Before the coronavirus pandemic engulfed the world, Emirates Airlines operated approximately 520 flights and served a total of 110,000 meals daily. However, the airline landscape has dramatically changed over the last months, as hundreds of thousands of international and domestic flights have been cancelled and over 20 major airlines, including Emirates, have completely suspended their operations.
Doxis Bekris, Assistant Vice President and Concept Developer at Emirates Airlines, has been collaborating with the Dubai-based airline for almost two years now. Mr. Bekris works with the Emirates catering team for in-flight menus and airport lounges, and he is responsible for designing everything from the appetizer cookies, to the gourmet canapés that accompany the famous Dom Pérignon champagne.
Mr. Bekris is well-known for his luxurious and carefully designed on-board dishes, which include beef fillet with buttery mashed potatoes and porcini mushroom sauce, "ouzi chicken" marinated with herbs and rice, and salmon sautéed with hot lentil salad and steamed broccoli.
At the moment, the question in the minds of numerous frequent flyers is how will a luxury ‘on-air’ restaurant continue to operate safely with the upcoming flight restrictions?
Mr. Bekris told the Kathimerini newspaper that “the catering department of Emirates employs more than 10,000 employees, out of which 1,800 are cooks. Earlier in the year, when Emirates was operating only return flights to the UAE, it modified its services, so that food and beverages were offered in a bento box.”
Bento boxes are commonly used for take-out or home-packed meals in Asian cuisines and can include a variety of foods and side dishes.
“Our bento boxes have sandwiches, drinks, snacks and desserts. Our company is currently considering new state-of-the-art equipment to continue to offer high quality both in food and passenger service, as well as better prospects for the environment,” Mr. Bekris explained.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Emirates had announced that it would proceed with the abolition of plastic consumables, as a manifestation to a significant commitment to sustainability. With the new safety rules, most dishes will be served in individual packages from now on. But can gourmet meals be boxed?
Mr. Bekris stated that gourmet meals can indeed be put in a box: “It continues to be our priority to serve safe and healthy food, of excellent quality, in beautiful and functional packaging, which will keep it hot or cold, juicy, crunchy, tasty and therefore gourmet, given that the ingredients we use are always excellent.”
“We must not forget that food in flight is not only to satisfy us, but also to make us feel good and give us a feeling of warmth. Unfortunately, the challenge for mass catering is huge and needs to be reconsidered every step of the way. In times of crisis, I personally try to be positive, as need and difficulty lead to creativity,” Mr. Bekris added.
In Dubai, the headquarters of Emirates Airlines, products arrive from all over the world all year round, and so far, the seasonality of products in mass catering was not ever an issue. According to reports from Emirates, consumers consistently vote for pineapple as their favorite fruit for on-board morning meals, which means that the company needs 730 tons of pineapple per year. But nowadays, how safe is a fresh fruit that has traveled from Costa Rica (main production country) to the United Arab Emirates?
“It is difficult to convince customers that pineapple cannot be served all year round. However, it seems to be a prime opportunity for locality to flourish. Because of the difficulty of importing products right now, the local gastronomy will be consolidated, and consequently, the economy will be strengthened for each country and rural area. Governments need to support this view and different industries need to communicate better with each other.”
“Research and planning are required, but if the producer invests in larger quantities to meet demand, his or her local products will be preferred. For us chefs, getting every ingredient in its proper season is a blessing. Every product in its prime season has a better price and taste. Such a move towards more local products will only be positive,” Mr. Bekris emphasized.
Additionally, scheduling the food production so efficiently and ahead of time will reduce the waste of raw materials and energy, something that is already being reinforced by the abolition of open buffets in hotels, restaurants and lounges worldwide.
Chef Doxis Bekris has previously been the executive chef at major hospitality brands, such as the 5-star luxury resort in Messinia, Greece, Costa Navarino and the Fairmont Raffles International hotel in Dubai, and he is confident that the coronavirus pandemic has put an end to the buffet-style serving once and for all.
“Market research proves that a hotel guest chooses 2-3 specific foods for their breakfast. Breakfast will be served on the plate, and we will order what we need, significantly reducing food waste. Hotels will be able to provide fast food services in their most gourmet version. Unnecessary luxury will now become essential. The 5-star service will always be there, but the comforts we were used to might not be,” he claimed.
Experts of the hospitality sector believe that our diligence has changed in the face of fear, so perhaps by wanting to stay healthy and happy, we will maintain some of our new habits, but contactless procedures will become a must in the future. Many of the time-consuming procedures we did before arriving at a hotel will now be done immediately without the need to wait at a reception or a lounge room. Maybe the check-in process will be done from our mobile phones, or our fingerprints will be the virtual key of our room. In other words, technology is an ally in passing all of this lightly.
“Over the years the leaps that have been made in the travel sector are incredible. The industry has changed so fast that we have not even realized it. So, we will now be forced to proceed with new rules and more supplies,” hopes Mr. Bekris.
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