Airlines offer in-flight menu items at food trucks, pop-ups

airline food trucksIn a marketing move best described as “ironic,” a handful of airlines are now offering land-bound folk a taste of the finest of what they serve in the air. The New York Times reports that Air France, Austrian Airlines, Southwest, and Delta are trying to lure potential passengers by tempting them with samples of in-flight meals “from” celebrity-chefs.

The modus operandi are primarily roving food trucks and pop-up restaurants in cities from New York to Denver (there are also some permanent vendor spots at various sports stadiums). In Washington, passerby were offered European coffee and guglhupf, a type of cake. In Manhattan, crowds lined up for a taste of buckwheat crepes with ham, mushrooms, and Mornay sauce, or duck confit.

I get it. Airline food sucks. Time for an image makeover. But isn’t the airline industry so financially strapped that we’re lucky to get a bag of stale pretzels during a cross-country flight? And just because reknown chefs like Joël Robuchon, Tom Colicchio and Michelle Bernstein act as consultants for airlines and design their menus, that doesn’t mean it’s their food you’re eating on the JFK-to-Paris red-eye.

Most ludicrous, however, is the notion that there’s any basis for comparison against fresh ingredients and made-to-order food versus even the best institutionally-prepared airline crap. I’ve had a couple of decent meals designed by well-regarded chefs when I’ve been lucky enough to fly business class, but in the grand scheme of things, they were still made from flash-frozen, sub-par ingredients whose origins I’d rather not ponder. And if food truck crews are merely nuking actual airline food, then how are they any different from the corner deli with a microwave?

I’m not trying to be a food snob. I just find it interesting that airlines are hopping on two of the hottest culinary trends of the new century–ones largely based upon local, sustainable, seasonal ingredients. Yet by all accounts (to hear airline reps tell it), the plane campaign has been wildly successful. Of course. Who doesn’t love free food?airline food trucksRaymond Kollau, founder of Airlinetrends.com, cites social media as the gateway to this type of “experiential marketing.” “As people are bombarded with marketing messages,” he explains, “real-life interaction with products and brands has become increasingly valuable for airlines to get their message across.”

Valid point, and there’s no doubt this is a clever scheme. But truth in advertising is what wins consumers. What a catering company can pull off on-site is a hell of a lot different from what you’ll be ingesting in the friendly skies. If airlines want to use food to entice new passengers, they need to start by sourcing ingredients in a more responsible, sustainable manner, rather than supporting ecologically detrimental produce, meat, and poultry (talk about carbon offsets). I realize that’s not financially feasible at this time, but supposedly, neither are in-flight meals. As for making it taste good? You got me.

[Photo credit: Flickr user OpalMirror]

Seattle’s Safeco Field gets food concession with local ingredients, menus by award-winning chefs

Safeco Field Seattle foodBuh-bye, limp hot dogs in soggy buns. Baseball season starts April 1st, and Seattle’s Safeco Field–go, Mariners–is celebrating its first home game on the 8th with some serious food.
Centerplate, the leading hospitality provider to North America’s premier sports stadiums, has developed a partnership with award-winning Seattle chef Ethan Stowell, as well as chefs Roberto Santibañez, owner of Brooklyn’s Fonda/culinary director of Hoboken’s The Taco Truck, and Bill Pustari, chef-owner of New Haven’s Modern Apizza.

The revamped Bullpen Market at Safeco Field will feature fresh, local ingredients and easy-on-the-budget prices. In addition to an Apizza outlet, there is chef Stowell’s Hamburg + Frites, and La Crêperie, and Flying Turtle Cantina/Tortugas Voladoras from Santibañez.

Says John Sergi, Chief Design Officer of Centerplate, “Our mission was to create a restaurant-style experience–the anti-fast food–in a concession environment. We (brought in) Ethan as our consulting chef…in order to help us make the food ‘restaurant-real.’
Safeco Field Seattle food
Stowell is the executive chef and owner of Ethan Stowell Restaurants, which includes Tavolàta, Anchovies & Olives, and How to Cook a Wolf. He is the acting chef at eight-month-old Staple & Fancy Mercantile, in Seattle’s gorgeously revamped Kolstrand Building in the Ballard neighborhood.

Best-known for his use of local ingredients and simple, seasonal food, Stowell was named one of the 2008 Best New Chefs in America by Food & Wine magazine and has been honored with multiple James Beard Award nominations for “Best Chef Northwest.” Santibañez and Pustari were added to the line-up to create programs featuring the signature concepts for which they are both nationally acclaimed–Mexican food and pizza. I might get into sports if this is the future of stadium food.