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What you need to know about kitchens that serve hundreds in one sitting

A behind-the-scenes look at kitchens that fuel airport lounges, cruise liners and ultra luxury residential properties

A table at the food court in Cordelia Cruises. (Photo: The Moneta)
A table at the food court in Cordelia Cruises. (Photo: The Moneta)

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Hospitality kitchens are often associated with hotels, resorts and standalone restaurants. These kitchens work on precision, passion and immense hard work to ensure meal services run smoothly. Here’s a look, however, at three interesting unconventional hospitality kitchens that work under unique parameters to deliver quality dining experiences. Read on to know how these kitchens operate while handling the fluid influx of passengers at an airport; how they keep things interesting aboard a cruise liner; and how they deliver gourmet experiences exclusively for residents of a super-luxury development of apartments.

A meal before take off
From the beginning of the financial year in April to the last week of October 2022, Kempegowda International Airport Bengaluru (BLR Airport) saw 16.30 million passengers pass through its gates. I was curious to know how the kitchens of the 080 Lounges (domestic and international) and the airport hotel managed a fluid influx of people.

“On a daily average, the domestic lounge caters to approximately 5000 departing passengers and the international lounge 1500 to 2000 passengers respectively,” says Kenneth Guldberg, Chief Commercial Officer, Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL).

Servicing the lounges and the airport hotel is a network spread over 600 square meters. There are receiving holds, prep kitchens, a bakery, a commissary, cold rooms, and a central kitchen, along with multiple live stations. Kitchen spaces comprise 30 per cent of the total lounge footprint and are buzzing 24X7 with teams working in three shifts - morning, evening, and night. On average 65 to 75 people work each shift, with variations depending on load patterns and operational requirements.

The airport is a high-security zone and kitchens here work within set protocols, the biggest of which is the restriction on sharp objects. Mechanical slicers or cutters are used to mitigate the dependency on knives. Another challenge is time, which has to be effectively managed. Concessionaires (commercial brand partners related to F&B or retail, inside or outside the terminal) plan their perishable receivables to arrive early in the morning and the non-perishables through the day. “There are over 100 concessionaires and each one has to plan strategically, because all their material, along with other airport supplies arrives at the common delivery area (CDA) and has to be individually scanned before it enters the terminal,” elaborates Guldberg.

International lounge at Kempegowda International Airport Bengaluru.
International lounge at Kempegowda International Airport Bengaluru.

There are also security protocols for the movement of uncooked or cooked foods. Specific teams are given exclusive route access. A concessionaire operating a café in the arrival hall cannot access the route of a concessionaire with a café inside the security hold area or departures zone. All this has to be mapped minutely.

Guldberg explains that historical data is critical to deciding how much food must be prepared. “We maintain and study data patterns of monthly, weekly and daily footfalls and festival dates, holiday seasons and long weekends to determine passenger footfalls at the airport and the lounges. We also study seasonal impacts on traffic. During the rains, we know passengers leave home early. In winters, fogging influences arrival and departure of aircrafts and this impacts food and beverage operations.”

Considering distances from the city or markets, menu planning is another challenge. Since these kitchens cook in bulk, frequent menu changes cannot be accommodated, though they are planned fortnightly with a mix of Indian, international and fusion dishes.

Dining on the high seas
From the skies to the seas! Cordelia Cruises is India’s premium cruise liner, headquartered in Mumbai, with multiple sailing routes across the Indian coastline. Its ship, The Empress carries an average of 1500 guests (its capacity is 1800 passengers) on each sailing in addition to 600 crew members. The kitchens onboard cook around 12,000 meals each day when on the high seas.

The ship has Starlight (a buffet restaurant seating 740 guests); a food court (553 guests); a pan-Asian restaurant Chopstix (84 guests) and a Chef’s Table of 8 guests. Live grill sections operate on fixed timings.

Galleys (ship kitchens) servicing these restaurants are present on multiple decks. These galleys work 24/7 and usually in teams of 110 cooks in addition to around 35 sanitation staff (like, dishwashers) and a team dedicated exclusively to picking up supply requisitions from a store that holds 14 days’ worth of supplies. These teams work in a day, night or break shift.

