In global airlines' scramble for the most premium amenities and cabin comforts to woo affluent customers, nowhere has the competition been as intense as the arms race in haute cuisine. Singapore Airlines, like other elite international carriers, has turned to celebrity chefs to help stay current with 1 Percenters' dining trends and dietary needs. For its daily, Airbus A380 flights this spring from New York's JFK to Frankfurt, which continue to Singapore, the airline turned to Alfred Portale, executive chef and co-owner of Gotham Bar & Grill in Manhattan. Portale's recipes were sent to Flying Food Group, a Chicago-based airline catering company, which scales the inspiration into meals that can be cooked commercially, stored, and then plated by Singapore's flight attendants according to Portale's instruction. In February 2011, the Manhattan chef joined Hermann Freidanck, a gregarious German chef who is also Singapore Airlines' longtime manager of food and beverage services, and Jacky Toh, a Flying Foods executive chef who oversaw the recreation of Portale's dishes, at Flying Foods' JFK facility for a food tasting and plating seminar. The event also touched on plate sizes, the perils of balsamic vinegar selection, and whether a smashed pea soup would be better served with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraîche (a less sour, sour cream made with butterfat).
While there may be no airborne cooking for the lucky few in Singapore Airlines' premium cabins, Portale illustrates a few of the tricks of the airline cuisine trade in this photo essay. Think flavor and altitude—on the plate—for an idea of how tasty airplane food can be when cost isn't the only factor. With its "soup to nuts" dinner service, Singapore plans its two-hour, multicourse menu to be a satisfying sensory experience.