, is impressive.

Some of the areas CPCS has on its production floor include a kosher kitchen, which you can't enter unless a rabbi is present, a halal butchery and kitchen, bakery, pastry room, and a Japanese kitchen, plus segregated areas for cheese, fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood.

There's also a separate kitchen preparing more than 80 meals available for those with special requirements such as medical or religious reasons, and vegetarians.

In the Hot Kitchen there, are huge wok stations, and three cooks at a time hover around an enormous rotating omelette-making machine with 12 fry pans. Large cabinets hold trays of cooked white rice, and stainless steel crates of bok choy are dunked into big vats of steaming water for bulk cooking. In the Cold Kitchen, someone is finely slicing lemons by hand; another squeezes bits of peanut over individual bowls of smoked salmon salad on a conveyer belt. In the Tray Setting area, business-class trays are set by hand with cloth napkins, glasses and proper cutlery.

My culinary experience on the flight home is much more enjoyable now I know how much hard work has gone into it.


THE NUMBERS

1700 Staff
80,000 Daily meal production capacity
69,000 Average meals produced a day
2.8 millionkg of fresh fruit consumed last year
1160kg Of rice cooked per day
171 Passenger flights catered for every day
4500 Omelettes made per day


Shandelle Battersby travelled with assistance from Cathay Pacific and the Hong Kong Tourism Board

- NZ Herald

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