This is a post by author Thierry Mona. Thierry is the General Manager for Air Culinaire Worldwide in France and an expert on in-flight catering for business aviation in France.
In-flight catering can make or break a business aircraft trip from the passenger’s perspective. This is particularly problematic in locations where it’s not easy to source exactly what your passengers want and expect. While France offers some of the finest cuisine in the world, there are considerations when ordering in-flight catering locally. Almost anything is possible with sufficient advance notification, at least in the Paris and Nice areas. However, you’ll face catering limitations at smaller regional airports in France.
1. Preferred lead time for in-flight catering requests in France
In France, lead time depends on airport location, complexity of catering order and number of passengers. For the Paris and Nice areas, where dedicated in-flight caterers are available, lead time of 24 hours is preferred, but catering requests can often be accomplished within six hours. At smaller airports, without in-flight caterers, it’s best to provide 36-hours’ advance notice. If you’re looking for special items like out-of-season produce, more difficult to source seafood (such as Mahi-mahi or red snapper) or specific non-French wines and bottled beverages, additional lead time should be provided.
2. Operating hours limitations of in-flight catering kitchens
In-flight caterers normally operate 6 a.m.-10 p.m. but will often remain open afterhours for an additional fee. This “night fee” is typically a per-hour charge that applies to any catering-related activity between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
3. How in-flight catering is delivered to the aircraft
Many in-flight caterers in Paris and Nice have licenses to access the ramp in order to deliver catering directly to the aircraft. With advance notice, catering can be delivered from Nice to smaller airports in the region – including Cannes (LFMD), St Tropez (LFTZ) and Toulon (LFTH). If a caterer does not have an airside license (and it’s a lengthy process to obtain one), catering will have to be delivered to the FBO or local ground handler. In this case, you’ll want to confirm that your ground handler has or can arrange for refrigeration facilities. If catering is obtained from a restaurant, the food will be delivered to the local ground handler to hold and deliver to the aircraft.
4. The possibility of accommodating short-notice requests
If you’re dealing with in-flight caterers in the Paris or Nice areas and ordering local cuisine, catering can often be assembled and delivered in as little as two hours, depending on the order. If you require special food products, however, additional time will be needed. Keep in mind that certain items are virtually impossible to source locally. Some special American ice creams are not available in France, you will not find root beer, and your caterer will need to check with local markets for special seafood or produce. When outside the Paris and Nice areas, it’s best to ask the caterer for recommendations and to order local cuisine, particularly for short-notice requests.
5. Limitations at smaller regional airports in France
Regional airports in France may have very limited catering options. At smaller airport locations, it’s best to go with the local cuisine and be aware of the limitations. The local caterer, for example, may only provide cold food on particular days. An alternative is to order from a local restaurant, and your ground handler can coordinate this. You’ll need to be very specific with restaurants in terms of what you want, how you require it to be packaged and pre-cooled and how and where it will be delivered. Top priority must be food safety and avoiding health risks. If the ground handler at a smaller airport location does not have refrigeration available, you may need 24-hours’ advance notice to arrange for dry ice to be delivered.
6. Latest in-flight catering trends for France
We’ve noticed a trend toward more organic foods and a larger range of salad courses. About 70% of orders in France are for French cuisine and another 10% for Arabic cuisine, with the remainder being international and Asian-themed options. Popular in-flight catering orders in France include Arugula salads with tomatoes and balsamic vinaigrette, Caesar salads with chicken and chicken breasts with vegetables. During winter, stews and heavier soup courses are popular.
7. What operators should consider when ordering catering
Be aware of limitations when ordering catering that’s not local or involves out-of-season ingredients. A hamburger, for example, will taste differently depending on the country you are in. It’s difficult to source good-quality sushi anywhere in France. Kosher foods are hard to source outside Paris, and those shops are usually closed on Saturdays. You’ll find only limited choices in Arabic dishes outside Paris and Nice areas. A filet mignon in France, by the way, is always veal or pork. If you want what’s commonly known outside of France as “filet mignon,” you’ll need to specify “beef tenderloin.” Ordering “cake” in France will get you a loaf-type product. If you’re looking for an American-style cake, you’ll need to order “gateau.” Unless you’re dealing with a caterer you’ve worked with for years, be very specific about what you’re looking for and expecting.
8. How portion sizes and styles differ
It’s always best to specify preferred portion sizes. The standard portion size for meat or fish is 5-7 ounces (180-200 grams). For starches and vegetables: 5 ounces. European and Asian clients often want smaller portions, while North Americans and Middle Easterners often prefer larger portions. Traditionally, most French cuisine comes with a sauce, but this is always provided on the side. It’s important to specify the style of food service. In France, fish is typically served whole, but many business aviation customers prefer fish skinned and filleted. Keep in mind that “mignon” (as in “filet mignon”) means “cute,” a French way of saying “small.” If you’re looking for larger portions of beef “filet mignon,” ask for “chateaubriand.”
9. Other tips in ordering in-flight catering in France
Be very specific about what you want and how it will be packaged to avoid potential confusion. However, it also pays off to have some flexibility. For best-quality catering results, choose produce that’s in-season and cuisine familiar to local chefs. Consider chef recommendations. What’s the freshest seafood today? What local dishes are popular, and what vegetables and fruits are in-season? When ordering from restaurants, have your ground handler supervise packaging and ensure that all hot items are properly cooled prior to delivery. While it’s worthwhile to preview catering menus, remember that a wide assortment of off-menu dishes are possible with sufficient advance notice.
The secret to successful in-flight catering in France is to be very specific but also reasonably flexible. Certain ingredients and specific brands may not be easy or even possible to source. The best bet is to deal with caterers you know and trust and to be open to their recommendations as to the freshest local ingredients and most popular local cuisine.
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About Thierry Mona
Thierry Mona has more than 30 years’ experience in the culinary arts and is fluent in French, Russian and English. He holds a professional certificate from Ferrandi C.C.I. De Paris France (French Institute of Culinary Arts). Thierry served as General Manager at Air Culinaire Worldwide’s Paris, France location until the end of 2012.
Air Culinaire Worldwide, a Universal Weather and Aviation, Inc. company, serves in-flight catering to hundreds of airport locations across the globe. Since 2000, business and private aviation operators have relied upon the organization. With 21 owned-and-operated kitchens and hundreds of associate catering partners on six continents, business aviation organizations receive the total in-flight catering experience from one resource, Air Culinaire Worldwide.
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