Do You Care Whether An Airline Partners With A Celebrity Chef?

American Airlines just published a press release about how they’re partnering with award-winning chefs Mark Sargeant and Maneet Chauhan and how premium cabin passengers will have the opportunity to sample their dishes starting September 1, 2016.

Here’s the press release, along with an explanation of the dishes they offer and which routes they’ll be available on:

American-Press-Release

As you can see, these meals will be available primarily on select flights to and from Europe.

While I appreciate the concept of airlines investing in their onboard meals, I’ve never understood the point of working with celebrity chefs. American says they’re “continuing to invest in the customer experience” by doing this. As most of you probably know, airline food budgets are very limited, which is why food quality on planes is often less than satisfactory. Now, I’m not sure whether airlines are paying these celebrity chefs out of their marketing budgets or catering budgets, but I’m hoping it’s the former.

What are the celebrity chefs doing in practice? They’re collaborating on creating the recipes for “their” dishes. There are only a few problems:

  • It’s up to the individual catering kitchens to try and consistently deliver the same meal hundreds of times a day
  • Long term the celebrity chef isn’t actually involved, so there’s not much oversight, as they might otherwise have in their restaurant
  • The airlines have extremely limited catering budgets, so the chefs are having to work within very tight parameters
  • While the award-winning chefs are likely award winning for a reason, preparing food for 35,000 feet that has to be reheated is a very different art form than cooking food in a high-end kitchen that will be served right away

American-First-Class - 56

All of this is to say that I’ve never really valued when airlines have celebrity chef partnerships. Presumably the only reason a well regarded chef would put their name on an airplane meal is because they’re being paid a huge sum of money for it. I just feel like that huge sum of money could instead be spent on raising the catering budgets so that better ingredients can be used, which would go a much longer way.

For example, American is offering enhanced service between Sydney and Los Angeles, and my flight on them in first class was incredible. To the best of my knowledge they’re not working with a celebrity chef there, but rather are just spending more per passenger for better food. That’s what I’d like to see airlines do more of.

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But maybe I’m in the minority.

How do you feel about airlines partnering with celebrity chefs? Do you find the meals to be any better?

Comments

  1. It makes no difference to me, I’ve been to Chef Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant in Atlantic City, it was pushing one of the worst restaurant experiences I’ve ever had… so celebrity chef means very little in my eyes.

  2. No. It means nothing to me. Celebrity endorsements are just a money maker for the celebrity person.
    There are many great chefs who can create good tasting food to be served on an aircraft. There is no reason to feature a celebrity chef except in the minds of the marketing people who need to justify their salaries.

  3. No difference, funny how US airline do these, when we fly asia/europe airlines, no name chef create much better food…all BS from US airlines. come on, do the job and shut up!

  4. It means nothing. I was on United’s EWR-EZE inaugural flight a few years ago – 2012 (it was later discontinued in 2013). Anyway, they had just implemented a new celebrity chef menu and the actual celebrity chef was on this inaugural flight to promote the food. Frankly, there was nothing special about it, and within a year the food was back to whatever it was before. a lot of hoopla for nothing.

  5. Most celebrity chef partnerships haven’t worked out all that well, but apparently Delta’s partnership with Danny Meyer restaurants in JFK requires the FAs to be specially trained by representatives from his company who train them in how to prepare and plate the food. I have no idea how extensive that is but I will say in my experience the food offered under that program has been very, very good. Perhaps more celebrity chefs should consider adding such requirements, if they’re going to put their name on what the airline is serving.

  6. This is never going to impact a decision I make to fly one carrier v another. We all want to get fed when we fly but I’m never expecting a gourmet experience while doing so. Especially not on AA

  7. The problem is that a “huge sum” for an individual celebrity chef is a rounding error in the airline’s catering budget. I imagine most of these folks would be quite interested in a two- or three-day assignment, including photo op, handled mostly by one of their assistants, that paid $100,000 (plus free publicity). I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual payout is half that, though it certainly could be more (and I wouldn’t rule out the engagement being just a single day, with the airline actually suggesting the menu to the chef and just getting their stamp of approval).

