Air Canada hires award-winning Montreal chef to revamp in-flight menu
Award-winning chef Antonio Park has been hired by Air Canada to revamp its in-flight menu on trips to Asia and South America.
The celebrated Montreal-based cook runs a number of acclaimed restaurants in the city, with celebrities including Katy Perry calling in to sample his food.
Born and raised in Argentina to Korean parents, chef Park trained in Japan, so would appear to be well placed to give the Asian and Latin American menus an overhaul.
“I want to start that experience in a way that is very comforting, like you’re eating at home…. to start a beautiful experience from the flight,” Park told CTV News Channel on Friday.
“The food has to be consistent, the taste has to be consistent. But at the same time we want to up the standards of the quality of the food.
The first new food options were rolled out Aug. 1 on flights between Montreal and Tokyo-Narita, followed by flights from Toronto to Tokyo-Haneda, Vancouver to Tokyo-Narita and flights from Montreal to Sao Paulo this fall.
The Tokyo menu, the only one revealed so far, features a main course of Tamari maple syrup braised short ribs, shiitake mushrooms, braised daikon, potatoes, mixed onions and ginger.
The brunch option is a Japanese beef curry.
Appetizers include Japanese/Canadian chirashi, a type of rice dish with fish and vegetables, as well as smoked Canadian salmon and tamago, a type of omelette. Side dishes include miso soup.
After working in New York and Toronto, Park opened his eponymous first restaurant in Montreal in 2012 serving fish-focused Japanese fusion fare.
He also owns Argentine-themed restaurant Lavanderia and runs Café Bazin in partnership with pastry chef Bertrand Bazin. All are based in the Westmount district of Montreal.
Now he aims to challenge the reputation of airplane food.
“Why am I doing airplane food? Because you touch the most people and that’s the most important thing for me,” Park told CTV News Montreal.
“I used to work for a private club touching only 357 members and I got out of there because I wanted to cook for all Montrealers. Maybe I’ll have the opportunity today to cook for the world and that’s a beautiful thing.”
He described restaurant and airplane meals as “two different languages.”
“The airplane food won’t be as good as the restaurant. Why not think positively and do it as best I can,” Park said.
“We tried to accommodate everybody, give them the impression of something that is clean, something that is nice, something that is refreshing.”
Park is the fourth member of Air Canada’s food panel that includes Vancouver-based David Hawksworth, who creates dishes for Air Canada business-class flights worldwide, Gatineau-based sommelière Véronique Rivest and Vancouver-based chef Vikram Vij, who has designed the menu for the airline’s Vancouver and Toronto to India flights.
“We chose to partner with chef Park due to his passion for promoting the Canadian culinary scene and his appreciation for fresh ingredients and sustainability," Andrew Yiu, vice president for product at Air Canada, said in a press release.
“I’m very happy to represent Montreal finally on Air Canada,” Park said at an event to mark his appointment.
“When you come to the detailed things it’s very hard to execute in a massive production way, but we’re there. Believe in Air Canada, believe in me and give it a try.”
Park's meals will be available on flights to Hong Kong, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, Sao Paulo (from Toronto), Santiago and Buenos Aires and seasonal flights from Calgary to Tokyo-Narita and Vancouver to Osaka from 2020.
Chef Park's options will be available in business and economy on all flights from Canada to Japan and just business-class on other flights departing Canada to Asia and South America.
“It is the perfect opportunity to use Canadian ingredients and Japanese techniques, marrying the two to enhance the on-board experience," said Park, who has 116,000 followers on Instagram.
“We don’t overcrowd it (meals) too much with different things, I want the ingredients to speak for itself and that’s what Japanese cuisine is all about. It’s the simplicity of the dishes.”
But Park says meals can’t be too simple either.
“You don’t want people to feel like it’s too bland on flavour. We packed on flavours…. and presentation was very important to us.”