MANILA,  September 3
, 2004 (STAR) By Kathy Moran - One of the hardest things for me to enjoy on a flight is the food. This is so because I am vegetarian. So, when traveling, I make sure that I take a meal before the flight. This way, I can sleep my way through the flight. Finding a decent vegetarian meal on a flight can be hazardous – either the food tastes flat or it looks like someone else’s leftovers.

But that was in the past.

Recently, Philippine Airlines introduced the latest enhancement to its in-flight cuisine. At the launch, chef Ian McKenzie, who has just restyled the in-flight menu, said, "I wanted to make a menu that more people are familiar with. It’s about time we got rid of those French-sounding dishes – hardly anyone seems to know what they are anyway."

The changes are part of PAL’s way of promoting what is truly local on its flights. And the good news is that includes Goldilocks and Figaro Coffee, two definitely Pinoy brands.

"We are happy to be part of the PAL flying experience," said Goldilocks marketing director Pinky Yee. "I am sure that a leading airline like PAL will be proud to share our products with their customers."

As for Figaro, well, they will serve the Figaro Classico, which is a rich and powerful brew with hints of dark chocolate and a touch of sweetness.

The new cuisine was prepared based on the culinary experiences of chef McKenzie, who started cooking "by default" in Scotland in 1951. McKenzie admitted that he never really liked to cook as a child. Matter of fact, he would have preferred to join the army, but that was not to be the case. Instead, at the age of 15 he was asked if he wanted to try a culinary course at a local college. "I liked the history. I liked the kitchen and then suddenly I became a kitchen junkie," Mckenzie recalled.

Over the years, McKenzie has worked in IBM-UK as the head chef. He was also a cooking teacher in Australia. It was in Adelaide where McKenzie’s affair of the airline kind began, when he worked as executive chef of Ansett Australia Airlines. That was in 1984.

He moved to Taipei in 1998, working as corporate chef for China Airlines. In 2000, he headed the operations of the Malaysian Airlines kitchen.

In April this year, McKenzie joined PAL as its executive chef.

"I joined PAL because of the challenge," he said. For McKenzie, who likes the liberal arts – history and geography in particular – the Philippines is a challenge because its food is influenced by both its history and geography. "My job is to drive the kitchen, to look at new things and to get it going," he said.

And how.

For the PAL chef it is important to take local ingredients like patis, calamansi, achuete and coconut vinegar, and integrate them into the type of food that the airline offers to its business class and first class passengers. The use of fresh vegetables from Baguio and Tagaytay are also on top of chef McKenzie’s list. "I’ll be using more lettuce and sprouts for my salads as well as kangkong and talbos ng kamote in a variety of ways," he said.

And just what does the new PAL in-flight menu have?

Here’s a sneak preview.

There’s osso bucco, which according to my meat-loving seatmate, was "cooked just right and not too salty either." Lime-marinated baked king prawns which are topped with mayonnaise and served with a tropical salsa. For pork lovers, there is the pork shin with rice wine which is pork braised in rice and soy sauce served on a bed of water spinach and seasoned with patis.

I got to taste Grandma’s Colcannon, which is cabbage and mashed potatoes blended with herbs and butter. And, for vegetarians there is the vegetable lasagna made with spinach and with lots of cheese. I also had an appetizer which was filled with tofu – and which I enjoyed a lot.

As for the dessert lover in me, I stuffed myself with the chocolate and nugotin mousse, which was freshly prepared and came with a mango and chocolate sauce. Other desserts included the apple cheese pie and the mango strudel.

"We have to make sure that what we serve our customers is as fresh as can be," said Chef McKenzie. "It is not easy to prepare airline meals because they have to be prepared before the flight – we cannot cook them on the spot."

The new menus will be gradually introduced on PAL flights starting Sept. 1. By December, all flights will serve the new recipes and these will run in varying cycles on PAL international, Asian regional and domestic services until November 2005.

From the sample of food we got to savor that day and the happy faces of the people around me, PAL may have well given us one more reason to fly – good food.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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