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El Al aims for take-off with celebrity chef

The days of 'chicken or beef' are gone as the airline turns to Israel's top cook

    Flying tonight: an El Al meal from a menu designed by Moshe Segev, one of Israel’s most famous chefs
    Flying tonight: an El Al meal from a menu designed by Moshe Segev, one of Israel’s most famous chefs

    In a challenge reminiscent of Jamie's School Dinners, a celebrity chef has completely overhauled El Al's in-flight meals in an attempt to make them tastier, healthier and fresher.

    Moshe Segev is one of Israel's best-known chefs with a primetime television show and two acclaimed restaurants

    At El Al's request, he has spent most of the last six months at its kitchens near Ben Gurion Airport, developing new menus. Segev laid down the law to the airline's cooks. "I told them, from today we never use powdered soup mix, we never use frozen vegetables and we never use dried herbs," he says.

    He was equally forthright with an El Al executive. "He told me 'listen, this is going to be expensive'. I said: 'I know but there are things we have to change'."

    Segev, who has cooked in his restaurants for the likes of Gordon Brown and Hilary Clinton, refused to be limited by the existing kitchen setup. He found that even the best vegetable-chopping machines would squeeze out juice from peppers. So he insisted they be chopped by hand - a serious undertaking given that the airline produces more than 4.5 million meals a year.

    Segev faced huge challenges. He had to change the working practices of airline cooks, design gourmet dishes for mass production, ensure that they would survive packaging, cooling, and reheating and were innovative and had wide-appeal. He also had another problem. Six out of 10 El Al meals are produced in Israel, but the other four out of 10 come from foreign kitchens. "We have chefs in Bangkok, Mumbai, Manhattan and elsewhere. They are all good chefs, but one knows how to cook Indian-style, another American-style, and so on." He had to train them in the new menus.

    Moshe Segev: no frozen veg
    Moshe Segev: no frozen veg

    Some of Segev's changes are subtle. For taste and health considerations he changed the mixture for the breakfast omelettes. "There was a lot of cream, a lot of oil," he explains.

    Others will be obvious to passengers, such as the departure from breakfasts of hash browns. The omelette will now be accompanied by salad with dressing made from olive oil. And instead of sponge cake, there will be cheesecake with lemon zest. Weight-watchers can opt for muesli, bio yoghurt, and honey.

    For lunch and dinner, chicken breasts - which he considers too dry after the on-flight reheat - are out and legs are in. Beef is to be slow-roasted. A highlight of his menu will be "white rice with haricots verts and meat in a wine sauce with carrots, red onions and parsley". His meals will be accompanied by crusty sesame-topped bread baked from scratch at El Al kitchens.

    Segev has even asked for the signature line of El Al cabin crew, "chicken or beef?" to be consigned to history. Rather, he wants cabin crew to get passengers appetites going with vivid descriptions of the dishes, "like at a restaurant".

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