Aug 24, 2023

Cathay Pacific Launches Meat

Two years ago, Cathay Pacific announced its commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. In a move that pushes the airline further towards that goal, Cathay’s partnership with Ovolo – the world’s first hotel group to go fully vegetarian – comes after several rounds of experimenting and taste tests.

Veda, Ovolo’s acclaimed vegetarian restaurant, is helmed by executive chef Raul Tronco Calahorra. He worked with Cathay’s culinary team to develop dishes that work just as well at high altitudes as they do on the ground. And it wasn’t as straightforward as transferring Veda’s dishes to in-flight meal trays.

“Designing a meal to be enjoyed at 30,000 feet comes with its challenges,” says Tronco Calahorra. “I had to consider everything from how tastebuds are affected at altitude, to cooking techniques.” A 2010 study by Lufthansa found that the combination of dry air and low pressure reduces our tastebuds’ sensitivity to sweet and salty foods by 30%. Around 80% of our perceptions of taste are due to smell – but the dryness at high altitudes impedes our odour receptors, which makes food taste bland.

This is why airline dishes need to be more strongly flavoured than those served at ground level, and Cathay Pacific said its culinary team worked together with Tronco Calahorra to set optimum seasoning levels for the new plant-forward meals.

The other issue is volume. “I needed to adapt my recipes to include ingredients that could consistently be sourced for potentially thousands of meals a day,” the Veda executive chef explains. “Can they get the same paneer I’m using, or the same tofu? The challenge isn’t the mass production – you can get a big pot and cook 1,000 litres of a sauce – but the assembly.”

And since cooking methods on plans are limited due to space, most of the food is prepared in Cathay Pacific Catering Services’ kitchens near its Hong Kong International Airport base.

All this has led to the creation of a menu that adapts some dishes from Veda’s menu, and features some completely new ones. While Veda is famous for its meat-free Indian food, the 16 dishes take inspiration from international cuisines, available in Premium Economy and Economy on select long-haul and ultra-long-haul flights from Hong Kong.

The Premium Economy menu has dishes like hummus with harissa-roasted cauliflower and pickled red onions, Keralan-style coconut curry with vegetables and cumin rice, roasted vegetable tagine with halloumi and pearl couscous, and Panang dry curry tofu with cashews and coconut rice. In Economy, you’ll find the likes of purple quinoa tabbouleh, Mediterranean potato salad, northern Thai classic Khao soi, as well as paneer makhani with cumin rice.

This isn’t Cathay Pacific’s first foray into plant-based and meat-free dining. In 2019, it became just the second airline globally to serve vegan meat on its in-flight menu (after Air New Zealand), teaming up with Hong Kong alt-meat giant OmniPork. And last month, it introduced meals containing plant-based pork by fellow Hong Kong brand Plant Sifu, famous for its konjac-based dumplings and dim sum.

“Cathay Pacific is not only a global top 10 airline, but also one of Hong Kong’s best-recognised enterprises for culinary innovation and quality,” Joshua Ng, co-founder of Plant Sifu’s parent company Good Food Technologies, tells Green Queen. “Our ‘taste-first’ and localised approach in product development separated us early on to secure this key partnership,” adds co-founder Dr Andrew Leung.

While Hong Kong’s national flag carrier has previously offered plant-forward meals that didn’t need to be pre-selected, the new dishes offer passengers an even broader selection. “We want to ensure we are doing our bit to help preserve our environment, promote healthy eating and enhance the image of amazing vegetarian and plant-based dining,” says Ovolo founder Girish Jhunjhnuwala. “Our collaboration with Cathay Pacific aligns perfectly with this mantra and our Plant’d pledge, and our wider ‘Do Good. Feel Good.’ sustainability commitment.”

The collaboration is part of Cathay Pacific’s ‘The difference is in the detail‘ campaign, which aims to elevate its in-flight dining experiences and enhance its wellness and sustainability credentials and supports its long-term partnership with Hong Kong environmental charity The Green Earth, helping travellers “make better lifestyle choices for the planet”.