WHEN Scott Webster was asked to design a thoroughly modern menu for airline passengers, he went back to basics, scouring the Australian outback for unusual ingredients. The result was a collection of novel dishes for Cathay Pacific executive travellers, who earlier this year had the chance to sample Webster's native Australian cuisine. The chef reasoned that traditional Aboriginal food supplies and recipes were generally ignored, or made little use of, in Australia's overseas-influenced cuisine. In a bid to discover more, he went scouring the outback for native berries, herbs and spices which could be used in contemporary recipes. For the Cathay Pacific promotion, the dishes also had to be capable of being recreated in a flame-free oven in a plane flying at around 10,000 metres. Passengers were given choices from an extensive menu, with dishes containing wattle seed, eucalyptus butter, quandong, wild lime, lilli pilli, pepper leaf, violet flowers, kangaroo apple and warragil greens. The choice of dishes included bunya smoked lamb and king prawns, pan-fried barramundi with leek and muntharie berries, followed by apple crumble with eucalyptus and - to finish - Australian cheeses. Naturally enough, all Webster-style meals, at altitude or ground level, are always accompanied by a wide array of fine Aussie wines. ''Australia has always been known for quality produce - beef, lamb and seafood. Now, it is developing its own cuisine,'' he said. ''I am trying to develop something which we can call our own; I have my own perspective. So far, the food has been well received.'' The chef has become a regular guest on Australian missions overseas to push the country's culture and produce. Recent trips have taken him to Raffles hotel in Singapore, plus visits to Beijing, Shanghai, Japan, Korea and Indonesia. Webster, 34, uses his Asian jaunts to pick up tips from local chefs, spending time in the markets and restaurants when time permits. The extrovert chef has a waistline which testifies to a love of fine food - of all varieties. ''This is the year of indigenous people, so it seems appropriate to be using Aboriginal ingredients,'' he said. ''People are always looking for different flavours.'' Airlines are generally becoming more ambitious in their choice of menus, which have been dominated by bland Western-style food, which was meant to be all things to all people. The guest chef is a promotional tool being used with increasing frequency. In an earlier Cathay in-flight promotion, multi-talented chef Ken Hom was given the task of producing fine Cantonese food - without the use of a wok. The American-based chef then had to train cooks in each of the airline's main overseas ports to replicate the dishes. To ensure authenticity, jet-setter Hom travelled on flights, offering tips on preparation to the stewardesses and culinary hints to passengers.