I ran across this article and found it an interesting read. Delta Air Lines has gone a step further in its award-winning customer service by hiring an impressive culinary team. Read on to learn the process of scoring restaurant-quality meals at 30,000 feet.
People often joke about how bad airplane food is, but have you ever given thought to why that’s the case — and whether it’s even true anymore?
Airlines have been seriously stepping up their game lately in the food department, serving up restaurant-quality meals that diners just happen to be eating while they’re miles above the ground. Take Delta, for example, which has assembled an impressive culinary team that includes celebrity chefs Michael Chiarello and Michelle Bernstein, as well as master sommelier Andrea Robinson.
The team’s newest member is Atlanta-based Linton Hopkins, a James Beard Award winner whose establishments include Restaurant Eugene, Holeman and Finch Public House; he is also the founder of H&F Bread Co. Since winning the Delta gig in 2013, he’s been developing meals for travelers in the airline’s Delta One cabin on flights from Atlanta to Europe.
BI Studios recently spoke with Hopkins about the small-artisan approach he’s bringing to his menus, the factors that make cooking for a plane so challenging, and how eating on a plane can be just like dining in a restaurant — except 30,000 feet in the air.
BI Studios: What was your background before you became a chef with Delta?
Linton Hopkins: I woke up in my 20s after graduating with a degree in pre-med from Emory University, and realized that I could spend the rest of my life cooking and make it my career. I grew up in Atlanta cooking alongside my mother and later in after-school and summer jobs, but it wasn’t until I saw a book entitled “Guide to Cooking Schools” that I imagined a career in the professional side of food. I then attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York, followed by stints in New Orleans and Washington, DC, where I met my wife Gina. We then returned to Atlanta a bit more than 11 years ago to open Restaurant Eugene together.
Who are your biggest culinary influences?
LH: First and foremost, my grandfather Eugene, who we named our first restaurant [Restaurant Eugene] after. He cured his own ham, made his own biscuits, and vinaigrette when he made a salad — he didn’t believe in bottled vinaigrette. He was a good, from-scratch cook and used the freshest ingredients. It’s what I uphold every day both at home and in my restaurants.
Tell us about the competition you entered to become a Delta chef.
LH: It was called the Cabin Pressure Cook-Off, with my friends and colleagues Hugh Acheson, Kelly English, and George Mendes; it was fun. It was presented like the show “Chopped,” beginning with the four of us preparing a signature appetizer and presenting it to the judges, who included Christina Grovic from Food & Wine, and key members from Delta and its culinary team, like master sommelier Andrea Robinson, chef Michelle Bernstein, and Mark Maynard-Parisi from the Union Square Hospitality Group. One chef was cut after each stage.
What did you make for the appetizer?
LH: A Georgia peach salad with charred Vidalia onions, crispy bacon, and fresh herb salad. Luckily, the competition was in early August so the peaches and the onions were still perfect. It was like putting Georgia on a plate — it was an expression of summer and who I am as a chef, where I am from.
For the next round, we had to build an entrée that could be reheated. I made a chicken dish with butter beans and fresh tomatoes, and then for the dessert challenge I baked my signature chocolate chip cookie. Improving food on an airplane is not about pyrotechnics of food; it’s simply about making a great, comforting chocolate chip cookie and serving it warm.
What’s your philosophy in cooking for Delta?
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Tags: Delta Air Lines, In-flight meals, customer service