The Best Onboard Chef I’ve Ever Had

I’ve written in the past about how some airlines have onboard chefs, and what they actually do. In theory the concept of an onboard chef is awesome — no, they won’t be cooking with open flames onboard, but they should have the ability to customize your meal quite a bit. Rather than being limited to what’s on the menu directly, you’re instead limited to the sum of the ingredients of the dishes they have onboard.

But that’s also the problem: there’s huge variability with the quality of onboard chefs. Sometimes they’re basically dialing it in and aren’t creative at all, while other times they’re incredibly inventive and go above and beyond to customize the experience. To me the former invariably leads to disappointment. If you’re going to have such a position, make sure the chef at least adds value and makes the experience unique, and does something you wouldn’t expect a flight attendant to do.

In June I flew Saudia first class from New York to Riyadh, and I was impressed by the chef’s ability to customize the experience.

On Saturday Matthew from Live and Let’s Fly and I took the 16 hour flight from Jeddah to Los Angeles (which in my case was the return portion of my ticket). The onboard chef on this sector was simply incredible, easily the best I’ve had on any airline. Chef Rahmi was from Turkey and had been in Saudi Arabia for two years, and he was flawless. I’ve never had a chef so passionate, enthusiastic, hardworking, and creative with the service.

While there was a menu, there may as well not have been, based on the degree to which he offered to customize everything. There wasn’t a single dish he prepared for me without asking exactly how I wanted it prepared.

He even took it upon himself to prepare some canapés with the main meal. I don’t even think this is part of the suggested service, but rather he put each of them together piece by piece in the galley using his own creativity. And to think that this was 13 hours into the flight, when he must have been exhausted. Amazing.

For breakfast I ordered crepes. “How would you like the crepes? I can prepare them with chocolate, berries, or do you prefer something more savory?”

I also ordered scrambled eggs for breakfast. “Are you sure you want them scrambled? I can prepare them any way you’d like?”

“Scrambled works for me.”

“Great, would you like them soft or hard? What can I accompany the eggs with?”

For the next meal I ordered lobster thermidor.

“How would you like that prepared? I can put some vegetables, pasta, potatoes, or anything else you’d like.”

Heck, even the caviar course wasn’t straightforward.

“Do you just want the caviar in the tin, or would you like me to get a bit creative?”

Fortunately it wasn’t just chef Rahmi who was great, but the ladies taking care of first class were phenomenal as well, despite a full load up front (due to operational upgrades — the flight was oversold).

This was Matthew’s first flight in Saudia first class, so check out this post for his thoughts on the experience.

Bottom line

It does’t matter what industry we’re talking about, it’s always nice to interact with people who are passionate about what they do. On some airlines I’ve found the chef concept to be totally for show. For example, I’ve had more not-great chefs on Etihad than good ones (though I’ve had a few excellent ones too).

However, Rahmi was the best chef I’ve had on any airline. His passion and creativity was top notch, and on top of everything else he sure encouraged trying everything (and they also never ran out of anything). On Etihad I’ve had some chefs look at me like I have two heads when asking for both an appetizer and soup, while when ordering a five course meal, Rahmi said “are you sure you don’t also want a mezze? Or another dessert? Or…?”

While I’ll have a full trip report soon, kudos to Rahmi and the rest of the crew for making this an exceptional flight.

Comments

  1. This level of service almost seems more impressive than a hard product. It’s restaurant service in the sky.

  2. You’ve probably posted this at some point, but how do they prepare fresh eggs onboard (chef or otherwise)? And which airlines have this option? Obviously open flames are out, so I’m assuming there’s some kind of hot plate, induction cooktop, or electric smoothtop range that they use.

  3. That’s truly awesome. Makes one wonder if the dining experience with a chef like this onboard is more memorable than the space / shower / private cabin of Etihad

  4. Since l don’t drink, l never order lobster since it’s typically made with brandy. But on Saudia, is it alcohol free? Would seem odd for a dry airline to serve food prepared with booze. Even if the alcohol burns off, there’s still the taste of it.

  5. People who don’t drink to such a degree the lobster themidor would be an issue, should be locked up together with the other camel jockeys in the wasteland they call the arabian peninsula.

  6. I guess I’d prefer for the chef to take proper creative license instead of asking for every last detail of how I want my food. Customization is fine, but creativity is what impresses.

  7. Why would it be racist to criticize islam? It’s an ideology, a set of ideas, philosophy if you will. While ALL ideas can and should be criticized; people should not face any negative judgment from what color their skin is. That is indeed racism.

    Failing to understand the difference is either purposely misleading or intellectual laziness.

    That being said, what an awesome chef and good on Saudia to employ him. I see you took your caviar from the tin, Ben – didn’t feel like letting the sweet dude get a bit creative? 🙂

  8. Chef Rahmi can cook for me anytime. Very easy on the eyes. Plus he looks like he makes some mean eggs. 🙂

  9. 1. I am not who the “racist” comment was aimed at, but I can see how anyone would consider whether flying the national carrier of Saudi Arabia is aligned with their beliefs. Feel free to search some of the government public beheadings videos online.
    2. I agree with the comments above. The chef experience sounded tedious. I’d hate to have that in a restaurant… probably more so on a plane. I’d probably just tell him to wow me and see what happens.

  10. Just “winging it” and surprising a passenger with the chef’s creativity can lead to a lot of uneaten food, disappointment and wasted time. I’d rather have someone ask a few more questions for a minute of “tedium” than wind up with food I don’t enjoy.

  11. Very classy to dedicate an article to a hard working chef like Rahmi. He deserves an invitation to Animal Restaurant in your neck of the woods in LA.

