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Picnic in the Sky

Libi Astaire

In-flight dining may have gotten off to a bumpy start, but there was a time when everyone on board an airplane received gourmet meals served on elegant china. Follow the progression from that first champagne toast in the air to today’s salted peanuts.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

For thousands of years, people yearned to fly. When that dream became a reality, a new challenge arose: “What’s for dinner?” In his new book Food in the Air and Space (Rowman & Littlefield), author Richard Foss charts the course of the rise and fall of in-flight cuisine. Along the way, we meet intrepid chefs struggling to heat meals without setting the plane on fire, resolute scientists determined to find out why airplane meals taste so awful at 5,000 miles high, and a $40,000 olive. So, fasten your seatbelts while we take off for our first culinary stop: Paris, France.   Flight Cuisine Uncorked Air travel began not with a wing and a prayer, but with a balloon and lots of hot air. On December 1, 1783, a hydrogen balloon equipped with a wicker basket for passengers took off fromParis on a two-hour journey that traveled about 22 miles. On board were two Frenchmen, physicistJacquesCharles and one of the balloon’s builders,Nicolas-LouisRobert. Although this wasn’t the first manned balloon flight — that distinction went to an ascent the week before — it does hold an honored place in the annals of food history. Right before takeoff,Charles popped the cork on a bottle of champagne, filled two glasses, and toasted the crowd, which numbered more than 400,000 and included KingLouisXVI, QueenMarieAntoinette, and the US ambassador toFrance,BenjaminFranklin. In-flight beverage service had begun.

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