For most passengers squeezed into economy class, aeroplane food is not necessarily something they look forward to on their flight, be it long or short haul. However, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways hopes to tickle economy passengers’ taste buds through a collaboration with Black Sheep Restaurants, a hospitality group based in the city. From November 1, travellers in economy class on Cathay Pacific long-haul flights will be able to sample meals developed by chefs from some of Black Sheep’s 25 restaurants, which include Maison Libanaise, serving Middle Eastern food, Vietnamese restaurant Chom Chom, Thai restaurant Soul Food Thai, Italian restaurant Motorino and Hotal Colombo , which serves Sri Lankan food. Bernard Mills, Cathay’s head of customer experience, says Black Sheep Restaurants was chosen because its stable of restaurants offer a wide range of cuisines and international flavours. “Hong Kong is a diverse food city. People travel for food and flying is part of that journey,” he says. Cathay is not merely taking dishes from Black Sheep restaurant menus. Mill says: “There was a concerted effort not to take restaurant dishes in flight, but rather how to take inspiration from their restaurants and create dishes in flight. It’s all about flavour.” Cathay first approached the co-founders of Black Sheep, Christopher Mark and Syed Asim Hussain, over a year ago and their initial reaction was mixed. “The chef in me was immediately excited by the opportunity to paint on a broader canvas, and catering to economy customers was appealing to us, as we know that there are more foodies at the back of the plane than at the front,” Mark says in an email. Hussain was more cautious. “We are fortunate these days to get a lot of requests for collaborations from around the world but we almost never accept them. However, this was a storied home-grown hospitality brand I have long admired and the challenge was one that really interested us – how to tell our stories through food at 30,000 feet.” Cathay director customer Simon Large says Black Sheep’s decision to cater to economy class is interesting, since the food budget is much smaller compared to first and business class. This is the first time the airline has collaborated with a restaurant group. Black Sheep chefs such as Braden Reardon from Italian restaurant Carbone, Palash Mitra from Indian restaurants Rajasthan Rifles and New Punjab Club, Lisette Magampon from Italian restaurant Osteria Marzia, and Josh Stumbaugh from another Italian outlet, Associazone Chianti, worked with Cathay Pacific Catering Services chefs to understand how airline food is prepared and how passengers’ taste buds are affected when they are 30,000 feet in the air. It took about a year – twice as long as initially expected – to develop dishes that would work not only in terms of taste but also logistics. The restaurant chefs developed recipes that were reworked many times over and eventually taste-tested by Cathay staff. This week Cathay and Black Sheep showed off some of the dishes that will be available on selected long-haul flights departing from Hong Kong at the group’s newest restaurant, Associazone Chianti in Wan Chai. For appetisers, the Vietnamese shredded chicken and cabbage salad with nuoc cham dressing has a spicy zing, while the Middle Eastern grain salad has many textures and includes carrots roasted with fennel seeds, couscous and lentils, squid, and a tahini dressing; a bean salad has chickpeas, kidney and cannellini beans mixed with chipotle aioli and barbecue chicken and has a Mexican spin. As for main courses, there’s a straightforward broccoli macaroni and cheese that is comfort food made a bit more healthy with some greens, and chicken satay with coconut rice and kai lan that is inspired by a dish at Soul Food Thai. Mexican pulled pork is slow roasted with a blend of spices including cinnamon, cloves and smoked dried chillies, and accompanied with spice roasted pumpkin and brown rice. Braised beef in red wine is very tender and is served with green beans and lemon gremolata. One dish that particularly impressed was the vegetable kari in a creamy coconut milk sauce with spinach and lemon rice that was inspired by the food at Hotal Colombo. Roasted tarragon chicken surprisingly comes from French steak restaurant La Vache! Accompanied by smashed minted green peas and creamy mashed potatoes, it has nostalgic appeal. Cathay expects to start serving the dishes developed with Black Sheep on regional flights in 2020, and the two companies are already working on a new batch of dishes.