“There are only two ways of cooking on a ship – steam or electricity. No fire is used at all,” explains Sreedhar Kakkayur, F&B Manager, Cordelia Cruises. “Cooking is done on induction and is powered by electric motors, steam at high pressure and under strictly regulated temperatures and fan control. The marine-graded equipment used goes through several inspections from an internal and an independent team. We follow the United States Public Health Standard (USPH), the first public health regulations laid out for cruise ships in the world because we cannot allow an outbreak of illness to happen in the middle of a voyage,” he adds. All staff have to be specially qualified to meet these regulations and have to go through a strict selection and training process. Cleaning up after a meal service is not a simple wipe-down but follows a 3-bucket system for washing, rinsing and sanitising, each with specific cleaning solutions.

On board, menus are fixed by the head of operations cyclically for a week. Every day the menu varies and the team works out of a set grid, with just the number of guests varying on each day. “Being able to understand how many people will head to a particular restaurant for a meal on a given day is tricky, but comes down to the guest manifest – list of guests on board with information related to their preferences,” says Kakkayur. It tells the team how many vegetarians, meat-eaters, Jain food and special food requirement guests are on board. “Based on our experience, we look at the timings of the onboard shows, track entertainment venues and chalk out a daily programme to note peak hours. Our estimates are about 95 per cent accurate,” adds Kakkayur.

Managing food waste on ships is an interesting activity. “We try and keep food wastage minimal and encourage guests to do so as well. Soft food, such as leftovers, curries and pastries, are ground, pulped and powdered by specific machines and stored in tanks in the engine room. At about 100 nautical miles from the coast it is disposed of through the marine latch. Hard food like pineapple heads, bones, and onion skins which cannot be put through the pulper is stored in specially refrigerated rooms. At ports of call, we have specialised vendors who pick this up for recycling,” explains Kakkayur.

Super-luxury residential hospitality
The Camellias by DLF Ltd in Gurugram is a super-luxury development of 429 apartments with a community of ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNIs). “We are a real estate company with hospitality services as part of our offerings,” says Altamash Iqbal, Executive Chef, The Camellias.

Catering exclusively to this community is The Camellias Club, spread over 160,000 sqft with amenities and services like fine dining, fitness, relaxation, entertainment and more. The clubhouse offers multiple high-end F&B outlets like Meros (an all-day restaurant with three live kitchens and three private dining rooms), The Piano Bar, a Chef Studio (where residents can invite guest chefs to cook for them), Choux (patisserie and boulangerie), J (health food and juice bar), Bar and Game Room (sports bar) and a Popcorn Café. For private parties is Intimo with a live kitchen and bar. The Camellias also has a ballroom that can accommodate approximately 400 guests. This is serviced by the main kitchen of the clubhouse. Residents can also avail of curated catering services in their homes from the clubhouse kitchen.

“The biggest differentiator is that The Camellias caters to just its residents and their guests for whom dining at a Michelin restaurant is par for the course,” says Iqbal. When one of the residents requested caviar when entertaining guests, Iqbal’s team flew this hard-to-procure product from Mumbai. At one home the team catered a 7-course sit-down meal for 20 people followed by a party of 100 people, serving them bar snacks from 8 pm to 4 am.

“We have to constantly surpass the experiences our residents have had to keep things interesting,” says Iqbal. “The a la carte menus at the restaurants change every 15 days and across them, we have 2-3 promotions daily. We have had guests chefs like Adriano Baldassarre from Italy come in. Egyptian chef Hanan Mohammed had a Middle Eastern promotion here, and chef Mujeebur Rahman did an Awadh promotion.

Chef Iqbal runs an ISO22000-certified kitchen with a separate butchery for meat and seafood. There is also a commissary dedicated to prepping vegetarian food. Every kitchen is also supported by a herb garden. “Last year almost all the lettuce, herbs and vegetables we used came from our organic garden,” says Iqbal.

F&B offerings for the residents of The Camellias include special chef tables, classes, take-home-a-chef and even the creation of curated hampers for special occasions like Diwali. These are made in collaboration with NGOs that promote various causes.

Despite the unconventional settings, chefs and their teams in each of these kitchens rise to the challenge. Whether it's adapting to the high-end security requirements of an airport; the lack of fire for cooking aboard a ship, or creating exciting culinary experiences for residents at a super-luxury apartment complex, these teams ensure memorable meals in these unique culinary environments.

Ruth Dsouza Prabhu is a features journalist based in Bengaluru.

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