On domestic flights, even first class is kind of lame. Yes, the seats are wider and you are bestowed with a warm towel the minute you roost. But there’s nothing particularly luxe about underdressed romaine and glasses of insipid Merlot. After all, isn’t this how coach used to be? So when the beloved American carrier JetBlue unveiled its premium Mint service last year, flaunting fully flat seats and free Wi-Fi on brand-new A321 aircrafts shuttling between New York’s JFK and Los Angeles and San Francisco airports, passengers were amped for a much-needed jolt of mile-high glamour.
And now there’s another reason to splurge on this more commodious cabin (which runs about triple the cost of coach). Brad Farmerie, the chef behind New York restaurant Saxon + Parole, spent two years dreaming up a menu that helps restore travelers’ faith in premium-cabin airline meals. “I selfishly wanted people to get off the plane wondering why they hadn’t had food like this before. Why can’t it be vibrant in color, texture and flavor and leave you satiated and feeling healthy?” he muses.
In-flight feasts have certainly devolved over the decades (although props to JetBlue’s never-ending supply of Terra Chips), and Farmerie is quick to point out that not-so-quality food was one of the first perks to be eliminated amid the recession-spawned era of belt-tightening. “Many people forget that services were stripped away from the airline industry in an attempt to stay afloat during the crisis of 2008 and 2009,” he explains. “Once the financial dip was over, the airlines somehow forgot to bring back the amenities and humanity that had been part of their service, leaving us with chips and soda to tide us over while traveling.” See a sample menu for May.
On Mint, this bleak reality is no more. Thanks to Farmerie’s imagination, Mint-goers now dig into food that is recognizable and memorable and pops off of the plate with bright, fresh colors. “Taste and smell can have a loss of up to 20 percent at altitude, so we wanted dishes that had flavor bursts that didn’t rely on salt to compensate,” says Farmerie, explaining that he turns to an abundant use of herbs, umami boosters and blends from spice guru Lior Lev Sercarz instead.
Passengers first taste Saxon + Parole’s iconic truffled portobello-mushroom mousse with whiskey jelly, then choose three out of five courses, including cheese and chive biscuit sandwiches with chicken sausage for breakfast and Black Angus burgers topped with Havarti and candied bacon onion relish for lunch. To accompany the likes of Fontina-stuffed gnocchi and toasted pecan and herbed lentil salads, wine expert Jon Bonne personally sought out interesting under-the-radar bottles from small California wineries, such as Roederer Estate Brut and Broc Cellars Eaglepoint Ranch Conoise (that’s an obscure grape native to Southern France, by the way). For dessert? A petite-size cup of Brooklyn’s own Blue Marble ice cream.
“In the New York restaurant world, chefs are spoiled,” says the chef. “Guests come to eat the food that the chef conceptualizes and accepts — for the most part — the ingredients are incorporated for a reason. With a captive audience who didn’t necessarily ‘choose’ to eat my food but is hopefully happy to receive some goodness to fill their bellies, there is the chance that my vision and their craving for sustenance don’t meet.”
Hardly. Farmerie’s cuisine is a positive departure from what long, hungry hauls typically signify, we’re pretty certain all those ensconced in Mint will be revved by the sight of the flight attendant heralding their next feeding time — and reluctant to fly another carrier when zipping between the two coasts.
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