Cathay Pacific

How TV chef Daniel Green made healthier, tastier in-flight menu for Cathay Pacific

Airline food is usually bland and dry or has too much salt and fat. Green applies his clean and light dining philosophy, and a couple of tricks, to cook up low-carb meals full of freshness

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 August, 2016, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 August, 2016, 5:13pm

At 9,000 metres, our taste buds and sense of smell change, making food taste bland. So in-flight meals usually pack extra salt, oils and seasoning to remain appetising. The consequence, usually, is less than healthy cuisine.

Celebrity chef Daniel Green, in his new healthy in-flight menu for Cathay Pacific, however, has taken a different approach.

Known in the US, UK and Asia for his clean and light dining philosophy, Green has eliminated deep-fried foods as well as cream, cheese and butter from Cathay’s new first and business class offerings in trips between Hong Kong and North America. In their place, Green has introduced fresh, natural ingredients – and a couple of tricks – to keep the meals flavourful yet nutritious.

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The nutritional balance of the in-flight menu has also shifted towards higher protein, lower carb – a 70:30 ratio instead of the previous 50:50.

“The methods have been quite different from what airlines are used to,” says Green, 46, who was in Hong Kong recently to launch the menu that began service on August 1.

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Take his new pasta dish for example, fettucine with shiitake mushrooms, white wine, garlic, chargrilled fennel and white truffle oil. With the strong aroma and flavour of the truffle, there is no need for cream nor cheese. To ensure the pasta retains its texture when served, it is undercooked by about 30 per cent. Additional stock, instead of oil, is added to the foil-sealed package, so when it is reheated for 20 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius, it is perfect when served.

Four other main courses and three salad starters have also been introduced in this first phase of Cathay’s healthy menu roll-out. In total, Green has created some 40 dishes that will be introduced progressively over the coming months. The entire creation took five months and four trips to Cathay’s Hong Kong kitchen.

He’s also made two “power drinks”: a “Vitamin C booster” and a “berries, spinach and maple syrup energiser” smoothie.

“On a plane, you’re not going to move around a lot, so I wanted to keep the meals light – and by light I don’t mean less food, but having a clean taste,” says Green.

“Your taste buds are different but I didn’t want to make the food extra spicy or flavourful just for that reason because that would ruin it. For me, it’s more important to keep food moist and texture consistent. The worst experience is having a dried out piece of meat.”

A self-taught chef, Green was overweight as a teenager and slimmed down after his mother put him through Weight Watchers. His career as a celebrity chef began after winning a British food magazine’s search for “the next Jamie Oliver”, which led to gigs with Food Network UK, BBC Travel and the Style Network. Then the US market came calling, and the Londoner moved to Minnesota, Minneapolis more than a decade ago and is based there with his wife and two children.

In addition to TV shows, he has written 11 books on healthy cooking – his latest based on the Paleo diet, which he closely follows – has developed an in-room dining programme for a five-star hotel chain in Asia, and has also designed menus for two major international airlines, British Midland and KLM.

With his jet-setting lifestyle, Green is an expert on what to eat and what to avoid on a plane. Sugar and fat are the biggest evils.

“When you’re jet-lagged, you are tired and you’re craving energy, so your body instantly goes for sugar and carbs. You don’t want to do that; you want to load up on fruit, vegetables and protein. Cut out carbs completely – this is energy you don’t need. Alcohol is the same, it’s loaded with sugar. Avoid energy drinks and coffee as well – they’re a quick fix, but when your energy crashes you probably come down harder.”

Green usually picks a cold meal on the plane – a big salad with lots of protein. His most memorable in-flight meal, he says, was while travelling in first class on Japan airlines: a tray of sashimi and other Japanese bites. “It was so fantastic, so clean. That’s where I started getting this idea of not changing food too much.”

But what’s an economy class passenger, devoid of much choice, to do when it comes to healthy in-flight eating?

“You can plan to take things on board, like nuts or freeze-dried fruit,” says Green. “ If you want to eat healthily, it involves planning. You have to make a conscious effort.”