What the rich eat on their private planes, from Beluga caviar to Keith Richards’ English tea sandwiches

Meet the man who provides sky-high service to the rich and famous – whether it’s top-notch snacks, high-end meals and top-shelf liquor for starlets humbler fare for ageing rockers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 March, 2017, 5:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 March, 2017, 6:19pm

If you prepare food for stars such as Angelina Jolie and Simon Cowell and other multimillionaires while they’re reclining in their private planes, what’s on the plate had better be good and nothing your diners’ palates might desire had better be missing. That slice of lime, wedge of Morbier cheese, tin of Russian caviar or bottle of Dom Perignon has got to be on board before take-off; after all, there are no supermarkets in the sky.

Harry Purut, CEO of Gourmet Inflight Catering based in Wood-Ridge, New Jersey, is well aware of that. The 61-year-old has been working hard for the past 16 years to satisfy the culinary whims and drink requests of the one-percenters whose private carriers fly out of the airports in the metropolitan area.

Purut’s clients are not the passengers, but their companies or managers who hire him to feed their well-heeled travellers. He is in charge of supplying them top-notch snacks, top-end meals and top-shelf liquor. Sometimes an astoundingly large and expensive amount of liquor. Purut recalls one flyer for whom he fetched 16 bottles of Patron Platinum Tequila (US$250 per bottle), six bottles of Cristal Champagne (US$150/bottle) and six bottles of Johnnie Walker Blue (US$200/bottle). The liquor was to be enjoyed on a flight to Atlantic City in New Jersey.

“We have five-star clientele,” says Purut, who was born in Istanbul. “We’re not providing regular airline food.”

Among the dishes Gourmet Inflight is providing: grilled filet mignon with roasted rosemary potatoes, rack of lamb encrusted with herb-flecked parmesan and thinly sliced marinated ostrich with caramelised onions. Flying breakfast time? There’s challah French toast with Vermont maple syrup, a selection of smoked fish with black German bread or crepes stuffed with fresh fruit. Just a light nosh? How about Beluga caviar with crème fraiche?

If, however, a passenger wants something other than what’s on the company’s extensive menu, Purut will try – real hard – to please. He spends lots of time, he says, shopping for food, often searching for specific products a client just can’t fly without. For one, he recalls, it was mini veal sausages. “In this area it’s not mini and the sausages are made with pork.” Still, he managed to find a butcher in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, to make mini veal sausages for him.

“Money is not the issue,” he says. For another, it was black pudding (English blood sausage). “I found it in a New Milford Irish deli,” he says. For still another: organic Gatorade. “I never heard of organic Gatorade,” he says. Neither, it turns out, did any store owners in the area. “I had it shipped from Phoenix [in the US state of Arizona}.”

Sometimes the demands are not food-related. Jennifer Lopez wanted a dark Santa Fe fleece throw and a crystal-cut ashtray, Purut says. “Do you know how hard it is finding this stuff?” He managed to find the throw in Lord & Taylor and the ashtray in Bloomingdale’s.

“It’s challenging work, never boring,” Purut declares. It is work he took on after Martini Grill customers, who happen to work in nearby Teterboro, New Jersey, asked him if he’d start an inflight catering firm. They offered to give the restaurant “all their business” if it would.

Though hesitant at first, the two men decided to go for it when the tanning salon next door to the restaurant moved out and they had the space to build another kitchen. “It’s a niche business,” Purut says – one they knew nothing about.

So they hired people who worked for the competition – and learned from them. “We had to learn about different containers – those for hot food and cold food – size of plane ovens and microwaves, how to cook food that will need to be reheated, etc.”

Today, they have 250 customers.

Have the eating habits of the rich and famous changed over time? Yes, Purut says. Like most everyone else, they are eating less carbs – “Instead of rice, we make mashed sweet potatoes, instead of potatoes, puréed cauliflower. Less fried foods. We used to sauté vegetables, now we mostly steam or roast. And there’s more demand for gluten-free dishes.”

One customer didn’t care about gluten or carbs. He had one demand: English tea sandwiches. Purut supplied them. A few days later, the vendor told him, he says, “The guy never talks. He never says a word. But he liked the tea sandwiches so much that he actually spoke to tell me how pleased he was.” The guy was Keith Richards.