The LSG Sky Chefs building near DFW Airport didn’t look at all like I imagined as I pulled into the parking lot. I double-checked the text message with the address and it turns out I was in the right place. I walked into the building and approached a security officer, looking confused. He asked “American Airlines event?” I said “Yessir,” and he pointed down the hallway to my left. The first face I saw was one of my favorite people in the world, who also happens to work at American Airlines. She was all smiles and welcomed me as she handed me my Media badge.
Where was I? At an exclusive sneak peek of American Airlines’s new domestic catering!
A select group of media were present (including a few BoardingArea bloggers) along with some of American Airlines’s most loyal customers, among them some personal friends. Before us lay an amazing spread of new food items that you will start seeing in domestic and transcontinental First Class on July 1st. The entrees will not be rolled out on all routes at once so you may not see your favorite item quite yet, but all items will eventually make their way through the network.
The event began with a quick briefing (making us aware of the official hashtag, you can search #goingforgreat on Twitter and Instagram for more pics from the event) and then Fern Fernandez, VP of Global Marketing for American Airlines, addressed the crowd. With him were a number of American Airlines executives covering everything from inflight services to Flagship lounges. Fern spoke honestly about American’s “missteps” in catering and was excited to premier the new catering options for us. Saying that a “great experience in the sky starts here on the ground,” he emphasized that in addition to new food items all pursers were being cycled through Dallas for more training.
As he was speaking, a few servers were walking around with trays of champagne. We all grabbed a glass and joined Fern in a toast to the new items. Then we got down to business, with pictures and interviews galore! American Airlines said that all entrees were in flight-ready state and hadn’t had anything added just for the event.
(a special touch for the event was a lightbox for people to take well-lit pictures of the new entrees, as a photographer I really appreciated the extra light)
I first made my way over to the wine area where Ken Chase, American’s long-time wine consultant, was pouring glasses for everyone and walking them through zee flavours. I had been to a wine tasting he did like 8 years ago and remember it like it was yesterday. Ken’s a ball of energy with a passion for wine and it shows. He knows his stuff and explains it in a way that doesn’t come off pretentious or snooty in any way. Inevitably when he pours you a glass and explains it to you you’ll likely end up with a new favorite wine.
Here are the new wines, available July 1st.
Per American’s handout they distributed, they’ll start offering new snacks in the Flagship Lounges starting in mid-July. They’ve taken a regional approach, with new snacks from around the world.
Peruvian Causa Yellow Potato
West Coast Dungeness Crab
Ricotta whipped with Lemon and Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Cool Sesame Soba Noodles
Ok, full disclosure here, I didn’t get a good picture of the satay, it was out of focus. I’ve since given my camera a stern talking to and I don’t expect it to happen again. Gary Leff from View from the Wing was also there and succeeded where I failed, here’s the link to his post, complete with satay pics.
Classic All American Macaroni and Cheese Fritter
(as a clarifying point, these snacks should be available at every Flagship Lounge, the regions I note are where the food comes from, not where it will be served)
My favorite? The mac and cheese fritter. It was flavorful and surprisingly light. While some mused about the need for a meal in the lounge, I agree with American’s approach here, it looks like they want to give you just enough food (and variety, for that matter) to tide you over until your flight.
Transcontinental First Class
The transcontinental market (JFK-LAX, for example) is one of the most competitive markets in the air, with American, United, and Delta all going head-to-head. American is trying to set itself apart from the pack, especially as United just announced a recent revision of their catering to good reviews.
Sam Choy, a chef, restaurateur and TV personality, helped American revise their menu for this important market. Here’s what we saw.
Spicy Crab with Sushi Rice, avocado, and Wasabi Aioli
Burrata Cheese with Oregano and Capers (didn’t get a good pic of this, reference Gary’s post from earlier)
Edamame Hummus with Toasted Garlic Baguette (wasn’t available for tasting today)
with crab, asparagus, bearnaise sauce and smashed potatoes
Steamed Sea Bass
with Soy Glaze and Ginger Cilantro Pesto Rice
with shaved Brussels sprouts, lemon oil and parmesan crisp
with Sriracha ketchup, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, and candied onions
Pan Roasted Coconut Lime Chicken
with olives and garlic mashed potatoes
with red Tikka curry, jeera rice and roasted two-color cauliflower
Some summer seasonal vegetables will be available as well.
My favorite was definitely the Wagyu meatloaf. While I’m not sure how much of the meat is actually Wagyu I thought it was very flavorful and the mashed potatoes were excellent.
What I noticed most is that American was reducing the number of heavy sauces that currently plagues its premium menus. I also asked Chef Choy about the steak and he said it’d be a marked improvement over what is being served now.
Domestic First Class
This is one that I was looking forward to, since I fly domestic First way more often than transcontinental First.
Yes, they started us out with mixed nuts as a starter (it made me feel like I was on a flight).
The entrees looked great!
with lobster mac n’ cheese
Shrimp & Grits
with polenta cakes
(dang it, the picture was out of focus here too, sorry)
Asian Slaw Salad
with teriyaki chicken
For dessert, they’re switching to a premade salted chocolate caramel sundae
My favorite was definitely the beef filet. The lobster mac was fantastic and I was so excited to have a medium rare cut of meat. Time will tell as to whether or not that can be replicated in the air but on the ground it was excellent.
So, what did I think?
American has something special here. Many noticed a downturn in catering after the merger with US Airways and American heard the feedback and did something about it. They’re emphasizing lighter foods with fewer heavy sauces and I think they pulled it off well…on the ground.
There are many wild cards that can affect catering. As an example, American said they use 68 different kitchens in North America alone! Not to mention that it can be catered properly, loaded onto the plane properly, but a rushed flight attendant can shortchange the plating and affect the meal. Or, since all of the food must be reheated on board, items like the Wagyu meatloaf could come out dry as a sponge if overcooked.
Time will ultimately tell. I will say this: if American can pull off in the air what they did on the ground, its passengers are in for a treat. The hashtag for the event was #goingforgreat and American had some truly great entrees.
The food was great, but the part of the event that I liked the most was after we all had a chance to sample the entrees Fern Fernandez asked the loyal American customers what they thought. It seems like they really took the feedback to heart, and I love seeing when mega-corporations listen to their customers like that.
So, what do you think?
[Disclosure: American had a gift bag for us as we left with a bottle of red wine in it. I accepted the gift but in no way did it affect any opinions here]