What makes an outstanding In-flight Caterer?

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13 November 2014 by bizavcatering

paula_3By Paula Kraft, founder and President of Atlanta, GA-based Tastefully Yours Catering.


I am frequently asked what it takes to enter the aviation catering industry. Caterers from around the world want to know what makes someone successful. They wonder if it is a highly paid chef, the facilities, the equipment, or customer service? Do you require the biggest  facility, the most high tech equipment?

Just what is it that makes an inflight caterer memorable? I decided to take a closer look at some of those caterers whom I think are successful and well respected within the industry and see what makes them stand out.

Let’s start with the building. It’s important to have a building that fits the job and offers the safety and security needed in our industry. Does high tech make the building, clean, sleek, stainless steel, and full of beautiful new equipment? No, it doesn’t, but it does make for great industrial looking photos, photos that show professionalism. I have to compare a couple of very successful caterers in several markets to explain:

Let me introduce Marsden Catering from Zurich, Switzerland. Nicola Hubert’s passion has helped carry her business from a miniature storefront deli operation into acquiring Swiss Air’s abandoned commercial cold kitchen located on the field in Zurich.

Nicola’s kitchen is large and open, with the separation of foods in coolers dedicated to food groups with an organizational system I crave so much. Nicola is brilliant and has created her own ordering software that converts the order you place into kitchen production that essentially eliminates missing components from the completed order – BRILLIANT! The facility is spotless, it is professional, yet it feels like coming home. The staff work in teams, double- checking each others workmanship for the attention to detail that she and her staff hold. The artists employed at Marsden catering are like family to each other, each day sitting together for an awesome family style lunch. They share stories, talk of family plans, the children come from school to lunch with their extended in-flight catering family. Deliveries arrive and are inspected carefully from the best local purveyors.

Nicola, having once been a flight attendant, knows the exacting standards demanded by our aviation clients. The passion of the staff can be witnessed as they work in such incredible tandem; you might actually feel they are siblings. I am amazed at the dedication, the desire for perfection, the desire to provide not only beautiful food, but the best tasting food. I do have first hand experience about this at Marsden Catering. I was helping a few years ago for the World Economic Forum. I was going to use my culinary and presentation skills to help with the huge number of orders coming in by working in the kitchen. Since I was not familiar with their recipes, I assigned to prepare tomato roses . . . I was immediately pulled from this task to filling bulk food containers of various items, to which I was again pulled and given the job of answering the phone for American customers. My tomato roses did not meet the precision the crew expected, and my bulk containers did not hold the presentation standards the kitchen wanted to meet.
It was from them that I learned each bulk item should, when opened, be like a special gift, bringing a smile of delight to the face of the person opening it. In the end the staff decided I would do best answering the phone and preparing American menu items they were not accustomed to. The Marsden staff had such pride and value in the work they did- artists – and I was messing with their canvas. Their clients were family to them, and they wanted their delivery to perfect.

Eten In-flight Catering, Ft. Lauderdale Florida is next to be added to the my list of admired and successful in-flight caterers. Eten Catering operates out of a small storefront with a few window seats for those walk-in clients who wish to indulge in the delicacies found daily in their display case. Eten Catering could truly be referred to as boutique . . . beginning their business after retiring as chefs onboard private yachts.

This team consists of Dirk and Allison DeCuyper, and a small staff. The kitchen is long and narrow, not overstuffed with massive production equipment, but all the necessary modern equipment to produce such fine quality. Clean, organized, efficient, giving you a feel good and feel happy emotion as you entered the front door. Their colors are bright and alive and full of energy like the owners. Their work is their life, their passion. Every order is handled by this team of two – Allison and Dirk – to make sure that the love in their product shows with every piece delivered. I have had the opportunity to witness their dedication. Dirk is a master chef in my opinion; he handles the food with the tenderness and care of a musician playing the perfect rhythm on the finest instrument in the world. You can see it in his eyes as he cooks, and you can here it in the voice of Allison as she talks through an order with the clients. Dirk and Allison set themselves apart because they provide that VVVIP In-flight expectation that we see more often in Europe than in the US…the perfect petite bites, the magnificent display of canapés, pastries, and breads, all made with passion, love and care by Dirk.

Recently Dirk was challenged by a passenger’s request that they wished to be served an avocado and tomato course on every flight . . . no, not the same avocado and tomato dish, but a completely different one for each flight ( and they fly a LOT). He was able, in a matter of minutes, to create a dozen different dishes for different courses using the required tomato and avocado.

As he prepared a piece of seared fish for this same flight, he silently admired the fish until it was just perfect, gently placing it into the package he had prepared to send it out. Sauces packed separate, garnish on the side, side dishes all placed for delivery like a symphony well done.

Jumping back across the pond to Paris, I have to say that the kitchen for Upper Sky In-flight Catering was one of the most spectacular I have personally witnessed. It was everything I wished I had done in creating my kitchen . . .  A chef’s dream come true.

It was set up under the strictest HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) system I have ever witnessed. Even more so than a major manufacturing facility. Every letter of the HACCP is followed to the most minuet detail. HACCP is a program that was developed by Pillsbury in the early stages of the space program in an effect to prevent anything from getting into the food – physical stuff like glass, hair, metal; chemical stuff like cleaning agents, oil droplets from machinery, bug spray used in a facility; to biological material which would make a person ill by enabling germs, bacteria, viruses to get into the food at any stage of the purchase, production, packaging, and delivery. Keeping a HACCP kitchen is a labor of love.

