The worst part of air travelis notthe lines, not waiting to take off, not the TSA (awkward gropes are kinda fun) and not the crowds. It’s the food service. After spending most of my adult life in the food and hospitality industry, I know a thing or two about product quality and employee training. Unfortunately, the giant corporations who run food service outlets at most airports either do not understand how to treat their guests or simply do not care.
Airlines’ poor standards have lowered our expectations of airport services. This is pathetic, and it’s even worse at smaller regional airports.
Although flights land and depart at all hours, food service in airports seems to be open only during typical dining times. Good luck finding something to eat or drink before 7 a.m. or after 9 p.m. Even the stinking, insipid, mediocre, grossly overpriced Starbucks is closed. And speaking of Starbucks, why can’t they train their over-caffeinated “baristas” to be polite? I’m not your “buddy” — don’t call me that! And don’t address grown women as “guys.” At huge international airports, even the disgusting Mickey Ds cuts off at 10 p.m. Why? It’s not like the airlines are feeding us or plying us with drinks. We need some refreshment, but often none is available.
On the other hand, during prime hours at most major hubs, you can actually find some quite good eats. The best are the outlets run by local restaurants; even some of the upscale chains do a pretty fair job. At Reagan National Airport right across the Potomac River from our nation’s capital, I discovered an outpost of one of the most beloved D.C. restaurants, Ben’s Chili Bowl. Amazing! The original Ben’s is an old-school hole-in-the-wall chili parlor, the kind of place you crave after a few cocktails, nothing fancy but, boy, does it hit the spot! The airport venue lacks the ambiance of that one, but it shovels out a very respectable bowl of chili.
My all-time favorite airport meal is in Terminal 5 of London’s Heathrow Airport, at Chef Gordon Ramsey’s place, Plane Food. Let me tell you, it was killer.
The staff was extremely polite, well-trained, knowledgeable and accommodating of our food allergies. Definitely not your typical airport venue. I still salivate at the memory of the incomparable chicken liver parfait.
If you can’t be in Heathrow, drown your sorrows at other airports with a pint of Guinness and BYOP (bring your own peanuts).
Chef Bill’s Chili-Lime Roasted Peanuts
- 2 cups unsalted peanuts
- 1/2 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 2 tsp. brown sugar
- 1 lime, zested and juiced
- 1/2 tsp. ancho chili powder
- 1/2 tsp. chipotle powder
- 1 tsp. granulated sugar
- 2-1/2 tsp. coarse salt
- Mix the oil, salt, brown sugar, lime zest and half of the lime juice, ancho chili, and chipotle in a bowl.
- Toss the peanuts with the seasoning mixture. Place on a sheet pan and roast in a 350˚F oven for 10 minutes.
- Stir the nuts, add the remaining lime juice and granulated sugar. Cook for 5 minutes more. Remove from oven and let cool. Eat with booze!
Until We Cook Again,
Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Amelia Island Culinary Academy in Historic Fernandina Beach, with your recipes or questions at [email protected], for inspiration to get you Cheffed Up!