MEET THE MAKERS • July 2023
In the second instalment of our Meet the Makers series, where we chat to those working their magic on our in-flight experience, Emma Blackmore sits down with Menu Development Executive Adrian Pardavila to unpick the process behind our most premium plates...
Loch Fyne smoked salmon dotted with caviar. Carrot and ginger soup served with a ricotta croquette. Passionfruit and hazelnut tart, topped with a dark chocolate shard... Not your typical plane food, is it? Here at British Airways, we operate one of the busiest restaurants in the lower stratosphere, delivering millions of exceptional quality meals just like these each and every year to a global clientele, operating 24/7 and in all time zones.
One of the people leading this mammoth operation is Galicia-born Adrian Pardavila, a former chef in London and Spain and multi-award-winning restaurant entrepreneur. “Our purpose is to connect Britain to the world and the world to Britain,” he says. “Food plays a vital role in delivering this.” That means we keep up with the best in international gastronomy and culinary innovation, but we always hark back to our British roots.
It’s clear that Adrian has an enormous passion for good quality grub – he’s a third-generation oyster farmer no less – so how has his passion for food informed our in-flight catering?
“Our primary objective is to provide a personalised culinary experience that is contemporary and memorable, with impeccable service,” Adrian says. “Our cabin crew are crucial to our mission both in terms of delivery of service but also in providing us with the feedback from customers, which guides current and future menu development.”
Showing off a range of cooking techniques, First dishes are built around high-quality ingredients and precise cuts before being garnished to perfection. All dishes are plated by trained First Service Specialist crews.
“Premium ingredients like the tiger prawns in our linguine and the fillet in our beef tataki are always the focal point of the dish. All elements are meticulously hand-picked so that each individual element contributes to the overall composition of the dish,” Adrian explains. “The style is clean, minimalistic, colourful and elegant.”
Much is the same with our Club World cabin. To keep up with our ever-gastronomically aware customers, only ingredients with the most esteemed provenance, seasonality and sustainability are considered.
Club World main course: braised beef cheeks, Cheddar gratin, French beans, broccolini, fire-roasted red pepper, asparagus, parsnip and beef jus
From conception to implementation, building a new menu normally takes around six months. First, what we call ‘Meal Master Rules’ are created to define what meal services (for example, primary meal + afternoon tea, dinner + light breakfast) should go on board, depending on departure time, number of services required, cultural and religious factors of the destination and weight guidelines. There are many things to consider, such as whether the destination is a popular business route where a greater number of repeat customers require a heavier menu rotation.
Speaking of rotation, outbound flights are a selection of modern British classics, while inbound flights consider the taste and cuisine of the destination.
Next up is the culinary presentation. Our team flies to destinations and meets the caterers and chefs who finalise the dishes over typically three to four action-packed days. From there, menu grids are created to include allergens and pricing. Instructions for our talented cabin crew on how to regenerate the dishes on board are drafted.
First cabin dessert: passionfruit and hazelnut tart, dark chocolate shard, fresh berries, mangoes and raspberry coulis
Food tastes different at 35,000 feet, and that’s something Adrian is all too aware of. “Latest studies estimate that our perception of saltiness and sweetness drops by 30 per cent at high altitude,” he explains.
“To offer balanced dishes, we work with seasonings that are not just strictly salt and choose ingredients that have high umami characters. We ensure that the dish is balanced to compensate the effects of pressure and dehydration and to make sure the taste profiles are accurately enhanced. Our culinary team tastes the food both on the ground and in the air.”
Another factor is condensation. “We try to avoid vegetables that have high water content because they add humidity to the dish and can make sauces watery,” Adrian adds. “We factor in not only the choice of ingredients and the consistency of sauces, but also whether they can withstand the transition from kitchen to aircraft.
“Dishes also have to be structurally sound and must be able to withstand vibration. They have to look good, be stable, reheat in our ovens well and be easy to eat in your seat.”
“We’re currently at the intersection of many sources of innovation,” Adrian enthuses. He can see pre-order service evolving towards complete personalisation of food service in the same way you can choose the seat on your flight. He’d love to see the next generation of aircraft providing more advanced kitchen facilities for next-level food production and regeneration that would multiply the possible food options available on board.
“The other key step we’re taking is the focus on sustainability – the reduction of single-use plastics, wasteful packaging and utensils, and the use of more environmentally friendly materials, which is something we are very actively involved with at present,” he adds.
From managing a global catering network to delivering culinary propositions that meet and exceed the expectations of our flyers, crafting millions of meals certainly has its challenges. “From an operational perspective,” Adrian smiles, “it does involve significant doses of jetlag, much-needed coffee, resilience and a sense of humour. But if you’re a true foodie, I still think it’s the best job in the world.”
Sweet or savoury?
Definitely savoury – anything from the sea. I love oysters!
Favourite dish on board?
I have many! We recently redesigned a beetroot risotto with roasted pears and goat’s cheese, which is just strikingly beautiful and tasty!
Go-to in-flight drink of choice?
Any of our wines selected by our fantastic Master of Wine Tim Jackson.
One thing you always have in your hand luggage?
Country you’d love to fly back to?
Japan. It’s a foodie paradise.