Executive Chef Peter Devito and business partner Michele Savino started 121 Inflight Catering, the premier inflight caterer in the New York area, in 2006 after owning and operating a series of successful restaurants under the 121 Restaurant Group. Over the last eight years, they’ve worked with some pretty high-profile clients–royal families, sports teams, and Fortune 500 executives, to name a few–but now, there’s something new in the works: commercial flight catering.
During this exciting time of expansion for 121, we spoke with DeVito about what it’s like to cook for a restaurant in the air, the stigma of in-flight dining, and how 121 is changing that.
How do you create the feeling of a boutique-style service when working with large commercial airlines?
“We’re not the largest provider and thats not the intention. The intention is to work with airlines that are still really concerned with the quality and presentation of the meal. Our JFK kitchen works primarily with Asian and Middle Eastern airlines because those regions still have a greater concern for the quality of food that they serve their passengers unlike other airlines that are concerned primarily with cutting prices.”
Why is it important that passengers have a better dining experience?
“For us, food is everything. The way we look at it: food is something that you can do in your day-to-day life that offers you the ability to have a good dose of excellence. You can have a good glass of wine on any given day and it can be excellent. There aren’t a lot of opportunities in your daily life that can offer that. [In-flight dining] doesn’t have to be what it is. It doesn’t have to be this sub-par, mediocre thing that everybody complains about. It can be a restaurant in the sky. It takes thinking about it differently, and not doing it the way it’s already been done.”
What’s different about preparing food for patrons on a plane versus patrons in a restaurant?
“You have to season more aggressively. The atmosphere in the plane makes taste buds and senses muted. Tomato juice is popular because its acidic, pungent, strong–you have to cook the same way. You have to be more delicate with ingredients because they’re cooked, cooled, and reheated. You need products that will stay well under refrigeration and then reheat well.”
Can you share some of your new menu concepts?
“We’re working on an à la carte menu for customers. The ability of a passenger to order off a menu solves the problem of tighter dietary restrictions [by using natural anti biotic-free proteins] from conditions such as Celiac disease, which in recent years have become nearly ubiquitous.”
“Luxury doesn’t have to be expensive. For me, luxury is really anything that’s great. A cheeseburger can be luxurious, as can a complex foie gras dish. And yet it can be awful too. Good ingredients and good technique make luxurious food.”