When guests settle in to the Delta One class on flights from New York City to Europe, they no longer have to leave behind fine-dining options. In December, Delta launched a rotating line of chef-created menus originating from its relationship with Union Square Hospitality Group.

The initial four-course menu, offered December through February, was created by Nick Anderer, the executive chef and managing partner of Marta and Maialino, two of the 13 Big Apple restaurants run by Danny Meyer's group. It included such tantalizing offerings as cured beef bresaola, white bean and sage brodetto, and braised lamb shoulder spezzatino.

“We are doing something unique in the culinary space within the airline industry,” notes Delta spokesman Michael Thomas. Delta first introduced airline fine dining several years ago through the creations of 2012 James Beard Best Chef: Southeast winner Linton Hopkins, the executive chef and CEO of Atlanta’s Resurgens Hospitality Group, which includes Restaurant Eugene, Holeman & Finch Public House, H&F Burger, and Linton’s Garden at The Atlanta Botanical Garden. Delta's intent was to provide top-tier fliers with authentic four-course meals prepared with fresh, locally sourced, and seasonal ingredients.

The success of this formula led to its implementation in New York City. After serving a menu from Union Square’s Blue Smoke for a year and a half, Delta’s frequent-flying New York City customers were clamoring for more offerings. In response, Delta decided to rotate menus every three months among Union Square chefs and restaurants.

The current menu, running from March through May, is designed by executive chef and partner Carmen Quagliata, of the famed Union Square Cafe. The logistics of providing fine food on intercontinental flights poses unique challenges. For instance, providing a fresh, local meal means the usual large-scale, international sourcing of ingredients is not a desirable option.“We would never put taste and quality below being able to source ingredients,” Thomas says.

Daily preparation of the menus begins in the kitchen of Union Square Events before being shipped to the airport. Meals are then plated in partnership with Delta’s foodservice provider. Thomas says customer response has been overwhelmingly positive, and guests often say the meal rivals that of any fine-dining restaurant. The only downside to fine dining at 30,000 feet is its exclusivity, since it is currently only available on a few select flights. 

Chef Profiles, Feature