Food with altitude: British Airways chef Mark Tazzioli

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 25th July 2014
With hundreds of thousands of us jetting off to destinations around the world for the summer holidays, The Staff Canteen decided to speak to one of the chefs responsible for keeping us fed at 30,000 feet – British Airways Menu Design Manager, Mark Tazzioli.   How many menus do you run across the whole of BA and which ones are you responsible for?MarkTazzioli We’ve got about 40 different menus going out of Heathrow on long haul on each class. Around the world it probably runs to a couple of hundred. I’m responsible for all long haul going out of Heathrow and Gatwick as well as all flights coming in from India and Africa and all the UK lounges. To cover the whole operation around the world we have three menu design managers; there’s myself then there’s a guy called Gwendal Hamon who looks after the Middle East and Far East and there’s Sinead Ferguson who looks after short haul and the inbound Americas. We then have another two chefs with us who are more into quality control, so five of us altogether. How possible is it to be local and seasonal with your suppliers? It is possible but it’s more possible with first class and Club World, which is business class, because the numbers are smaller. For World Traveller, which is economy, the numbers are huge so it’s a bit more difficult plus you haven’t got quite the amount to spend on that, but we do try to. In the past few years we’ve done a lot with British companies and a lot of regional stuff. With chocolate for example we’re using Hotel Chocolat in Club World and we’re just about to go back on cycle with a company called Lauden from Yorkshire which is quite a small company, so for us to use them is a quite a big boost for them. We use all British beef and we try to keep it all as British as possible; it’s not always possible of course but where we can, we do. Aircraft image 3How often do the menus change? First class and Club World change every month, which is at least 40 menus changing every month in each class and that includes 17 different regional cuisines. We do different menus for North India, South India and in China – Chengdu, Beijing, Hong Kong, they all have their different regional menus. World Traveller changes four times a year with the seasons, so in all we’re changing menus a lot more than a lot of restaurants which is why we have two development chefs working on it full time. What are the factors that make menu planning for airline food different to food served on the ground? It’s very different; all of our food goes through a cook-chill process. We have to cook it to certain core temperatures then we chill it down which has to be done to a certain temperature within a certain time and we’re very strict on that. It’s reheated on the aircraft, so when we’re developing the food we have to reheat it and test if from the aircraft ovens. We have to make sure the food’s not too high; it has to fit into the trolleys, so if we’re going to do, say, a dessert which is fairly high, you have to lay it down or make it in pieces so it can be put together on the plane. We also have to take into account that most people lose on average about 30% of their ability to taste certain flavours at altitude, so we have to build that into the development process by getting some more robust flavours into the sauces; we try to pick foods which are fairly umami-rich and also we have to take into account that it’s going to be reheated so it has to have enough moisture content to be reheated and come back tasting good; and also of course, you don’t want anything that smells too bad in a plane.BA Burger (C) Nick Morrish, British Airways What kind of things just don’t work as airline food? Things like rib eye steaks don’t work; we try and stay away from things like cabbage and sprouts because of the smell; we can’t use ostrich – basically any meat where there’s not much fat or moisture content just goes tough when you reheat it. There are certain foods we can’t use because of safety concerns like some types of fish in the Far East; but we can use most things as long as we cook it properly and put enough moisture into it. Normally, for example, we wouldn’t use lemon sole because it’s a bit too delicate flavour-wise but now we’ve managed to use it by rolling it and stuffing it with a very strong mousse which we incorporate umami-rich ingredients into. Do you do ongoing research into what makes food taste better at altitude? We’re always learning and researching better ways of doing things. We did a lot of research with a company called Leatherhead Food Research who are food scientists and they did a lot of research around flavour at altitude and also textures and different mouth feels; like, if you eat a crisp on the ground, do you get the same crunch as if you eat it in the air? Also how does the background noise on an aircraft affect you? And it all does – the background noise affects you; the lack of moisture in the air and the pressure affects your taste buds. We have, as a consequence of that research, changed quite a few of our recipes. What is the ultimate goal for the food at BA? Ideally it’s quite simple – anybody that gets on a flight, no matter where they’re flying from and to, the food is appropriate, which means it’s appropriate to the customer and the customer’s nationality and it’s appropriate to the time of day, and that everybody’s enjoyed it and we’ve actually surpassed their expectations. I want people to get off the other end and say, “You know what, that was very good and better than I thought it was going to be.” Airline food over the years has had quite a bad rap whereas actually we buy good ingredients and a lot of time and effort goes into it.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 25th July 2014

Food with altitude: British Airways chef Mark Tazzioli