Beyond Beef or Chicken: A Peek Inside in the Emirates Flight Kitchen

••• A meal being served on an Emirates business class flight. Photo courtesy of Emirates

Based at Dubai International Airport, the Emirates Flight Catering kitchen handles food and beverage for airlines, airport premium lounges and VIP private jets. With a staff of more than 10,000 employees, it prepares 180,000 meals a day to more than 130 airline clients.

Joost Heymeijer is the airline’s senior vice president of catering and inflight services. Emirates’ Flight Catering facility, at a cost of $159 million, opened in August 2007.

“Emirates runs a round-the-clock kitchen with more than 650 chefs based in Dubai whipping up 12,450 recipes,” Heymeijer said. “The finely tuned operation caters 255 flights a day with authentic local cuisines giving customers a taste of the destination they are going to. The airline also works closely with 25 catering partners around the world to provide the same quality of food for its Dubai-bound flights.”

Emirates Flight Catering provided nearly 60 million inflight meals in 2016, giving the same attention to detail in first, business and economy class. “Catering for more than 55 million dine-in guests a year traveling to and from 144 cities across six continents, no one understands global culinary trends better than Emirates as it serves destination-inspired cuisine onboard the world’s largest flying restaurant,” said Heymeijer.

Unlike many airlines, Emirates does not have a celebrity chef program.

 “However, we do have extremely talented chefs from different nationalities as part of our catering team. They design a variety of interesting and regional cuisines for us,” said Heymeijer. “We have six regional catering managers, each looking after a particular part of the world. They have a wealth of experience and are accomplished chefs themselves, who understand the challenges of mass numbers and the airline industry.”

First class passengers can order an a la carte multi-course meals created by top international chefs from an extensive menu, said Heymeijer. “The menu is on demand and an order can be placed at any time during the flight,” he said. “A complete range of drinks, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, is available on a complimentary basis.”

For business class passengers, lunch and dinner are five-course meals. “A complete range of drinks, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, including champagne and vintage Port, is available on a complimentary basis,” he said. “Hot and cold snacks such as canapés, sandwiches can also be found in the onboard lounge.”

The menu for Economy Class passengers includes a starter, a choice of two main courses, dessert, cheese, biscuits and chocolates. A complete range of drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic are available on a complimentary basis – a complimentary choice of red and white wines is offered and champagne is available at a fixed price.

On international long-haul flights and short-haul regional routes within the Gulf, menus are changed monthly, said Heymeijer. “The menus are planned by the regional catering managers and the concept development team who visit outstations to create sample and taste dishes that feature onboard on a regular basis,” he said.

“Menus are planned for each individual route to ensure that meals served are appropriate to the destination. We do rotate the menus in four cycles each year, these are then repeated for the following months.”

Emirates is inspired by the multitude of cuisine styles around the world and generally try to work in local flavors of the destinations it flies to. “Whether it’s curry from India or sushi from Japan, we are always looking to learn from the locals. Our customers also look forward to experiencing the local culture through their food onboard with us,” said Heymeijer. “We not only differentiate from region to region but also from city to city. For example, in our Indian routes—we have enhanced our menus across our 10 destinations in India that reflect the tastes and customer preferences of a particular destination or city.

And as food appeals to the emotion, we like to have that connection with our customers through our food offering.”

The airline offers a selection of meals to suit special medical, dietary and religious requirements, which must be booked at least 24 hours in advance of a flight, said Heymeijer. “Both our special and non-special meals get the same attention and culinary expertise,” he said.

It also offers a wide range of special meals for babies and children. “For children between the ages of two and 12 years, we offer tried-and-true kids’ favorites, including vegetarian options,” said Heymeijer. “For babies, while we do advise parents of babies to carry food familiar to and preferred by their babies, a selection of proprietary brands of prepared baby meals are available on board Emirates flights. They all must be booked at least 24 hours before a flight.”

Lounging Around

Emirates has seven lounges at Dubai International Airport and 34 other dedicated lounges in airports worldwide, said Heymeijer. “Passengers arriving at any of Emirates’ dedicated lounges around the world have a selection of international food and beverages from our full bar service and large buffet,” he said.

Early risers can enjoy breakfast, while later in the day guests can select from Arabic, Far Eastern, western or vegetarian cuisine, said Heymeijer. “An array of desserts is also available for those with a sweet tooth,” he said. “Our cuisines are varied and we tend to have a mix of local and international flavors. Our menu is changed every month.”

The airline also offers a good selection of amazing wines and champagnes in its lounges, along with cocktails, said Heymeijer. “Within the Emirates First Class lounge at Dubai, we have a Le Clos wine cellar selling the finest wines and luxury spirits.”

In October 2016, Emirates unveiled a renovated Business Class Lounge at its Dubai airport hub that features three distinct concept areas. “The latest food and beverage concepts cater to diverse tastes and include a barista experience in partnership with Costa Coffee, a Health hub with Voss water featuring healthier options, and an exclusive Moët & Chandon champagne lounge – the first-of-its-kind lounge to be located in an airport,” said Heymeijer.

Emirates also provides food and beverage services to the majority of airline hospitality lounges located at Dubai International Airport’s concourses. They include Gulf Air, Air France/KLM, British Airways, the Senator Lounge of Lufthansa and Star Alliance and the Skyteam lounge.

Quality Control

Emirates has put in various checks to ensure smooth operations and consistently high standards in the Flight Catering kitchen 24 hours a day, seven days a week year-round, said Heymeijer.             

“Cabin crew compile reports on catering at the end of each flight, providing the airline’s regional catering managers with crucial customer feedback,” said Heymeijer. “Managers hold daily meetings where reports from all flights are scrutinized so issues of concern are acted on immediately. “Correct food temperatures are essential for successful flight catering from preparation to delivery, therefore all onboard food is brought to the correct temperature in normal convection ovens and cabin crew work to specific temperatures and time schedules,” said Heymeijer. “Emirates has its own state-of-the-art training college where the correct preparation and delivery of food is key.”

"Great food and drink are a key part of the Emirates experience since we cater to many tastes and preferences," said Heymeijer. “The airline’s wide range of cabin crew nationalities, now numbering more than 130, provide valuable input to the menus, ensuring there is always an option suitable for everyone on board,” he explained. “A well-balanced meal or refreshment service is always offered, even on short-haul flights.”

Emirates’ chefs start with the simple philosophy that the ingredients that make up a dish need to be perfect. “It’s no use having a great recipe if the quality of the ingredients isn’t right,” said Heymeijer. “Therefore, our chefs spend a great deal of time sourcing some of the best raw materials from around the world to create appetizing meals. We also know that attention to detail is incredibly important, so we are constantly reviewing what we have done; checking every meal that goes on our aircraft multiple times, just to make sure it is perfect.”

In addition to working with Emirates’ dedicated team, the airline also works closely with local caterers and suppliers who share the same ethos to ensure they deliver to our standards, said Heymeijer. “With a cosmopolitan customer base, we always ensure there is something to suit everyone, offering both local and international options,” he said.

“We offer authentic cuisines from countries our customers come from and to places they are traveling to. We’re the only airline to have food available from every region we fly to,” said Heymeijer. “In Japan, we not only offer authentic Japanese food but also authentic crockery, cutlery and tea sets to ensure an unrivaled food experience on board.”