Michelin-starred chef Alexander Herrmann faces the most candid jury imaginable: A group of four- to nine-year-olds testes his new kids’ meals for Lufthansa.
Cheeks flushed, Jakob sits wide-eyed at a table he can barely see over, waiting expectantly for things to get started. He’s five years old and visibly impatient. Then, at last, the first course is served: Jakob and the other twelve children are each given a tray holding six mini-appetizers, including a cheese-and-ham wrap, some sausage salad and porridge with apple. “You don’t have to eat it all up, but please give everything a try,” says Stefan, one of the supervisors. Jakob reaches for a slice of pumpernickel with cream cheese first. Lorena, sitting next to him at his table, asks: “What’s the white stuff there?” – “Half an egg,” Stefan replies. “I don’t like egg,” says Lorena, pushing it to one side, but she’s immediately taken by the smashed avocado with nut crumble: “Mmm, this is yummy!”
The children, ages between four and nine, are excited and eager to do a good job – but then, who wouldn’t be if they’d been hired as a food critic at such a young age? Jakob, Lorena and the others make up the jury invited to Frankfurt Airport by airline caterer LSG Sky Chefs to decide which kids’ menus will be served on Lufthansa flights from July 1 on. All the young testers are appropriately kitted out in white chef’s hats and jackets. The jackets may be a little on the large size, but the supervisors rolled up their charges’ sleeves before the first samples were served.
Standing in the background and surveying the goings-on is the man whose work the children are appraising today: Michelin-starred TV chef Alexander Herrmann. He smiles to himself as he watches the kids tuck into the dishes he has created for Lufthansa. This is not the airline’s first cooperation with a celebrity chef – Johann Lafer, Sarah Wiener and Cornelia Poletto have also created menus for the roughly 2.2 million children who travel with Lufthansa each year. The task is a tricky one even for a professional chef because in-flight meals – especially those for children – have to meet certain requirements, such as international tastes, for example. Because the meals are served worldwide, the jury is multinational. What’s more, the food must satisfy many parents’ desire to provide their children with a balanced diet. It is also important that the food retains its shape and appearance in the dishes so that after being loaded onto the airplane, it looks just as appetizing as when it left the kitchen. The appearance and name of a dish generally matter even more to children than to adults, explains Herrmann. “The food should be fun to look at, fanciful and must spark the children’s imagination. It should win their hearts at first sight.”
“Oh, look – that’s cool!” exclaims Noah, 9, when the main courses arrive. From any angle, the dish he’s referring to resembles a snake-like creature made of mashed potato with halved peas for eyes and small poultry sausage legs on a nest of sauerkraut. The whole thing looks like a cross between a dragon and a millipede, which is why Herrmann has dubbed it Dragon’s Foot. Yes, it evidently makes a huge difference whether you serve children a Dragon’s Foot or just plain old sausage and mash with cabbage – even if the ingredients are identical. Noah and the other children evaluate the food after each course by placing plastic chips (of which they have three) in the glasses assigned to each dish. Without hesitation, Noah awards the Dragon’s Foot two chips, then considers putting the third in the glass in front of the Self-made Burger (a mini bread roll that comes with a variety of toppings) before choosing the Crushed Dumplings (diced turkey with a slice of fried potato dumpling).
Finally, the desserts arrive. They include jello in the shape of a Lego brick and a Mouse Pudding, which is rice pudding in the shape of a mouse with raspberries for eyes and a thick chocolate sauce tail. By this time, Herrmann is kneeling at the tables, chatting to the children and asking them for their
opinions. “I really like this sour stuff,” says Adam, 9, and Herrmann explains that it’s a lemon cream. “I wish we had a cook like that one at my school,” a child at a neighboring table tells his supervisor. That one must have overheard the comment because a smile suddenly flashes across his face. Much like his creations, he has evidently found favor with his young testers.
Jakob is tucking into his final dessert with an appetite that seems to have lost nothing of its edge. Opening his mouth wide, he bites into a muffin – sorry, the Nougat UFO. A big chunk of the little cake with the chocolatey hazelnut filling plops onto the floor and Jakob disappears under the table to pick up the remains. Surfacing just in time to evaluate the dessert, he straightens his chef’s hat and tosses one of his chips into the glass.
After two hours, the tasting session is over. “You’ve all done an excellent job,” says Chef Herrmann and to enthusiastic applause, proceeds to announce which dishes came out on top. Noah’s Dragon’s Foot and the Mouse Pudding are among them, as is Jakob’s Nougat UFO. The children pick a total of eight appetizers, nine main courses and seven desserts as the
winners. LSG Sky Chefs will now put the courses together for the in-flight menus that parents can order for their children up to 24 hours before departure.
The jury’s work is done, but before the children go home, they are invited to try their hand at being pastry chefs in the test kitchen. Herrmann shows them what to do and they mix up a tasty cookie dough that doesn’t need to be baked because it can be eaten raw on the spot. Either he’s just too exhausted by the day’s excitement or it’s so delicious that words fail him, but right now, all Jakob is doing is sitting contentedly licking the dough off his fingers, a picture of enjoyment that is too great to express in words.