Farm to table at 30,000 feet? How Delta is improving onboard food

Are you more likely to fly Delta Air Lines if you know the airline's ice cream served in first class is organic and comes from a Georgia dairy?

Delta hopes so. The airline is on an artisan kick for its onboard menu. The airline thinks customers - especially the high-value passengers that fly Delta One - expect farm-to-table food, even in the air. They want to keep those customers happy. 

"We've reached a tipping point where we expect organic, artisan and local food at markets, grocery stores and restaurants," Linton Hopkins, a Delta partner chef, says in the video embedded above. "Why shouldn't we have that on a plane?"

Hopkins, a big-time Atlanta chef, is also the subject of a recent profile in National Geographic.  Hinton started working with Delta after he won a contest a couple of years ago, and apparently he enjoys the challenge of cooking on a plane. 

Those two concerns — cooking locally and in volume — came together late in 2013, when Hopkins won the “Cabin Pressure Cook-Off,” staged by Delta and Food & Wine magazine. The airline already worked with celebrity chefs and sommeliers, but after his win, Hopkins signaled he wanted to reframe the rules of in-air catering. He would focus his menus, on flights originating in Atlanta, on modern Southern cooking—and, as much as possible, on small producers who exemplify the South. “If you make mayonnaise from scratch,” he said in an interview then, “you’re changing the world for the better.”

The video above was created by Delta, and it has a rah-rah feel. But Hinton comes across well, and when he says that he never makes compromises, even when cooking for airline passengers, you tend to believe him. 

Delta paid for a "sponsored post" on Business Insider recently, using the opportunity to conduct a question-and-answer session with Hinton. Here's how he described the process of creating a menu for Delta:

I always begin with an ingredient list of what is available for a particular season. This list includes fresh vegetables as well as artisans with whom we have developed relationships. I then sit with my culinary leadership team and brainstorm potential dishes utilizing items from that list. 

We then present it to Delta's team and together we collaborate on the final menu revisions. It’s great because I’ll introduce new things like asking a flight attendant to on-board pesto and spoon a dollop of it on a dish just before it’s served, and they can tell us whether that will work within the flight attendant's steps of service.

Next, Gate Gourmet helps out with logistics for the menu’s service, like sourcing a new nesting cup that holds a sauce perfectly. They go through each step of the pre-service process and do one last taste test with us and Delta’s leadership team, who give the final OK for the menu. 

Hinton's meals are served on Atlanta-Europe flights. But across the system, Delta says it has improved its food, both in economy and first class. 

Do you fly Delta a lot? How is the food?