Seriously, we all want our kitchens to be held to such high standards, but the diligence that is required is mind boggling. You think flying a plane around the world has challenges- I challenge you to put your FAA record keeping up to all the safety, security and potential contamination and temperature monitoring logs kept by a true HACCP kitchen. The physical building and operation make this an awesome sight, but, the owners’ skill and talent make the product exceed your wildest imagination. Can you see the passion for detail as they use tiny tweezers to place a single grain of rice, or a sprig of dill in just the perfect spot for that ultimate visual appeal? If you can visualize in your head, all the itsy bitsy details needed for these logs, imagine that attention to detail placed on your catering order. Unbelievable! If any of you have seen any of my presentations at conferences, you have seen the food from Upper Sky. Upper Sky has allowed me to use their photography as examples of what one can expect for catering out of Paris.

It must be a French thing. Not only does it look picture perfect, but, tastes fantastic as well. It is picture perfect each and every time. Now you may ask, what is it that makes them one of my examples? It is Pierre Rambroul and his brother, Jean Francois, own and operate this futuristic kitchen living with the Passion and Fastidious Detail #4 needed to stand out in the industry.

I want to go on and on mentioning each and every one of the in-flight caterers around the world because they all exhibit the same qualities. Like On Air Dining in London that I have written about numerous times, Manny’s Catering out of Mexico, Air Gourmet in Los Angeles, Silver Lining in south Florida, Rita’s of Boston and yes, Tastefully Yours in Atlanta.

We all take this personal. It is so much more than a job or business, it is our devotion to serving you, our clients. We all value and take customer service into a realm of expanding beyond client- vendor and into friend-family. We want to take care of you. We have a strong desire to please you. We want to have provided something that is memorable.

I was once told, If you love what you do, people will want to be near by to share the energy coming off of your passion. I feel so sorry for those who don’t have passion for their careers. Imagine a pilot who doesn’t demonstrate a passion and caring for detail, a scheduler or maintenance workers who lacks that desire to cover every detail, meticulous attention. All of these caterers I have mentioned here- and this is just a very few- have a passion for what they are doing. There are some very large and some very small, some in networks, some owned by large groups. They love seeing what they have done at the end of the day . . . that sense of accomplishment. Hours fly by rather than drag on endlessly each day, they look forward to getting up and going to work, and repeating it each day. They all have passion, they have love for the food, the clients, and the sense of accomplishment as each order is completed ( Tastefully Yours’ own Chef Dan used to call the completion of each order as another miracle preformed, we were able to achieve the unachievable with hard to locate items, special dietary requests, super rush orders and so on).

These special caterers around the world love the details, thinking outside the box to make each and every person serving their food stand out and look good. ( since we aren’t the final person in that flow of food to you, the person eating the food). Placing that drop of sauce in just the right spot to make the plate picture perfect is thoughtfully done. It is not the building- old or new, large or small. It is the pride they exhibit in their facility and staff, the care and cleanliness, the painstaking attention to every part of the business. Their business is an extension of their home. They find joy in selecting the fresh fish, cheeses and even herbs. Every operation is like a family, it is a team effort and everyone on that team wants every single order to be “just so”. It was not the high paid executive chef that made them successful.

Every single business I mentioned and many others don’t punch a clock . . . they come in and stay until the job is done and done to their highest standards. Each and every successful in-flight catering operation shared the same qualities. Those operations who look at themselves as a money making machine don’t share these qualities. The successful in-flight caterers are families; and for a moment in time, you are allowed to share some time with their family. I am proud to know the aviation caterers and to have been invited to share their lives with them even if just for a moment.

I know, I personally feel as if I am letting go of my child’s hand each time an order leaves the building. I have cared for this child from the initial order to setting it off to be cared for in someone else’s hands.

Let me introduce myself . . .

My name is Paula Kraft and I am founder and President of Tastefully Yours Catering, an aviation specific caterer, located in Atlanta, Georgia for 35 years.
Aviation Catering is a science not taught in Culinary School; it’s a function of experience, experimentation, basic trial and error, with constant feedback from flight crews and clients. It is a two-way communication. It is vital that this information and knowledge be shared throughout the industry. To this end, I have worked as the Chairman of the NBAA Caterer’s Working Group, a subcommittee of the NBAA Flight Attendant Committee, the NBAA Caterer Representative to the NBAA Flight Attendant Committee, for 9 years.      

Currently I am an active member of the NBAA Flight Attendant Committee Advisory Board and the NBAA International Flight Attendant Committee, Women in Corporate Aviation, Women in Aviation International, National Association of Catering Executives, International Flight Catering Association, the International Food Service Association and the International Caterer’s Association.

I have coordinated training programs and clinics for NBAA, EBAA and BA-Meetup conference attendees for over 10 years, created mentoring programs for caterers and flight attendants to broaden their aviation culinary skills, and to assist them in adapting to the unique challenges and constraints found in catering for general aviation. I recognize the need for training and have worked closely with flight departments, flight crews, schedulers and customer service reps at the FBOs to ensure that catering specific training provides information and skills necessary to reduce risk while assisting them in their job duties that include safe food handling, catering security, accurate transmission of food orders, and safe food production, packaging and delivery.

I fell into aviation catering quite by accident. I was the in-house caterer and bakery supplier for Macy’s department stores in Atlanta when catering was ordered for a Macy’s customer which was soon to change my life. After the client enjoyed the catering provided, I was summoned to the client’s corporate office to provide several of the items delivered through Macy’s to the executive dining room. Within a week, I was providing food for the flight department and my first order was for the President of a foreign country (as I was too be told soon after). So, here I am, some 35 years later, still loving every minute of every day in aviation catering.


Text originally posted on BlueSky Business Aviation News


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