Feeling Nostalgic For Airplane Meals? Bryce Edwards Has Simply Written The E-book On It
Coffee service on Pan Am, wrap up during the day
Courtesy Bryce Edwards
As a luxury travel journalist and accidental food writer, I should perhaps be embarrassed to admit this. But I like airplane food.
One of my earliest travel memories was when my family volunteered to give up our seats on a flight from Dallas to Tampa and was rewarded with upgrades. The eight year old loved this first class breakfast with its freshly squeezed orange juice served in a real glass and hot, fluffy eggs on a disposable plate. I’m too young to have flown Pan Am, but I’ve known for a long time that American Airlines breakfast would have been put to shame by its service – and I was intrigued by the idea of flying back into that golden age.
When Dr. I was intrigued by Bryce Edwards, Professor of History at Liverpool Hope University, about his new book, Food and Aviation in the 20th Century: The Pan-American Ideal (Bloomsbury, published today).
The book is a scientific yet entertaining journey through decades of aviation, cooking, and luxury history. “Pan Am represents the elitist, carefree Golden Age of air travel – it embodies the razzmatazz and excitement of getting on a plane, especially in the age of mass travel,” says Edwards.
There are funny stories of badly behaved celebrities (including a future president), eggs in bras and laxatives in bullying pilot meals – and some less funny stories about flight attendants’ working conditions – but the most interesting is the food. Pan Am is an airline that has partnered with Maxim’s in Paris to serve trolley-style French haute cuisine seven miles in the air. There was a 13-course menu, caviar service and morning eggs to order. Even in the inn, the passengers were stuck in stuffed guinea fowl garnished with fresh parsley.
I had a few questions.
History professor and author Bryce Edwards
With kind permission of the author
What interested you in this topic?
I am a historian in Essen. And in terms of the brand, Pan Am is so important. It is the second most important brand behind Coca-Cola. It was represented in the American vision of globalization and global taste. It made the local global and vice versa. This has become a priority for foodies over the past decade, but Pan Am did years before. Pan Am introduced airline food as we know it today in 1936.
Why did you write this book?
All of Pan Am’s razzmatazz is enticing. You may be an academic, but Pan Am has that old glitz and glamor.
How did you research?
I spent a lot of time in the University of Miami Pan Am Archives. It was a great opportunity to interview former flight attendants. They have amazing stories – pretty brutal stuff. But I think the biggest story is luxury travel pioneering, luxury taste pioneering.
In part of the research that was a lot of fun, former flight attendants created an on-board meal for me. People ask about my best airplane meal. I say it was down. They used the old plates and wore their old uniforms, which still fit. There were eight Epicurean dishes, each accompanied by a wine or liqueur.
What was the most surprising?
The influence of altitude and lack of humidity and cabin pressure on the taste buds – how airline food has evolved. You have to compromise to be seven miles high. Your taste buds are desensitized.
But I think that has been overemphasized. None of the flight attendants said that was really a factor.
What Pan Am did in its collaboration with Maxim’s was more enjoyment. It was the trolley ambience of a Parisian restaurant in the air. This overrode any scientific concern about taste buds.
Pan Am’s preparation kitchen at Maxim
Courtesy Bryce Edwards
One more thing?
It was also interesting that the Americans took over French gastronomy for the first time. That was ten years before Julia Child. Pan Am was a pioneer of culinary transnationalism. They hugged dishes from all over the world.
Pan Am’s founder, Juan Trippe, tried to recreate the feeling of eating on an ocean liner and / or airship with piano lounges. This became a milestone where people took airline food seriously. In 1956 Pan Am and Maxim won three prizes at the International Gastronomic Exhibition in Frankfurt. It is amazing to believe that Airline Food won top awards at these Olympics culinary games.
If you had been a passenger in the 1960s, what would you have liked to have eaten?
If you flew first class back then, before mass travel opened up in the 1970s, there was an eight-course glamor with a choice of starters, a main, fruit, salad, cheese and, especially for me, chateaubriand all in one Have carved tray.
They finished it off with Escoffier desserts – burning bombas. We can’t imagine flying today. Imagine you are a nervous aviator and you see smoke and flames. It’s so symbolic of another era. Eventually it turned into some extravaganza of dry ice and flames with cherries and lots of alcohol. The 50s and 60s were a great time to fly.
Were there any special protocols that prevented passengers from stealing the silver?
I wish I had investigated. When Pan Am collapsed in 1991, the staff took everything away. They had such a love and awe for society, right down to the toothpicks and the tablecloths.
There is a story in the book about the Pearl Harbor attacks in 1941. Apparently the Japanese attacked the Pan-Am building on the atoll the day after the bombing. Pam Am employees rushed into the burning building to store the dishes.
So what happened
By the 1980s, the nature of the industry had changed. There was deregulation in the American market. There were upstarts, no frills. It became a race for price and quality. More and more people were thinking: why am I paying the absolute top dollar for something I can get cheaper, minus the food?
There was a famous case study where Robert Crandall, head of American Airlines, was thinking about his salad in the air and picking up the olive and thinking about how much the company would save if they removed an olive. Estimates vary but could have saved $ 50,000 in one year. This kind of cost-cutting thinking made Pan Am’s great culinary experience impractical.
Speaking of inconvenient, you probably know that Singapore Airlines served passengers on parked planes (for nearly $ 500) with meals that fall and they sold out quickly. What about it?
I think it shows that the multi-vicious airline food is still desirable. My book was written before the locks. Even then, you could pay $ 250 in Los Angeles to go to a retro Pan-Am dinner served by on-site actresses in uniform. There was already more nostalgia than we realized.