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Here’s What It’s Like To Be A Chef On An Airplane

Bringing professional chefs on board to prepare meals in first or business class may not be new, but Turkish Airlines has been practicing it at a very high level for a while now. After a break during the stripped-down service era of the pandemic, the airline was unique in bringing its chefs back to the business class cabins of any flight that’s longer than eight hours long.

Given that Turkish Airlines flies to more cities than any other airline in the world (334 and counting!), that’s a lot of chefs in a lot of cabins. Everything begins in a massive kitchen in the Istanbul airport, run by the award-winning gourmet catering company Turkish DO & CO in partnership with the airline, which is its biggest customer. (DO & CO also caters the airline’s excellent business class lounge in the same airport.) Then it makes its way onto the airplanes, along with the professional cooks who make sure it all turns out properly on the plate.

It’s a nice perk for travelers, in terms both of meal quality and of entertainment—it’s almost like a restaurant experience above the clouds, especially because passengers on some overnight flights can choose when they eat their meals, and enjoy them by candlelight. And it’s a conversation starter for the cooks with Flying Chefs on their business cards.

Still, I had some questions—cooking in a Dreamliner’s galley, for instance, at 40,000 feet, can’t always be easy. Fortunately, Flying Chef Eren Berker had some answers. (The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.)

What’s it like to be a Flying Chef?

Having an innovative career opportunity as a Flying Chef for Turkish Airlines allows us to travel all over the world, experiencing different cultures and exotic cuisines. It’s a dream come true for a chef. That said, it can be challenging at times due to flight schedules and adjusting to time zones.

What were you doing before you had this job? How did you end up doing this?

Since obtaining my gastronomy degree, I’ve worked in different establishments—both five-star hotels and upscale à la carte restaurants. I decided to join Turkish Airlines/Turkish DO & CO to observe and experience the different types of local ingredients and expand my understanding of the culinary world.

Can you describe a typical workday?

As a Flying Chef, I am part of the airline crew and responsible for the perfect product presentation in the business class and the culinary assistance of the flight attendants.

Once the aircraft reaches cruising altitude, we begin the main service. We prepare all the meals in the galley and serve passengers in the cabin. We also advise the guests on the selection of dishes and assist the flight attendants during and after the service.

When we land, the passengers leave the aircraft, followed by the crew—then we head to our layover hotel or to our home depending on whether it’s an outbound or inbound flight.

Periodic evaluations ensure that the in-flight service quality adheres to the high standards set, and to identify any challenges.

It must be tricky to cook tasty food in a galley kitchen at high altitude. How do you create memorable dining experiences for your passengers?

We offer our passengers an unequaled onboard dining experience, combining Turkish hospitality with the most exquisite tastes of global and Turkish cuisine prepared by our talented catering team at Turkish DO & CO.

DO&CO and Turkish Airlines jointly designed the whole catering concept for Turkish Airlines. This concept starts from menu planning and design, cabin crew procedures and training, design, procurement and logistical management for culinary and galley equipment in line with the airline’s philosophy.

With menus featuring traditional Turkish delicacies as well as contemporary cuisines, all dishes are prepared using the finest and freshest ingredients according to season and in compliance with all international hygiene standards. We also have special menus for passengers who have dietary requirements.

Do you develop the recipes for the dishes, or do they come from a central executive? How have you made them your own?

Although the menus are decided by our executives, the culinary team is an essential part of the process. We’re encouraged and required to provide input and feedback on the menu development. We also gather and submit detailed feedback after each flight to continue enhancing the overall experience.

What’s the most challenging part of this job?

Moving through different time zones and experiencing jet lag can be challenging at times.

What’s the most rewarding part?

The most rewarding part is meeting so many different and interesting people both during flights and during layovers. Becoming a true world citizen is a reward on its own.

What’s the craziest thing that a passenger ever asked you to do, and how did you respond?

Once during a flight, a young passenger asked if I could take a main course order for her teddy bear. It was a surprising and unusual request, but nonetheless we continued with our service for both our passenger and her teddy bear.

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