  12. Although I often like a “just wow me” experience…

    This was a 16 hour plane trip!
    Might as well have a dialogue with the chef. An interactive culinary experience
    What else is there to do?

  13. How do they cook crepes or eggs in the sky? I thought they just heated stuff up.

    On a side note, those female flight attendants were totally staring into your eyes hoping you’d get them American citizenship.

  14. To Whom it may concern
    Your youth tell it al l.called exposure travel on a plane is highly
    Restrictive with in flt food ,as well as wines do not travel well period
    Bottom L one does not tell a chef How to cook something, unless you have
    Digestive issues. Ect ect . Knowing how to hold a glassy & Cutlery speaks
    For itself. I do not envy you in any way shape or form but enjoy some of
    The articles .traveling is going from point A to point B with a purpose.
    Safety is top priority warmth with staff is everything .and empathy

  15. @James, you’ll have to wait for Rob and Alex to comment, we both know they will say something racist or at the least jingoist, because, everything to them on all of the planet Earth that is not 100% American is just evil and sucks lol. Some of the other comments crack me up, they expect an airplane is like cruise ship or restaurant. Of course some people here claiming they merely “criticize Islam” are the same ones who, 1, foam at the mouth when anyone says anything slightly bad about their culture, religion, or nation, 2, couldn’t tell a brown-skinned Muslim apart from a non-Muslim if they beat were to beat the crap out of them.
    Anyway, Saudia has had an onboard chef since the 1980s on their 747SPs, half the cabin up in the front was converted to a galley, with hot plates, and just like on this flight, an executive chef with hat and all, would prepare first class meals.

  16. @Emirates4Ever
    Maybe they won’t come since they knew thet would just be laughing matters now….. lol

  17. @james
    hey girl, ya. that was my point, this airline does not care for jews, or gays, or respect women for that matter either.

  18. @justinbelieber all of their food is halal which is close to the kosher standard. Muslims who observe halal foods eat kosher food interchangeably.

  19. @james

    The slaughtering of animals is the same in both Judaism and Islam. That said, Kosher is more restrictive than Halal for food and for meals. You cannot have meat and dairy products served in the same meal. Seafood (not fish) are mostly treif (non-Kosher). There are others.

    Yes, there are Kosher wines and those would not be Halal.

  20. @Robert in Riyadh
    My understanding is that to be kosher, the animal slaughtered by a jewish. For halal, it’s done by a muslim. Can one be a muslim and also a jewish?

  21. Wow, some people write the craziest comments in your reply to your awesome posts! Weird! I am also curious how they make the eggs to order, maybe you could post how they do that in the galley when you get a chance? Thanks Ben!

  22. @James, I’ve had Muslim friends tell me that when they cannot find halal foods, that kosher is an acceptable substitute.
    Likewise Jewish, well, Israeli ironically anyway, said for the most part halal can be eaten if kosher is not available, but as you pointed out, kosher has dietary restrictions not found in halal so Jews have to be mindful of that.

    Yeah I wouldn’t be surprise if Rob or Alex don’t comment in this post, but we will see.

  23. “I am not who the “racist” comment was aimed at”

    Sounds like it should have been!

    “I guess I’d prefer for the chef to take proper creative license instead of asking for every last detail of how I want my food. Customization is fine, but creativity is what impresses.”

    Why do I feel had he done just that, you would have complained about him not listening to his customer?

    “that was my point, this airline does not care for jews, or gays, or respect women for that matter either.”

    Do gays and women get special food on other airlines? I wasn’t aware of that.

    “My understanding is that to be kosher, the animal slaughtered by a jewish.”

    A Jewish what? 😉

  24. @Julia
    shochet (שוחט‎‎).

    Mainly because I suspect that since judiasm didn’t recognize islam, thus animal slaughtered in the name of (islamic) god is considered as slaughtered in the name of idolatry, therefore non-kosher.

    @Emirates4Ever & @Robert in Riyadh have clarified it.

  25. @julia
    you are missing the point. it’s not about the food, it’s that they do not offer kosher meals, and that is discrimination against a certain clientele , and we all know why they do not offer it. if you don’t, then you should google about it and learn a little.

  26. @angelahuston

    So not providing Kosher food is “discrimination” and kicking passengers off airplanes for speaking Arabic or looking Asian is “security”?

    That’s ridiculous. Not providing a certain type of food is not discrimination, you just want it to be. It’s up to them to decide what kind of services they’ll provide and it’s up to you to decide whether or not it suits you.

    You’ve got it all wrong.

  27. @Mj
    Knock it off. Don’t argue with hillbilly redneck. They drag you down to their level and beat you up with experience. Lol

  28. @Tennen
    @Jeff
    @Nick
    There are many kind of ways to prepare eggs to order. I might post one of them in the future.
    Stay followed my Instagram Account. @the_simplicity__

  29. @julia

    “Why do I feel had he done just that, you would have complained about him not listening to his customer?”

    Because you make assumptions about people you don’t know?

  30. @give.me.ass
    So? Saudi Arabia is a sovereign nation, with its own laws, government, territory, etc. If you don’t like it, don’t go there. If you want to go somewhere, respect and obey the prevailing laws.

    Oh, in case you didn’t read, the article wrote, “… consensual homosexual acts are often legally indistinguishable from rape or paedophilia, so it is difficult to confirm data about gay people charged under Saudi Arabi’s justice system.”

  31. @angelahuston

    Not providing certain types of food isn’t discrimination. It’s just not a type of food they offer. Just like they don’t offer pork or alcohol.

    @Sam

    Nah, I’ve been visiting this site enough to know that certain people will always find something to complain about. Myself included at times. It’s just the nature of commenting on this site, and commenting in general.

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