    That’s very little per passenger when divided by total first and business class emplacements in a year. Even if it’s $1MM, amortized over a couple of years it would not make much of a difference in the budget for ingredients and prep costs for an individual meal.

  8. Nope, couldn’t care less about the celebrity branding. I think they want to put a name on their menu to make it seem like you are getting a more posh product, but like you said…the “celebrity” has little to do with the final product. Yes, I’m sure they will design the menu, but food is 99% execution. I doubt the celebrity will be involved with product sourcing or preparation, they will just send along the recipe and a picture of how they would like it presented.
    I agree, put the $$ into the per passenger budget and just get better ingredients for the caterers.

  9. I didn’t think it mattered and then JetBlue Mint rolled out their Saxon + Parole menu and it was a revelation for me. Finally some interesting and delicious alternatives to the midwestern cafeteria food that’s normally served on planes!

    We had a good laugh on LOT’s 787 where celebrity chef Magdalena Gessler referred to herself as the “taste sorceress” in the menu 🙂

  10. Couldn’t care less. I usually dine before the flight at the lounge and go straight to sleep, especially on US-Europe flights and most other flights as well. AA should improve that experience, which is lackluster…

  11. Served up by an FA from the Alitalia school of service,(putting it on your tray): [BLAM!!!] Here you go.
    Only served in F however not on DFW-HKG, LAX-JFK, ORD-MIA or above 10,000 ft.

  12. I don’t really care, but I know that Qantas make a big deal about their relationship with Neil Perry (an Australian celebrity chef), and it seems to be a selling point for them. (I’m not sure how much business it gets for them versus other Australian airlines, or other airlines flying to/from Australia).

  13. Totally agree. Air Canada has been heavily marketing their partnership with Chef David Hawksworth, to the point that he’s even all over the IFE options. I’ve tried multiple options on ‘his’ menu on multiple flights, not impressed. That’s not to say the food was bad but just didn’t live up to the hype. Don’t present all this marketing material about a celebrity chef partnership, then give me a piece of chicken breast with bbq sauce and roasted corn. Like Lucky said, just spend the money toward better ingredients.

  14. It’s like putting a red marker on a pig’s lips and is just a bunch of BS like name your US legacy carrier saying that they have “meticulously crafted this menu for your enjoyment, and wish you a pleasant flight” nope all you do for your menu is Overcooked steak, chewy fish and soggy veggies just apply salt 100 different ways and viola! you have a business class menu

  15. I think Swiss has a nice concept: they have a guest chef for usually a three months period and they recreate the dishes served at his restaurant. Also, they serve wines and cheeses from the particular region the chef is from.
    It’s in first and to a lesser degree in business.
    So of course it’s not Gordon Ramsey or Nigella, but their restaurants are Michelin/Gault-Millau recipients, so it’s based on the food rather than on the chef’s personality.

  16. I think any effort to change the boring uninspired offerings in premium cabin is a positive move. I fly the same routes often and the meals rarely change. I know exactly which items to avoid and sadly that list is growing. If it’s a shake up and a new direction, it can’t hurt. Maybe I’ll get a peak at the changes next week on my flight to Rome. I’m hopefully optimistic.

  17. I care about the actual food, not the dumb marketing/branding around it. Besides, I’ve never heard of either of those “celebrity” chefs…..

  18. Hmm.

    What do I prefer – a green salad appetizer which looks like any other but has been “curated” by a celebrity chef or a tin of caviar without the cachet?

    Therein lies your answer.

    But I am a bit surprised that a celebrity chef would put his or her name on a product which must be prepared with the challenges of galley preparation.

  19. No – airline food is airline food regardless of who created the menu. I am never expecting a culinary experience on an aircraft. As I always say – fly first and business for the space and privacy. Eat and drink on the ground.

