© Delafosse Philippe / Valdois Virginie - Collection Air France / Collection Musée AF

Gastronomy

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Air France, ambassador of the French lifestyle

The beginnings

In the beginning, in-flight food was rather limited: sandwiches and drinks given out to passengers who were not too bothered by the turbulence. The rare exception, at the end of the 1920s, was the Golden Ray from Air Union, a restaurant plane. It offered a real feast in the sky: seven dishes accompanied by the finest wines. But the experience was short-lived.

It took until after the war and the increase of distances and flight times for dining to become a priority. Air France, more than the others, was the bearer of this very French culture of eating and drinking well. It installed its own kitchens at Orly airport, and recruited great chefs and flight attendants with hospitality training. The recipes were custom developed, so that the quality of the products would not be altered in pressurized flight.

In 1949, hot meals were served on board, produced by the Air France catering department at Orly. These meals were brought on in containers, then reheated on board by the crew in small kitchens. The menu could be adapted to specific needs from passenger needs. Upon their reservation, they could order a specific menu: the "special meal". A full dining service was offered, with silverware embossed with the Air France logo.

On long-haul flights in first class, each meal was served on plates with Limoges porcelain, silver cutlery, and crystal glasses. A typical menu? On September 19, 1953, on the Paris-New York route in "Parisien Spécial" class, passengers were served truffled foie gras, trout with tarragon, sole fillet, a roast, and ice cream with autumn leaves.

  • Meal service on board a Constellation between 1938 and 1939 © Collection Air France.DR / Collection Musée Air France.DR
  • 1st class service © Collection Air France.DR / Collection Musée Air France.DR
  • Preparation of toasts and starters, Centre hôtelier Air France, Orly © Collection Air France.DR / Collection Musée Air France.DR

Gastronomy at the heart of change

In 1969, the Air France transport division offered new "disposable" in-flight tableware in Economy Class: single-use plates, glasses, and cups. This made it possible to limit the weight carried on board.

In 1971, at the opening of the Roissy hub, Air France created its own air kitchen subsidiary: Servair, which complemented the AF Catering Supply and Replenishment Centre in Orly (CARH). It does not skimp on quality: the products are selected by tasting committees. And now, Michelin-starred chefs, such as Michel Roth and Thibaut Ruggeri, oversee the kitchens.

The arrival of jets was a game-changer. The age of long feasts was over, because service time was limited. With wide-bodied jets, more than 400 people needed to be served!

On medium-haul flights, Air France tried an experimental new type of meal service in Tourist Class in 1972 (Project 113). Meal boxes were distributed to passengers upon boarding. Air France quickly decided to abandon this to come back to in-seat service.

In 1985, all drinks offered in Economy Class on medium-haul international flights were free, including champagne, just like on international long-haul flights. In 1991, light dishes were offered to passengers in the Le Club class on long-haul flights leaving Paris. Among the hot dish options offered, there were meat and fish dishes, one prepared without rich sauces, and a "Plat du Jour", a regional speciality from the departure city.

  • 1st class meal on Caravelle - 1960 © Collection Musée Air France
  • Espace Le Club meal on B747-400 - 2009 © Philippe Delafosse
  • Anne-Sophie Pic's culinary creations - 2015 © Claire-Lise Havet

French-style savoir-vivre

In 1991, light dishes were offered to passengers in the Le Club class on long-haul flights leaving Paris. Among the hot dish options offered, there were meat and fish dishes, one prepared without rich sauces, and a "Plat du Jour," a regional speciality from the departure city.

In March 1993, Air France started to offer a European tradition on its medium-haul flights of less than two hours: the "Goûter", "Tea Time", or "Merienda". The arrival of "snack time" marked the launch of Air France's new policy for meals served aboard medium-haul flights. The main innovations focused on extending the service of the main meals across four timeslots. This was to take into account socio-cultural specificities, in particular late lunch and dinner hours for flights leaving southern and eastern European countries.

Since 2005, Air France has called upon the greatest sommeliers and Michelin-starred chefs to offer its customers the best in French cuisine. All of the Air France First Class menus have been created by Guy Martin, working with Servair chefs specially trained to create these menus. The dishes include lobster salad with coriander sauce, followed by a beef fillet with parsley sauce, lemony sweet potatoes and foie gras, along with an orange tart with fennel seeds for dessert. To meet the expectations of Asian clients, the Air France Flight Product Logistics and I&N divisions gave a special place of honour to Indian, Chinese, and Korean cuisine starting in 2007.

Since 2013, passengers on long-haul flights in Premium Economy and Economy class have seen new cutlery on board, designed by Eugeni Quitlet.

The Servair Culinary Studio, led by Joël Robuchon, with the support of Guy Martin and Jacques Le Divellec, designs the menus served aboard First Class cabins leaving Paris. Each month, the chefs redesign the menu by creating an appetizer and two exclusive mains. The goal is to offer customers a dining selection that has all of the virtues of high French cuisine. Servair is a leader in aviation cuisine, producing 84 million meal trays per year.

As a natural symbol of the French lifestyle, Air France lives up to this challenge by fully reaffirming its position as ambassador of French cuisine, calling upon world-renowned Michelin starred chefs to bring gourmet meals on board. The final and essential touch that makes the in-flight meal a true moment of enjoyment depends upon an attentive and efficient meal service, led by courteous and professional staff. Air France flight attendants are trained at an in-flight service school run by the airline that helps them learn the gestures and attitudes that are part of quality service. For our passengers, these are special moments of relaxation as they travel aboard one of our "restaurants in the sky."

CHML meal for children traveling in Business class - 2013 © Sylvain Cambon

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