Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Good Food in an Unlikely Place

Among the places where one's expectation of a good meal is minimal, certainly the most infamous is at 35,000 feet on board a plane - any plane. Complaints and jokes are airline food are legion, in Brazil as elsewhere in the world. Stale sandwiches, unhealthy packaged snacks, wilted salads - the list goes on and on.

Interestingly, there appears to be a small number of exceptions for this rule, including one in Brazil. The largest catering company at the largest Brazilian airport - LSG Sky Chefs at São Paulo's Guarulhos Airport has been winning a number of prizes internationally for the quality of the in-flight meals they prepare. Granted, to compare airline food with meals served on terra firma will always end to the detriment of "sky-high" cuisine, but when comparing airline food to airline food, LSG Sky Chefs appears to be a winner. In the past few years, LSG's operations at Guarulhos have won prizes as best catering station worldwide from British Airways and Air France. In 2008, LSG São Paulo won the IATA's Catering Quality Assurance Award as the Caterer of the Year.


In a recent edition of FDQ: Food and Drink Quarterly, LSG's Vice-President of sales and program management for Latin America, Andréa Arakaki, spoke about what makes LSG São Paulo different from it's operations at the other 200 airports where it has facitilities. She considers the major difference to be the "hand-made" quality of food prepared at Guarulhos. “Due to the low costs of labor, we rely a lot on people and very few machines for food preparation,” explains Arakaki. “Moreover, unlike Asia, Germany, and the U.S., where LSG Sky Chefs has invested in large plants for the production of frozen food that is then distributed to bases throughout each region, in Latin America, food is still prepared using fresh ingredients. While in North America and Europe customer demand for frozen food is on the rise, the majority of airlines in Latin America still request fresh food. Consequently, at Guarulhos, for example, we have our own butcher, bakery, pastry area, etc. – it’s at these individual work areas that all our food is made.”

Ms. Arakaki also feels that Brazilian culture contributes to the quality of her company's food. She points out that food is an integral part of social culture in Brazil, and that air travel here, although becoming more common day by day, still has a slightly-glamorous cachet. As a consequence, Brazilians' expectations of airline food are higher than in other countries where air travel has had the "glamour" equivalent to bus travel for a very long time. Whatever the reasons, I personally have noticed that food from Guarulhos is a step-up from that from other airports. My usual flight Toronto-São Paulo-Toronto serves better food leaving Brazil for Canada than it does in the other direction. And food on domestic airlines in Brazil, though meager, still exists, along with free beverages, including beer. So it's still possible to say "bom apetite" in the skies of Brazil.

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