April 25, 2014
I’m a foodie. “Why Chris”, you may ask, “whatever does that mean?” Wikipedia defines the term as one who has a, “refined interest in food”, but what does that really mean? In practical terms this equates to the fact that I’ve eaten things like Kale, and if both of us went to one of those “upscale” TexMex restaurants—no, that isn’t an oxymoron—you might limit your taco choices to the fajita chicken or beef versions, while I prefer mine with the mango-yucca salad and smoky chipolte vinaigrette. This doesn’t mean that we couldn’t break bread together, but it does imply that you probably wouldn’t want to sample anything on my plate. Despite this divergence in epicurean predilections, I think that we can all agree on the fact that the quality of fare served by our major airlines, excuse my language, sucks. I mention this due to the fact that I recently ran across two articles that explain both this flavor void, and offer hope for the discerning frequent flyer.
Let me begin by saying that I realize that the offering of a meal on a flight today happens with only slightly less regularity than the appearance of Haley’s comet, so we’re really only talking about the extended travel (more than six hours) experience. But really, aren’t these the occasions when we absolutely require high altitude sustenance? The McDonalds value meal or slice of Sbarro’s pizza that can be carried onto the shorter domestic flight can provide all the nourishment one needs when flying from say, Dallas to Chicago, but does anyone want to bite into a five-hour aged Big Mac somewhere over the Atlantic? Thus, I think that it is imperative that the long distance flyer be presented with something a little tastier than a day old roll, wilted salad and some type of meat that a Great White wouldn’t be able to masticate—and don’t even get me started on the pasta.
Apparently, lack of culinary flare is not the only reason that our Chicken Kiev is indistinguishable from our beef tips in cracked green peppercorn sauce. According to the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, at 35,000 feet our sense of taste has departed to the wild blue yonder. Even aggressive spicing is no remedy for this condition as our sense of sweetness and saltiness drops by approximately 30 percent and the decreased humidity within the cabin dulls the olfactory sensors essential for taste. Certainly this scientific explanation makes sense, but my initial reaction was the fatalistic assumption that I might as well start packing one of those tuna sandwiches that come in those plastic triangles to satiate my hunger pangs if taste was no longer a viable consideration.
Fortunately for the intrepid traveller, the prospect of a tuna on whole wheat wrapped in a labyrinth of Saran Wrap is equally abhorrent to the folks at LSG Sky Chefs, and they have endeavored to offer hope to the taste deprived among us. As one might expect—unless your idea of fine dining is an evening at the Golden Corral—the chefs at LSG have created a “flavor profile” that balances the four taste types (sweet, sour, salty, and bitter) to aid in their meal creation. Shockingly, their efforts also revealed a here-to-fore unknown fifth taste, umami, that they have identified as the key ingredient to overcome the taste and smell impairment experienced while dining at cloud level.
With the identification of umami—or, dare I say, the “wonder” taste—LSG has created a menu to please the most educated of palates. Among the offerings they have developed are: Firecracker shrimp with tomato salpicon and green gazpacho vinaigrette, beef tenderloin with ginger enoki (is there any other kind?) and shiso leaves, and finally, potato encrusted salmon with a cabernet cream sauce and micro greens. This, my friends, is food worthy of service by a snotty waiter at any altitude.
Unfortunately, the article was unclear as to when these new aerial delicacies may be winging their way to a cabin near you or me. Until that time we will continue to have to make due with the pedestrian fare that leaves us unfulfilled, both figuratively and literally, as we jet from metropolis to metropolis secure in the knowledge that more civilized cuisine is on its way. In the interim, we will all be responsible for ensuring that our carry-ons contain enough brie, pate, brioche and, perhaps, a nice aperitif to ensure that all of our future trails are happy ones.