Private jet meals: what's on the menu when you fly VIP, and the dishes celebrities demand

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If you think that the food in Singapore Airlines first class is impressive, wait until you see what private jet customers are feasting on.

Sure, Singapore Airlines employs big-name chefs who create exquisite dining and drink options. However, if you're flying by private jet, just the in-flight catering meal service alone can cost as much as a return first-class flight on some of the world's greatest airlines.

Welcome to the world of private flying, where anything goes and demands from celebrities and wealthy customers alike can be quirky, to say the least. It's a world that many of us will never get to see, and just a lucky few get to experience it.

In 2018 only about 52,000 people passed through Zurich Airport on private jets, compared to 31 million who flew on commercial flights. Passengers experiencing VIP treatment at the airport are ushered through airport formalities, treated to private airline lounges, and chauffeured by limousines to their aircraft.

An assortment of private jet in-flight catering ready for delivery to an aircraft at Zurich airport in Switzerland. 
Photo: South China Morning Post

Bijoux Catering, run by Rachid Benboudy, is located close to the perimeter of Zurich Airport in Switzerland and provides in-flight catering to these very private fliers.

An old cheese factory that once housed the now-defunct Crossair Catering was taken over by Benboudy in 2017 to expand his luxury catering business that he started in 2013.

As a trained chef, Benboudy worked in Michelin two- and three-star restaurants in the US and France. While working as a private chef for a client in Switzerland, Benboudy would cater the food for his boss's private jet.

His VIP airline menu reads like an exceptional three-Michelin-star dining experience with items such as wagyu rib-eye with crunchy confit shallots and jus, which costs US$220 (S$300).

But sometimes it's more about comfort food - of sorts. "We had a customer request McDonald's for their in-flight lunch menu," says Benboudy.

But that's wasn't all, as to be served alongside the McDonald's, the passengers ordered a kilo of the best caviar available.

Beef fillet carpaccio is one dish Bijoux Catering has on its menu for private jet travellers. 
Photo: South China Morning Post

Benboudy treats me to a private jet sit-down lunch - although on the ground. It includes lobster rolls, truffle potatoes, French langoustines and scallops with champagne sabayon, beef fillet carpaccio, black truffles from Perigord, mini baguettes, and the cutest butter rosettes you've ever seen.

The quality was exceptional, although that is something to be expected since most private jet customers are paying an average of US$1,000 per head for catering and drinks. Prices like these are a far cry from what commercial airlines are paying to feed their first and business class customers. An average first-class meal will, depending on the airline, cost a commercial airline roughly US$28, not including delivery charges.

"Private jet customers do not look at the price like civilian airlines,'' says Francis Louckx, a senior cabin crew member of Private Jets and Yachts based in the UAE. Louckx once had a high-net-worth client request a whole lobster to be served hot in-flight. "If the customer requests it we deliver it for them."

But he cannot always fulfil requests in remote parts of the world. To get around this, he plans orders ahead of time and may even arrange delivery of particular products to the destination so that it can be uploaded to the aircraft for the return flight.

When travelling from Paris, Louckx relies on the likes of gourmet food company Fauchon, catering service Dalloyau, and luxury hospitality service Joubin for his in-flight catering needs. "The know-how of a Paris luxury caterer is essential if you want to impress your guests aboard on the one hand, and ensure the success of your flight on the other hand." Most of Louckx's passengers are frequent visitors to hotels such as the Ritz and the Georges V.

There are no budgets when it comes to his in-flight catering needs, but on a long-haul service he can easily spend US$550 per person for food.

That menu may read something like this:

Champagne aperitif

Grilled white asparagus with crispy capers sprinkled with an infusion of thyme and lemon

Roasted/smoked blue lobster

Emulsion of white butter morels

Australian "Black Market beef"

Draped trifled mozzarella

Local cheese

Strawberries macerated with lime and coriander leaf sorbet

Truffle potatoes for private jet in-flight catering ready for delivery to an aircraft at Zurich airport. 
Photo: South China Morning Post

For Louckx, it's vital to offer a quality in-flight dining experience from Paris because "Paris is considered one of the world capitals of gastronomy and if you have foreign guests, it's an opportunity to prove to them that she deserves her fame."

At Frankfurt Airport, corporate flight attendants for GIC International Catering can WhatsApp urgent in-flight catering requests to the company. Göksel Yildirim, the company's managing director of marketing and sales, recalls catering a private jet aircraft for a celebrity model.

The flight attendant had requested typical German style food including Wiener schnitzel, potato salad and sausages. But after the food was delivered to the aircraft, the flight attendant asked that it all be removed - the model's bodyguards had turned up with 10 large bags of Burger King meals and did not want the in-flight catering provided. Instead, the aircraft flew off and only served one Caesar salad and a bottle of water.

Bijoux Catering’s French langoustine and scallops with champagne sabayon. 
Photo: South China Morning Post

A rather humble order came from Formula One giant Michael Schumacher, who was flying on his private jet from Frankfurt Airport. His order consisted of one green salad and Rosbacher water - Schumacher was a brand ambassador for them at the time.

If you're looking for a private jet experience, but cannot afford the flight, you'll find several operators offering what are called "empty leg" flights. These are the unsold portions of food booked for a chartered flight and offer incredible value. They will not deliver it to your economy-class seat (or even first-class seat) - and definitely will not serve it to you on fine china, but it's something you can arrange with the private jet company.

If you're passing through Zurich Airport and want to experience the airport like a VIP, the airport offers arrival and departure services; when leaving, you'll get a meet and greet and will be escorted to the Zurich Airport VIP lounge. Passport and security checks are completed discreetly and quickly, and you're taken to your aircraft by limousine. This service costs around US$450 per person.

Lobster rolls and a selection of sandwiches (Caviar House & Prunier) as part of private jet in-flight catering at Zurich airport. 
Photo: South China Morning Post
Photo: South China Morning Post

If that's not your thing, chef Benboudy's creations from Bijoux Catering can be found airside at Zurich Airport at the Caviar House & Prunier Bar on level one.

If you're off to Paris, a trip to the Fauchon store should be in order, but if you cannot get to the City of Lights, the company has stores around the globe including the Middle East, Asia and South America. Dalloyau, with seven stores in Paris, will surely impress with their fabulous desserts too.

Finally, if none of that works, you can pre-order the Fauchon menu for economy-class passengers flying with Air France.

This upgrade meal similar to a business-class meal is currently offering a spring-summer menu available until September 2019, where you can feast on scallops, guinea fowl and Camembert cheese, as well as a dessert trio of pistachio, raspberry and lemon macaroons.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post

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