Air Chef: gourmet grub on the go

 - May 6, 2008, 4:51 AM

Air Chef, launched just two years ago, is bidding to become the premier business aviation caterer in the U.S., and it is making plans to expand abroad as well. The company, headquartered in the Columbus, Ohio suburb of Worthington, was the brainchild of president Paul Schweitzer and CEO Scott Liston, who created the business plan and raised the outside capital.

Air Chef now has kitchens serving more than 60 airports and 50 FBOs nationwide, and it is continuing its ambitious expansion plans. Since June Air Chef has opened two kitchens in the Chicago area, one serving Midway Airport and another for O’Hare International, “dividing the area into southern and northern service areas for other Chicago airports,” said Liston. Additionally, it has opened a facility in West Palm Beach to serve southeast Florida airports, and started another at Teterboro (N.J.) Airport to serve the entire New York City metro area as far as Farmington, Long Island.

This month Air Chef plans to open two more kitchens, one in Houston and another in Orlando, and later this fall a secondary “seasonal kitchen” is expected to open in Miami to augment the existing service during peak winter months.

“We’re targeting the top business aviation markets in the U.S. and Canada,” said Liston. “Next year we expect to open facilities in London and Paris, and by the end of 2004 we expect to be in 50 markets worldwide.”

The 3,500-sq-ft Dallas facility, the center for Air Chef’s menu development and quality control, is in the hands of two Four Seasons-trained executive chefs. It is also the site of the Air Chef call center, where all catering orders are received.

An extensive menu has items common to every Air Chef kitchen, as well as specialty dishes with regional flavors. Menu selections include a Tuscan vegetarian plate of ciabatta bread stuffed with grilled eggplant, Maryland crab cakes, spinach and provolone stuffed chicken and orange herb salmon, to name just a few. Desserts include flourless chocolate cake, French choux puffs and Belgian chocolate mousse. Specialty menus range from vegan and the Atkins diet to kosher and Arabian.

Air Chef’s wine selection came with the assistance of “a major wine distributor” and was made with in-flight dining in mind. “We put a tremendous amount of time selecting bold, crisp wines that would maintain their flavor at altitudes and dry environments where sensitivity to taste is diminished.”

nagement; sports team nutrition; wine education and tasting; custom-printed menus; and CD, videotape and DVD rentals.