For me, and for most lovers of the epicurean lifestyle, a good meal isn’t just something to digest, it’s also an event and many times makes for a wonderful (and sometimes bittersweet) memory. Anyone that knows me and the way I was raised, knows that I don’t eat to live, I live to eat. It’s the way most Louisianians are. We associate certain meals with certain people or times in our life. Such as a grandmother’s mac and cheese or a special dish of crab cakes enjoyed in certain company. I’m pleased to add another epicurean adventure into the filebox of my memory……
Dear CajunMama – You are cordially invited to take part in a trip to Doha, Qatar with Qatar Airways for a 5 Star Culinary Adventure….stated the invitation that came through my inbox recently.
I’d like to think I’m somewhat well-traveled, but I still had to Bing ‘Qatar’ to see exactly where it was on the world map — a small peninsula country in the Persian Gulf. I can’t even explain the euphoria that encompassed me by the thought of such a crazy adventure to the Middle East. Less than a week later, I boarded my flight from Houston, Texas to Doha, Qatar.
The flight over was long, but I was flying Business Class, which was pretty darn sweet. Yes, I’ve flown in premium cabins on other airlines before, but this airline’s premium cabin is in a class of its own. A 5 Star Class. I sipped on Champagne, watched newly released movies, got all comfy in my Qatar Airways pajamas and slippers (given to each premium cabin passenger), and settled in for the long haul flight around the world to sample some of the new culinary offerings soon to be served on Qatar Airways new Culinary World Menu.
During my time in Doha, I had the chance to explore some of the attractions and activities, but what interested me most, was the culture of Qatar. It was my first time in the Middle East, and I found the Qataris to be just like southerners, except they don’t say “y’all”. It is such an hospitable culture and I felt welcome everywhere I went, even in my western attire (by western, I don’t mean cowboy style). But the main event was the food and the chefs.
“We always choose the best. That’s why we chose these four chefs.” ~ Mr. Akbar Al Baker, CEO Qatar Airways
Qatar Airways introduced four new culinary ambassadors, notable chefs, who developed dishes specifically for the First and Business Class cabins of the airline. The culinary offerings vary for each route, dependent on the destination or origin. There was a big press conference and I had a front row seat. There were media attendees from all over the globe, but I was one of the few blog/social media personalities invited. It was such a treat! The questions varied from the media, including some boring serious questions directed to the CEO Mr. Akbar Al Baker (who answered them in style), to a few lighter questions. I mean, we were talking about food here, not airline politics. So of course, I was allowed the final question of the press conference and went real deep……I asked the chefs…wait for it……What was their favorite item developed for Qatar Airways new Culinary World Menu?
Chef Nobu Matsuhisa
“When I’m on a plane I like a light meal. I want comfort. Japanese food is simple.” ~ Chef Nobu
For those who don’t know who Chef Nobu is, I hope you will now remember his name. He is only one of the nicest chefs I’ve ever come across. I guess the best word to describe him is ‘humble’. His signature restaurant is in London, but for those of us in the US, his restaurants are THE place to dine for the Hollywood Jet Set — Nobu.
Chef Nobu’s Favorite Culinary World Menu Item – Black Cod and Lemon
Chef Ramzi Choueiri
“I’ve always been wishing to take Arabic cuisine to higher levels.” ~ Chef Ramzi
Chef Ramzi is a popular television chef and author in the Middle East specializing in Arabian cuisine. He seemed like such a jolly, happy man who enjoys the art of cooking. He holds three World Records for the largest servings of Hummus, Tabbouleh, and Falafel.
Chef Ramzi’s Favorite Culinary Menu Item – Mhallabiya
Chef Vineet Bhatia
“This is a magic carpet ride of spices.” ~ Chef Vineet Bhatia
Trained in Mumbai, Chef Vineet specializes in modern Indian Cuisine. He began his career at the Star of India in South Kensington (UK) and followed up with his own restaurant venture, Zaika in Chelsea (UK). He’s the author of Rasoi: New Indian Kitchen and has his own TV show Twist of Taste which chronicles his journey around India in search of local fare.
Chef Vineet’s Favorite World Culinary Menu Item – All of them!
Chef Tom Aikens
“You remember a good meal and you remember a bad meal on an airline. We’ll bring consistent quality.” ~ Chef Tom Aikens
The first time I experienced the culinary talent of Chef Tom Aikens was in 2006 while I was in London. Our media group enjoyed a lunch at Tom’s Kitchen in Chelsea and I could’ve snacked on on his chicken liver and foie gras parfait with brioche all day long. I was so excited to see him again.
Chef Tom’s Favorite Culinary World Menu Item – Pot of Chicken
Qatar Airways Culinary World Menu
As stated before, the menu varies according to the route, but I was fortunate enough to get to sample a variety of the new culinary offerings. During the lunch, we sampled Nobu’s Black Cod and Lemon, Tom’s Pea and Mint Soup with creme fraiche, Vineet’s Herb crusted lamb chop with roasted tomato sauce, wild mushroom and morels khichidi, and stir fried sesame beans.
The luncheon was crowned with Ramzi’s dessert of mahallabia, a traditional Middle East rice pudding dish.
During the Qatar Airways Gala Dinner we enjoyed appetizers by Chef Ramzi and a soup by Chef Nobu. The soup was a clear soup with crispy rice and mushrooms.
The main, by Chef Vineet was herb infused hammour beetroot rice, black eyed bean stew, and seared asparagus spears.
Dessert was by Chef Tom and was Vanilla panna cotta with a passion fruit sauce.
The Final Verdict
I realize that the samplings of the menu aren’t the same as the actual inflight meal experience (altitute changes the palate). On my flight home, I decided to try a few of the signature offerings off the new Culinary World menu. I can’t tell you how pleased I was to see Chef Nobu’s favorite signature item on my flight’s menu, the black cod. I chatted with my flight attendant who admitted they sometimes take turns tasting the new items and the black cod seems to be their favorite also. It is meant to be served with a drink and is a small portion, but if you are on the flight you can always order another serving.
I was surprised not only by the presentation of this small dish, but it was even better inflight than during my tasting session. It was absolutely delicious and I hope that the next time I fly Qatar Airways that I can find this particular tasty item on my menu. It validated the entire experience and that small taste of black cod, on my flight back to the US, made me so glad I asked the chefs what their favorite item on the menu would be. You know if it’s the chef’s favorite, that you can’t go wrong.
Special thanks to Qatar Airways and partners for the invitation and sponsoring this culinary experience in the Middle East. As always, opinions are all mine. If you’d like to read about an enchanted evening I spent while in Doha, check out my personal blog.