  20. I am with Kent. I fly close to 700k miles a year – I have probably dined in the air less than 5 times out of desperation (I find airline food to be horrid). The mentioning of a chef does not change my experiences with food on airlines when I used to dine in the air decades ago. If anything, I find it surprising that a well known chef would connect their image with the slop served on an airline.

  21. I had a celebrity chef created meal on Air Canada’s international business class. They even featured a photo of the guy in his kitchen whites on page 1 of the menu. It was chicken with mushroom sauce and asparagus risotto. Nice meal but nothing exceptional. A lot of drum rolls for nothing as far as I’m concerned.

  22. A celebrity chef teaching FA’s how to microwave food? Sounds interesting.
    It’s airline food. And a dumb marketing gimmick.

  23. JL F celebrity chef food = phenomenal

    QR J generic food = phenomenal

    AA celebrity chef food = generic

    I’d like to know what QR is doing differently for their onboard meals and why their food is so much better than the rest.

  24. Well…I find the process of conceptualization of a menu to the execution fascinating.

    I enjoyed the following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7–aF5GfwM

    However, I do not enjoy dining in the air in general. The senses and smell seem numb. Therefore, as long as the food is simple and healthy, I consider that to be good enough. In general I never even read the first page on the chef or the celebrated restaurant etc. I just want my food and then want to go to bed or do my work in time for my next business appointment upon landing.

  25. Generally agree.
    In the last 24 months flew AA, UA, Delta, BA, Finnair, KLM, Air France, Alitalia, emirates, qatar, thai, singapore, korean air, asiana, ANA, jal malaysia, eva, cathay, china eastern, qantas and more almost all long haul
    Agree SQ, QR, EK et al celebrity tie ups are a gimmick.

    The only business class meal service that is outstanding is ANA and JAL especially for their narita haneda airport long haul catered japanese kaiseki meals are exceptional. Worth flying them almost just for the food (if you like japanese food)

    Have to confess i also like burgers served by CX on their US long haul business class better than their full meal service. This is one area EVA burgers are not as nice for their US long haul.
    And also enjoy the spicy cheap instant ramen served in porcelain on korean air and asiana more than their full blown biz class meal.

  26. Is it truly possible to be a celebrity chef when no one has heard of you?

    I’d say AA has announced that they have added photos of random kitchen workers to their menu. Not really big news.

  27. I have nothing but disdain for “celebrity chefs” as they’re celebrities first and chefs a very distant second. So an airline tie-in with one of those egomaniacal hacks is utterly meaningless.

    Reading an airline’s celebrity chef-inspired menu can be entertaining in a “you gotta be kidding me” way; however, I would almost always prefer a meal of a nice meatloaf with brussels sprouts.

  28. I love my grandmother’s cooking – she is no celebrity chef. If the food that airlines served tasted like hers, I would be very happy (and fat). Heck – put her on the cover with a random “celebrity chef” title…

  29. I have to agree with Lucky. Its just bs marketing. When I flew SIA business class and used book the cook I saw the famous Indian chef Sanjeev Kapoor was featured as having collaborated on the food. The Indian entree was not at all good.. The one I’ve had in Emirates is much better and they don’t advertise a celebrity chef.

    They had Chef Cliff on Alaska and you could email him but I never got a response on why he has pork in everything they serve. Its all made in big industrial kitchens.

  30. Don’t we have Singapore Airlines to thank for starting this trend given that they rolled out their International Culinary Panel more than 15 years ago? IIRC, they were really the “first” to have major tie-ups with celebrity chefs.

    Correct me if I am wrong but I want to say Gordon Ramsey was even once on the SIA culinary panel, right before he got super famous with his expletive laden tirades on TV.

