Sky-high food shoot

A first for me last week. Like most regular flyers, I’m not usually wowed by the quality of airline food.

in flight pasta

And having seen Heston attempt to improve things at BA, I now have a better understanding of the problems faced by cabin crew – it’s not easy plating reheated food five miles up in the sky. This shot was taken sky high on my last foodie flight.

in flight chesse

It’s a biological fact that our taste buds respond differently at altitude. This means that airline food has to be much more heavily flavoured than the stuff served back on terra firma.

in flight fish & roasted vegetables

Anyway, I’ve been impressed by the efforts of several airlines to improve the quality of their on-board dining experience and surprised that none of them has actually shot their food in-flight.

in flight prawns

I’ve been trying to get that gig for some time. Whilst the aircraft doors have remained firmly shut on that idea, last week I did finally get to shoot some airline food, albeit in an office in Crawley. I can’t name the airline but think Very high profile, Very well-known boss. It should be Very obvious – unless you’re an airline virgin.

in flight sandwiches

The brief – to work with the in-house team, an external food consultant and a development chef from Gate Gourmet in plating and shooting a variety of dishes to be published in the airline’s unofficial food manual (aimed at everyone from suppliers to cabin crew to give a flavour of what’s on offer, how it should be presented etc.).

in flight mozzarella salad

For example, did you know that even in a humble economy meal, every component has to be presented in a uniform way – protein, vegetable, carbohydrate etc. always in the same order? I also discovered that there’s a right and a wrong way to apply the sauce to business class meals and that plates should always be angled away from the passenger (diner?) at 45 degrees.

in flight place setting

As is often the case, what the business (in this case an airline) wants and what it can deliver in reality are often quite different. The creative people on the ground don’t understand the frustrations of those in the air – as a result the product isn’t delivered in the way intended. So a part of what I was doing last week was to strike a compromise – to portray, via photos, a way of cooking, plating and serving airline food that’s actually deliverable by cabin crew.

in flight prawn noodles

It was a fun day though work was often halted by the usual internal politics. Plus we had to keep re-using the same (already cooked) food in a variety of settings throughout the day. Can you tell that this piece of salmon was cooked nearly seven hours before I shot it? Cooking facilities were very limited too and I won’t even mention the lighting challenges.

in flight salmon

I hope to go back and shoot more food in controlled environment – a fully kitted out Boeing 747. One thing’s certain – I don’t think I’ll ever take my tray of airline food for granted again (even if it looks terrible).

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