An inside look at how Cathay Pacific Catering Services conceptualises and prepares its in-flight meals to offer passengers a journey to remember.
You know that you’re in for quite a flight if your first meal on board is a serving of caviar with a glass of champagne.
A fancy start like that suggests a fancier meal and that’s exactly what Cathay Pacific Airways, the flag carrier of Hong Kong, is offering their Business Class passengers who were en route from Hong Kong to New York this July.
Think dishes like poached Maine lobster, smoked trout, truffle tortellini with truffled butternut, or braised cod with stir-fried pak choy – a dish that is native to Hong Kong. The in-flight dining experience is sweetened by indulgent desserts such as chocolate soufflé with dulce de leche ice cream, more traditional ones like red bean soup with lotus seeds, and even a selection of cheeses namely Chaumes, Gruyere, Cambozola, and Bouchon de Chevre.
With ever-changing menus that vary from destination to destination, all passengers of Cathay Pacific get to experience a different culinary journey thousands of feet above ground with each of their travels.
Elevated in-flight dining experience
Cathay Pacific Catering Services (CPCS), the wholly-owned catering arm Cathay Pacific, oversees a broad aspect of the in-flight dining experience – from menu design and quality of ingredients, to food preparation and tray setting.
As passengers become increasingly more food-savvy, the challenge for the team is finding innovative ways to delight their taste buds whilst catering to their diverse needs. As a result, CPCS, today, sources ingredients from more than 300 approved suppliers to ensure good provenance and the right flavours for the creation of authentic Hong Kong and International dishes.
Speaking to Cathay Pacific Head of Catering Aaron Claxton at the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong headquarters, the 52-year-old former chef said: “We’re mindful of the source of our products. Are they welfare-friendly? Are they sustainable sources? These factors are very important to us and also particularly popular with the millennial group.”
This led to a recent partnership with acclaimed company Dingley Dell, which fits those standards and requirements.
The farm, located in United Kingdom, ensures that its pigs are well fed and treated, which creates a better distribution of fat in the meat and a taste that is more delectable when cooked.
Mr Claxton said: “When I went down with my team to check out the farm, I saw people massaging the pigs at night! This is all part of being welfare-friendly. We constantly try to find companies like that.”
To set itself apart from the rest of the airlines, Cathay Pacific has also recently embarked on a few exciting, albeit bold, collaborations with both local and international names.
JING tea – a London-based tea company has, for the first time, partnered with an airline to serve a wide selection of teas both on ground and on board a flight. What this means for passengers of Cathay Pacific is the freedom and opportunity to choose a tea of their liking- green, white, yellow, oolong, black and puerh teas, together with a range of full-flavoured herbal infusions, instead of being handed a cup of nondescript tea.
Cathay Pacific’s galleys are now also stocked with bespoke chocolates on top of the usual treats like cookies and chips. The catering team worked with a Hong-Kong based chocolatier to design and produce boxes and boxes of signature chocolates that are not available for purchase anywhere else in the world except on board a Cathay Pacific flight.
What looks good, should taste delicious too. And that’s what Mr Claxton wanted to ensure when he redesigned the Economy Class meal tray together with New Zealand product designer Jamie McLellan.
Inspired by Asian bento boxes, the compact design of the new meal tray allows food to fit more snugly and also reduces material usage without compromising on aesthetics and quality. Mr Claxton believes that the minimalistic look of the tray will elevate a passenger’s in-flight dining experience.
Mr Claxton said: “We’re all about functionality and simplicity. We’re not a ‘bling bling’ carrier with all the ornate details. When you look at our brand strategy, the key word here is ‘Considered Simplicity’. We don’t want to overcomplicate things.”
Inside Cathay Pacific Catering Services
Before every meal is served on board, there is an entire process that the airline’s produce go through, which passengers are not privy to.
The team at CPCS works on shifts to ensure that daily operations go on without a hitch as they are responsible for supplying food to 43 international airlines including reputable carriers like Qatar Airways, Emirates and Air China. This makes CPCS the largest Hong Kong-based air caterer and one of the largest flight kitchens in the world.
From the receiving of goods and quality checking each of them, to cooking the dishes and delivering them up the aircraft, the catering unit of Cathay Pacific produces an average of 81,100 meals a day, catering to roughly 196 flights daily.
The team of 2,146 staff, with close to 500 working on the production line, has its processes in place of course, where a bulk of the operations is automated. CPCS boasts one of the industry’s most high-tech machinery, which includes omelette-making machines, tilting braising machines and Hong Kong’s first automatic tray-setting machine.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes tour of the action that takes place daily at Cathay Pacific Catering Services, located in Hong Kong International Airport.