Travel

Here’s What It’s Really Like Inside A Flight Kitchen

By Natasha Dragun - 06 May 2019

Inside A Flight Kitchen

One of the world’s largest flight kitchens, Cathay Pacific Catering Services, cooked and delivered more than 30 million meals to over 50 global carriers in 2017. The cavernous culinary facilities can prepare up to 140,000 meals a day for 310 flights—the record so far is 101,791. In just 24 hours. Here are eight little known facts on how it all comes together, from kitchen to tray table. 

#1 Hungry Customers

This kitchen facility prepares meals and snacks for all Cathay flights as well as 50 other carriers, including Korean Airlines, Emirates and Finnair. Every day, around 1000 different menu items are produced to cater to different airlines and different dietary requirements, with some 30,000 meals going to Taipei daily and more than 48,000 heading to Canada.

#2 Kitchen Confidential 

There are dedicated kitchens for different meal components: there’s one just for Halal dishes, others for hot and cold food, and yet another for pastries, breads and desserts. At the end of each day, dozens of people are involved in scrubbing down every surface until it gleams.

#3 Crunching The Numbers  

The chickens work overtime in Hong Kong, with more than 8000 omelettes made here every day. Like fried rice? The industrial-sized woks in these kitchens can whip up 300 kilograms of this tasty dish in a single batch. Then there are the 12,000 kilograms of fruit and 7000 kilograms of vegetables consumed daily, with every piece washed three times before being cut by hand, not to mention the 1000 kilograms of beef used every day.

#4 Breaking Bread

Around 90 per cent of all bread needed for daily operations—about 80,000 pieces—is made on-site every 24 hours. To cater to all tastes and dietary requirements, there are also more than 80 different types of bread made.  

#5 Putting It All Together

The kitchen created a custom-built assembly line that manages 1000 trays an hour along its 23-metre-long conveyer belt. This is where trays are loaded with crockery and cutlery before moving into carts. While there are automated processes, much of the meal prep and assemblage is done by hand based on photos of dishes created by international chefs.  

#6 Time To Board

After being loaded onto food carts, things move pretty fast. In fact, less than 12 hours pass from when a piece of fruit or a veggie is cut to when it lands on a plane, and it takes around 12 minutes to transfer carts from their storage facilities onto a plane.

#7 Drink Up

Cathay Pacific changes its wine list every three months, with a team of six people involved in blind tasting sessions where more than 500 wines are sipped over four days, with around 80 making the final cut. Tasters always take into consideration the fact that our senses are diminished in a pressurised cabin, so bolder wines are always better in flight. Travellers are a thirsty bunch, which means that each long-haul flight requires around 90 cans of mixers, 110 bottles of wine, 80 cans of beer, plus 365 bottles of juice, soft drink and water. 

#8 Waste Not

Although one might think an operation of this size would generate a lot of waste, all wet food scraps are donated to a fish farm, with most unused dry food donated to the Food Angel charity.  

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Image credit: Suhyeon Choi

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