Luxury Travel Advisor traveled to Abu Dhabi this week to witness the emirate’s explosive growth, check out the hottest new hotels, and go behind-the-scenes at Etihad, awarded the World’s Leading Airline for three consecutive years. Particularly noteworthy at Etihad's headquarters and training facility: the First-Class Chef Program, whereby the airline recruits chefs with at least five years restaurant experience to join the team. The test kitchen is impressive, a veritable culinary institute that also manages to mimic the limited space onboard the aircraft.
Chefs are trained as flight crew to look after First Class passengers, personalizing each menu and whipping up dishes based on each traveler's whims. Etihad started rolling out this program at the end of last year, even after winning the Skytrax award for first-class catering. Etihad now employs 110 chefs, who have access to culinary tools like foamers and whisking bowls. Big news for U.S. based travelers: Etihad will roll out this service on flights to/from JFK on March 15.
There are 135 available menus, each with eight main course offerings including five from Mezoon Grille (tenderloin, rib-eye, chicken, lamb and fish). Created with ingredients that are halal certified, each menu always features a local destination choice, along with an Arabic one. The ingredients for each dish are individually packed so that the chef can customize the plates accordingly. Instead of loading pre-made omelettes, like most airlines, Etihad packs up raw eggs so that onboard chef can cook eggs to order. Hot soups are poured at each passenger's seat, adding an air of theatre to the meal.
We did the full tasting and liked the Arabic dishes in particular: the assortment of traditional mezzes to start the meal, and gourmet ice creams (like baklava flavor) to finish it off. Another nice touch: the “four dish” appetizer which includes a small taste from the four corners of the globe where Etihad flies.
First Class passengers are also privy to special amenity kits; a black cosmetic purse studded with Swarovski crystals for the ladies, and a cufflink box for the gentlemen, both containing La Prairie toiletries. Male and female pajamas sets are also provided.
For more information, see www.etihadairways.com.
All photos by Mary Winston Nicklin