Lufthansa Airlines invites me into their New York Test Kitchens to share the Challenges of Pleasing Passengers

Lufthansa takes the challenges of attracting and pleasing passengers very seriously and food plays an important role in onboard entertainment. In 2001 Lufthansa bought Sky Chefs, the biggest airline catering company worldwide. It accounts for 10 to 15 % of Lufthansa’s revenue.


At a recent Lufthansa and LSG Sky Chef Culinary Academy Event in New York City, a group of food writers and professionals gathered at David Bouley’s test kitchens for an insider’s view of the airline industry, a flash course on “the challenges of airline catering”, and to learn why food served onboard a flight tastes different in the air than at home, even when the same recipes are followed.


Nils Haupt, Director, Head of Corporate Communications for the Americas, introduced special guests and experts from Lufthansa and LSG Sky Chefs who explained the science behind adapting food for in-flight consumption. Applied research has determined our senses change with altitude and cabin pressure, which explains why certain foods taste different after 8,000 feet. “Humidity levels and other factors numb our taste buds, diminishing the taste of soar, salty, sweet bitter and spicy”, explained Grant Mickels, Executive Chef of Culinary Development at LSG Sky Chefs. “How meals are developed present difficult, and often insurmountable challenges. Many adjustments have to be made in the flavoring in the catering kitchens before it is delivered to a plane to compensate for the changes that take place in the air”. 


It was fascinating to learn that some herbs, such as basil, release flavor under pressure, and the amount has to be doubled to compensate for these changes. Warm seasonings like ginger and cardamom work well on board, but natural aroma intensifiers, like lemon fiber, need to be added to pasta to prevent over cooking, and the acidity of a dish  has to be lowered to avoid taste bud numbness.


Other interesting data and fun facts: passengers crave 30% more sugar; 110 different whiskeys are served,  $20 million


In wine consumption … and .8 million liters of tomato juice are consumed, compared to 2, 2 million liters of beer.  Passengers behave differently and make different food and drink choices than at home, or in a restaurant, and finding that ratio balance is what makes and keeps passengers happy.


Lufthansa also unveiled their new “Taste of America” program that celebrates regional culinary traditions.  More than 1,000 menu items were considered, and the new menus will be served in first and business class on outbound flights from 17 Lufthansa gateways across the United States.  Since the selections are specific to the corresponding region, Lufthansa is able to use locally sourced ingredients for a truly authentic home grown experience. Among the offerings:

  • From the West, Cioppino, a seafood ragout with tomato and saffron known to every connoisseur on the Pacific Coast
  • From Mid south gateways to Germany passengers can look forward to a smoked, grilled fillet of beef with spicy chilli sauce
  • Italian influences are reflected in menu items served from Northeast and Midwest gateways, such as fresh pastas stuffed with artichokes
  • Traditional seafood “cartoccio” will be served on flights departing from the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic



 “The U.S. is both a cultural and culinary melting pot, thanks to the traditions and tastes brought by immigrants from their homeland,” said Ernst Derenthal, Lufthansa’s Catering Area Manager, “Unique flavours and cooking styles continue to influence regional cuisines, creating a gastronomic personality that reflects each city and region. Our hope is that Lufthansa’s guests will enjoy a ‘wow’ factor when tasting these new menus.”


Dr. Ingo Bulow, Director & Head of In-flight Services and Lounges, made it very clear that the taste of the food was not enough. “ With limited kitchen space, and the desire to “wow” passengers, the airline seeks day to day feed back from flight attendants, and an International Culinary panel meets every 8 weeks. “We are constantly reaching out to query passengers, and potential passengers to establish onboard service guidelines and maintain the highest of standards.  This begins with the first welcome aboard as passengers enter the plane, and then continues on to the plating and presentation of a passenger’s food choices”. Service concepts relate to the length of a flight, take off and arrival time …and in ethnic regions, ethnic food choices and flight attendants are added to the regular menu and crew”.


Attention is also given to the likes and dislikes of young passengers; six million toys are given out to kids on board each year, and a recent survey found, to everyone’s surprise, that banana was the most desired kid’s food.


The journey from catering kitchens to in- flight service takes on the precision of a fine tuned symphony, and to meet the challenge, Lufthansa has developed cooperative programs with hotel chains and cruise ships … cooking together, making notes and videos, and then inviting these chefs into their New York or Dallas kitchens for further critique.


One of the world's largest and most prestigious airlines, Lufthansa currently flies to 253 destinations in 103 countries, with hubs in Frankfurt, Munich, and with the Lufthansa Group acquisition of Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines and SWISS – Vienna, Brussels and Zurich.  From its 20 North American gateways, Lufthansa— recently voted by Fortune as one of the five most admired airlines in the world— and its partners serve over 450 destinations in more than 120 countries.

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