Gone are the days of upturned noses at plane food. The world’s best airlines are falling over themselves to recruit famous chefs to create their in-flight meals, and the results are truly delicious. We visited Japan Airlines to learn about the Michelin-star chefs curating their first- and business-class meals, and some of these dishes sound just insane at 38,000 feet. Abalone, anyone?
IT’S SAID THAT JAPAN has more Michelin stars per capita than any other country on Earth. With a record-setting 200 stars in Tokyo alone, it should come as no surprise that the country’s premier airline is serving Michelin-crafted meals as it soars around the globe, joining the ranks of other starry food service in the sky.
Japan Airlines has partnered with six Michelin-star chefs, four of whom have three stars each, to interpret their food into in-flight dining menus for first- and business-class passengers. So, while airline food has long left upturned noses and rumbling stomachs, Japan Airlines aims to do the opposite.
The various multi-course tasting menus available on JAL BEDD Sky Auberge dining service are divided into Japanese and Western options, serving 140 high-flying first-class passengers per day and hundreds more in business class. In true Japanese culinary fashion, each Michelin-themed menu changes seasonally to guarantee the produce is at its freshest.
Sliced wagyu beef and steamed sea urchin topped with sudachi citrus gelée and caviar is the signature JAL dish of chefs Ishikawa Hideki and Koizumi Kouji of Ishikawa Kagurazaka and Restaurant Kohaku in Tokyo. With six stars between them, the two teamed up to create an ultra-luxurious menu for first-class passengers flying from Tokyo to various North American and European cities, including New York and Paris.
Passengers flying first-class on the same routes from Tokyo don’t have to kick themselves about not scoring a coveted seat at the three Michelin-star Quintessence in Tokyo; they can try the restaurant’s most famous plate onboard. Chef Kishida Shuzo’s beloved Goat Milk Bavarois focuses on the ingredients. Made with fresh goat milk, salt from Guérande, France and EXV olive oil from Lazio, Italy, it’s served alongside lily roots and macadamia slices to add a bit of crunch.
But ensuring the world’s finest ingredients translate well when prepared in a tiny Japan Airlines galley kitchen while battling temperature controls and food safety regulations was sometimes harder for the chefs than impressing Michelin.
In regards to making sure the food wasn’t served lukewarm, Shuzo told JAL cabin attendants, “I thought of different ways to use the in-flight heating equipment, and I also made changes to how the meals were loaded and to cabin crew procedures. I realized that the cabin crew have so many different tasks on board and are very busy, so I felt it was crucial to simplify the plating process to keep an optimized serving pace.”
For chef Jun Mishina of the Michelin starred Ren Mishina in Tokyo, creating correct and appealing tastes for his airline meals was key and flavors are different at altitude. “I shifted towards the concept of addition of flavors in the hopes that passengers could enjoy something new onboard,” Mishina told JAL cabin attendants.
Then there’s the very nature of service to contend with: no matter how luxurious your seat in the front of the plane, it’s still in a plane. “One of the biggest differences between in-flight and restaurants is that at restaurants, we can serve each dish one at a time, whereas in-flight, the appetizers are all served in one plate divided into five grids,” Mishina said. “So, I ask cabin crews to offer passengers to try my signature dish, ‘abalone,’ with jelly on the top, to start with and thereafter move on to the other dishes for the best experience.”
Abalone simmered in kelp and sake and then soaked for an entire day in a broth is Mishina’s signature dish onboard JAL business-class flights from Tokyo to major cities around the world. And frequent fliers can try “The Curry,” a fruit and spice-heavy curry from Ren Mishina’s secret menu.
Paired with these plates are rare and limited-production sake, wine and teas like the Queen of Blue Tea, made from hand-picked Taiwanese leaves served cold and poured into a wine glass.
Designed by Japan Airlines’ resident Wine Advisor, Motohiro Okoshi, the sommelier at An Di in Tokyo, the first and business-class wine program may be worth the cost of the ticket alone. Of its selection, a spokesperson for Japan Airlines said, “The lineup ranges from high-quality breweries that sake and shochu lovers drool over, to famous breweries that everyone knows, rare breweries that are hard to find and young breweries that are leading the trend.”
Images courtesy of Japan Airlines, unless otherwise noted.