Is Jamie Oliver about to change our experience of in-flight food? He hasn't become an airline caterer, and no, I don't mean that in future your choice of stewed black beef or hunt-the-flavour chicken will be offered in a chirpy, cockney-geezer voice. But Oliver has just opened a restaurant-cum-bar at Gatwick airport that could make life happier at 30,000 feet.
Jamie's Italian Bakery, in the North Terminal, offers "Anglo-Californian" breakfasts, pasta lunches and dinners, together with home-made pizza and charcuterie you can take to eat on the plane. It's called, in Jamie-speak, "grab'n'graze".
The airside restaurant is an odd idea. I'm not sure many travellers reach the departure lounges looking for a whole meal; unless we arrive at the airport hours early, we tend to rush into the lounge with minutes to spare. And since they won't supply us with proper cutlery, dinner will lack sophistication. But the concept of seizing supplies of prosciutto, mozzarella and focaccia, and turning your lunch in the clouds into a picnic, that is attractive.
Unfortunately, it's not new. Gordon Ramsay pioneered the concept of non-revolting airport food when he opened Gordon Ramsay Plane Food at Heathrow Terminal 5. There's a breakfast menu, a special children's menu, a wine list. Travellers with limited time are offered "Plane Fast" dishes knocked up in 25 minutes. Three-course picnics (£12.95) can be carried on-board in a bag. So, in the clash of the titans that is the Jamie vs Gordon Show, what's Jamie got that Gordon hasn't?
The answer is: gas. Airports don't like supplying gas to caterers. There's none at Plane Food. At Gatwick, the designers have created a supply for the dining area. "We'll be cooking with gas, not reheating food in microwaves," Oliver sniffily told the press. "We've got the only proper airport bakery in Britain or Europe."
Over to Gordon. "No, we don't have gas," a spokesman said defensively. "But the only thing gas is useful for is grilling steaks. We use the best electrical equipment and only one microwave oven. I bet Jamie Oliver's using a lot more microwaves than we are." Gentlemen, please.
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