Inside JetBlues Quest to Make Plane Food Great Again

When JetBlue hired Brad Farmerie to design the airlines first business class menu in 2014, the chef didnt bother to study airplane food. I didnt want to be daunted by what the onboard cooking possibilities looked like, he says, I was going to make sure our headline dishes got onboard.

For the executive chef of New Yorks swanky, meaty Saxon + Parole, that includes a dry-aged beef burger topped with Havarti and bacon relish at 30,000 feet. Its a real burger, not one of those wimpy nebulous patties, Farmerie says. JetBlues Mint class flyers get lobster poached in a corn custard with pickled chili peppers and French toast with figs and toasted pecans. A watermelon salad with feta, basil, and the nutty crunch of pumpkin seeds. Fontina-stuffed gnocchi, black truffle crostini. Cold carrot and ginger soup. Brooklyns hippest ice cream. Portobello mushroom mousse with whiskey jelly. Oxtail pot roast.

Eating this well usually means spending $1,500 to fly first class across the country, but JetBlue charges half that, or less, for Mint. Yes, Mint is still a luxury service. But if JetBlue can make it work on a big enough scale to put pressure on its larger competitors, it might incentivize some much needed competition and innovation, and make flying better for everybody.

The illusion of constant luxury, JetBlue’s Perry says, relies on timing. After test runs in mock Mint cabins, Perry and his team realized passengers were most antsy while waiting for someone to take their order. Now, flight attendants ask them what they want to eat right away, and hold the orders until meal time. At least one crew member floats between Mint and economy, helping wherever they’reneeded. “It reminds me of an old jazz quote about how drummers are the ones you dont notice, says Perry. Its only when they make a mistake that you notice them.

JetBlue may be hiding the details, but it’s proudly displaying the map that tracks Mint’s spreading domain. The paradox is that every new location demands a new menu, a new approach to finding, cooking, and serving the perfect meal. But since Mint routes are some of the companys most profitable-with revenues up 20 percent since the program began-JetBlue won’t slow the expansion anytime soon. The question is whether Mint can keep up-and maybe someday bring that burger to the back of the plane.

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