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Michelle Bernstein takes in-flight dining to new heights

Written By Scott Joseph On July 5, 2009

Michell BernsteinSometimes you just have to wonder why airlines even bother with serving food. Of course, for most flights now, there’s no such thing as an in-flight meal. Even peanuts are hard to come by if you’re on a flight that lasts under three hours. You’ll have to make do with miniature pretzels.

But on international flights the airlines still serve meals to help stem the boredom of travel and to keep hungry passengers at bay. For some time now, airlines have been aligning themselves with celebrity chefs to present “gourmet” menus for their business and first class travelers. I’ve always thought this was folly. Why would any chef worth his  or her, um, salt lend a name to airline food, considering the limitations and problems of serving a meal in the sky.

The major limitation, of course, is that there is no kitchen at 35,000 feet. The food is all precooked and reheated, then served in the most cramped of quarters. And one of the problems is that, supposedly, one’s taste buds are dulled in flight. Although that is usually a plus given the horrible food that is usually served.

But on my flight to London the Business Elite menu was developed by Michelle Bernstein, the Miami chef who one a James Beard Award a couple of years ago for her Michy’s restaurant. Bernstein’s food was surprisingly good. And while it didn’t all quite work — why even try a steak in these circumstances? — I was impressed with what I tasted.

And tasted is the operative word. By buds weren’t so dulled that I couldn’t appreciate the spicy flavors of the Thai tinged duck and coconut milk soup served as a first course along with hummus, a salad of baby spinach leaves and (sadly dry) rolls.Delta menu

And the crab cake entree was better than most found below. There were two good-sized  patties, and they had lots of tasty lump crab meat. They were topped with a dollop of chili aioli and accompanied by braised leeks.
Delta menu 2
But the steak was not only overcooked — how could it not be? — but also a challenge for the dull knives allowed on board by the F.A.A. And the texture was coarse and flavor less than appealing. No more steaks on airplanes!

I’m not sure if Bernstein was involved with the breakfast served on the overnight flight. If so, she may need to give it another look because the scrambled egg concoction was miserable.

But I didn’t want to eat a lot for breakfast anyway because it was too close to landing in London where eating adventures awaited. I’ll tell you about some of them next.

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