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Top airline expands service from Brussels - and flies the flag for onboard cuisine

Leading airline Emirates is doing best to dispel traditional myths about onboard food with an innovative and inventive approach to eating at 34,000ft

By: EBR - Posted: Monday, October 23, 2017

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Overseeing the preparation of 180,000 meals each day is a team of five executive chefs and sous chefs. During peak periods such as the summer this figure rockets, with the 2017 record in July when 220,000 meals were processed in a 24-hour period. Like everything else at the Emirates Flight Catering Centre (EKFC), this is undertaken with military-style precision.The airline boasts a global spread of destinations and also sources ingredients used in its dishes from around the globe. There’s bananas from the Philippines, lamb sourced from New Zealand, vegetables from the Middle East and locally-sourced meat. Oh, and not forgetting (still popular) baked beans from the UK.
Overseeing the preparation of 180,000 meals each day is a team of five executive chefs and sous chefs. During peak periods such as the summer this figure rockets, with the 2017 record in July when 220,000 meals were processed in a 24-hour period. Like everything else at the Emirates Flight Catering Centre (EKFC), this is undertaken with military-style precision.The airline boasts a global spread of destinations and also sources ingredients used in its dishes from around the globe. There’s bananas from the Philippines, lamb sourced from New Zealand, vegetables from the Middle East and locally-sourced meat. Oh, and not forgetting (still popular) baked beans from the UK.

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by Martin Banks

With its emphasis on quality and determination to serve restaurant-style food, Emirates, which launches a new, twice daily service from Brussels to Dubai on October 29, seeks to fly the flag for the airline industry.

The airline's culinary prowess starts at "Mother Station", its flight catering facility at Dubai. This is where tens of thousands of airline meals are prepared and - regularly throughout each day - sent on their way around the globe. The size of several football pitches, it is probably the biggest of its kind in the world.

The statistics are staggering: the centre is where - each day-  3m items of dirty equipment are sorted and cleaned. Economy-class equipment and business-class equipment are washed separately, nothing to do with snobbery but simply because some of the equipment is made from different material.Workers load everything into a hangar on one side which is then taken to the "ware-wash" machines on another side for hygiene reasons. Each day, some 2m pieces of equipment is washed in 28 washing machines. While the dishes, glassware and cutlery are cleaned and separated, a 2.3km monorail takes the cleaned items to the food area on the first floor - where restaurant-class food is produced on an industrial scale.

Overseeing the preparation of 180,000 meals each day is a team of five executive chefs and sous chefs. During peak periods such as the summer this figure rockets, with the 2017 record in July when 220,000 meals were processed in a 24-hour period. Like everything else at the Emirates Flight Catering Centre (EKFC), this is undertaken with military-style precision.The airline boasts a global spread of destinations and also sources ingredients used in its dishes from around the globe. There's bananas from the Philippines, lamb sourced from New Zealand, vegetables from the Middle East and locally-sourced meat. Oh, and not forgetting (still popular) baked beans from the UK.

Care is taken to ensure that the food that leaves the centre is "route specific." That means, for example, that sushi dishes are served on its Far East routes while meat (chicken/beef) is the most common (and still most popular) item found on flights to Europe,North America and Australia.

The same criteria applies to wine with the tipple served on, say the Japan route is different to the US one. Each day, 2,300 containers packed with wines leave the centre for loading onto aircraft.That is, apart from flights to nearby Saudi Arabia which are strictly non-alcoholic (any contraventions could land the airline with a huge fine).

Recycling is also an important element of the work, be it cooking oil or aluminium. Every month, the centre recovers 65 tons of cardboard packaging which is recycled (elsewhere in Dubai) into new paper products.

Having opened in 2007, EKFC1 this year celebrates its tenth birthday but is, in fact, just one of two such centres on the sprawling site, located adjacent to  Dubai International Airport. There's also a EKFC2 facility housing fully-fledged bakery and commissary sections. With current daily production of 500,000 items, these sections are on track to be the largest of their kind under the same roof.

Haiko Schafer, originally from Hamburg, is one of five executive chefs who has worked at EKFC for 11 years.He explains some of the differences between the restaurant in Germany where he used to work and cooking for airline passengers. Haiko, who works a 5-day week, said, "Actually, I have to admit that when I first arrived I wasn't sure I would take to it. I came from working in a small restaurant so the sheer size and scale of what we do here took a lot of getting used to. The loss of direct and intimate contact you're your customers, was also difficult. Here, you don't see the people who are eating your meals." The company's gastronomy has been the  recent subject of an unusual promotion in Belgium. It has become the only airline to date to be featured on resto.be the online restaurant booking portal in Belgium.

Emirates has carried more than half a million passengers between Dubai and Brussels since launching operations on September 5 2014 and the twice-daily service starts from 29 October. A spokesman at Belgium's tourist authority said the company's operations have made a positive impact on Belgium's tourism, trade, investment and employment. The new year-round flight being launched this month will also enhance Belgium's global long-haul connectivity, offering passengers travelling from Brussels the chance to reach more than 70 Emirates' destinations in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Australasia. 

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Top airline expands service from Brussels - and flies the flag for onboard cuisine

Leading airline Emirates is doing best to dispel traditional myths about onboard food with an innovative and inventive approach to eating at 34,000ft

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