  31. I could not care less. DO. NOT. CARE. 99% of the time I never have heard of the chef.

    Remember the old 1970s commercial for Certs Mints …. “made with retsyn.” Retsyn was supposed to impress us, but it was combination of colors and flavors made by manufacturer and called “retsyn” as an advertising gimmick.

    Paul writes “No difference, funny how US airline do these, when we fly asia/europe airlines, no name chef create much better food…all BS from US airlines. come on, do the job and shut up!” No, it is not the US airlines. I have flown BA and AF F/C several times, and LH F/C often. And they have special associations with certain chefs. And while I discount them often, as stated above, I twice was traveling to a city in Germany from which the chef hailed and went to try out those two specific restaurants. Once was a pleasure, once was mediocre.

  32. Now, I resemble that remark. 🙂

    If the schedules and prices are similar, I book LH specifically for the caviar service!

  33. Domestic J in Australia, each of the carriers has a celebrity chef (Qantas with Neil Perry and Virgin Australia with Luke Mangan).

    After flying both, I realise these chefs clearly are colluding with each other because other than a different sauce on the same prawn entree and a slightly more genorous main portion on Qantas, the menu options look the same and taste extremely similar. If this is how it works, who cares about celebrity chef input if all they do is copy each other.

  34. Good food is good food. Don’t care if its from a star studded celebrity or a pauper who makes $1/month. But I do care if it adds to the cost of my end product. I rather eat good cheap food than take a loan out for a meal. Have had great/bad food from top restaurants and ditto from bottom restaurants. Most of the time I just don’t think it matters. Ingredients matter but so many restaurants these days lie about their menu anyway. Like more than 50% of the fish they advertise isn’t even the fish they serve. And how am I suppose to know if its really locally sourced or organic or if its just words they used on a menu. So thanks but no thanks.

  35. Celebrity chef affiliations are meaningless because the best chefs wisely stay away from this sort of thing and they can also afford to do so. Diversified and quality wine and champagne lists matter far more.

  36. I don’t need a celebrity chef name attached to a dish. Just give me good tasting food in decent sized portions and I’m a happy camper.

    I find Qantas to be most laughable the way they advertise their business class dining as “inspired by” Neil Perry. So not even created by him but merely a facsimile of his cuisine.

  37. I order a special meal or bring my own food so a celebrity chef doesn’t matter to me. I think it’s good marketing to give an indication of better food in the race to try to be slightly better than the next carrier

  38. Normally I wouldn’t care because the food is prepared differently in the air than in a restaurant. But I must admit I have loved everything from Nobu Matsuhisa on Qatar Airways. I had a soup on one of their flights last week that was so amazing I ordered it again for my second meal.

  39. I think it ups the street cred a lot. Some do a better job, some are in name only. When I fly having a Chef on a dish makes me feel like there is someone else reviewing what could be the cheapest of ingredients and the poorest of preparations. Granted, some will sell out but most World Quality Chefs won’t put there name on a poor product. Hawaiian Airlines with Chef Chai is a great example. So is RockPool chef Neil Perry for Qantas. It means a lot to me. And adds lots of excitement to the meal.

  40. I care when one airline has partnerships with certain food products, but not with chefs. A good ice cream supplier or an excellent chip/snack option goes a long way.

  41. ABSOLUTELY NOT!

    Give me QUALITY food. It doesn’t have to be overly fancy, if anything I’d be quite happy with a proper shepherd’s pie. I have to give credit to Emirates / Qatar on this — their menus have more traditional rather than trendy items on them. Indeed, altitude & lack of humidity does dull the sense of taste, but quality, properly-prepared food will still shine through that.

    Presentation also matters. I know these food trays have been through hell-and-back to get to the plane, but it doesn’t have to look that way. It also helps with the FAs are actually serving things rather than flinging trays at people

  42. I tried Michael Sargent’s menu on AA’s F flight out of London a few months back and it was by far the best meal on AA I have ever had. To me, the partnership means little if that the company is willing to spend more money/person on their meals.

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