Andris Vasiļonoks heads a team of 40 people who cater to the taste buds of airBaltic passengers. He became a chef because he enjoys eating good food, and he is constantly looking for new taste combinations to add to the airline’s varied menu.

How long have you been creating flight menus for airBaltic?

This is now my seventh year with the airline.

What did you do before joining LSG Sky Chefs?

I’ve gained a great deal of experience working at various places, including for famous Latvian chef Mārtiņš Rītiņš and at a number of restaurants in Old Riga. I also spent ten years working at the NB Hotel and helped to set up its catering system from scratch.

What is it like to work as airBaltic’s head chef, and how does it differ from working at a restaurant?

In some respects, the process of preparing meals for an airline isn’t much different from that of working in a restaurant, but there are additional preparation, packaging, delivery and other procedures that need to be followed in order to ensure food safety. Consequently, a meal goes through more steps before it reaches the airline passenger than it would in a restaurant on the ground. I set up the menu in accordance with various specifications that have to do with air travel. Of course, we try to make our meals as close to restaurant quality as possible in our particular circumstances. Our catering service has about 30 people working together during each shift.

How do you prepare the menu for airBaltic flights?

I was first invited by Mārtiņš Rītiņš, the head chef at Riga’s Vincents restaurant, to help set up a premium Business Class menu for airBaltic passengers and have now been doing so on my own for the past four years. It’s not an easy task. I regularly go through all kinds of literature and Internet websites to get inspiration for offering something new and different. The main menu is based mainly on beef, lamb and various fish dishes, which we prepare with specially made mixtures of spices and marinades. airBaltic is also known for its outstanding desserts. We change the menu twice a year, once for the winter and once for the summer season. Passengers can choose between eight hot meals, eight cold meals and eight desserts so that they don’t have to eat the same dishes on both their departing and returning flights. During the winter we place greater emphasis on lamb’s meat, while during the summer we concentrate more on seasonal vegetables and fish.

Economy Class passengers, for their part, have a very large selection of meals that they can choose from for an extra fee, and up to 24 hours before their flight’s departure. Can you tell us more about their options?

Actually, Economy Class passengers who order their meals in advance have an even greater variety of hot and cold meals to choose from in a separate menu. We have special meals for various dietary requirements, including salt-free, glutenfree, low-calorie, diabetic, vegetarian, vegan and kosher meals.

What are the most popular dishes?

The chicken breast and the potato pancakes with salmon.

Are you satisfied with the airBaltic menu, or are there things that you would still like to improve?

There is always room for further development. I would really like to add sorbet, which would make for a wonderful addition between meal courses, but I haven’t yet figured out how to do that in an airplane environment. Our desserts are excellent, but I would like to make them even better so that our passengers keep them in mind and are more inclined to buy an airBaltic ticket the next time they have to fly somewhere.

What products do you like to use in your menu?

My main criterion is that they have to be fresh. Everything that is fresh, quickly and recently prepared tastes better and is healthier because it has lost less nutritional value than a dish that takes a long time to make. I like Chinese cuisine for that reason, because Chinese dishes can be quickly cooked up. My favourite item on the airBaltic menu is goat cheese cake – a dessert that I heartily recommend to everyone and is a true work of art. It is also a veteran of sorts, as it is the longest continually running dish on our menu. We don’t use frozen products and choose fresh spices in preparing our marinades.

Where do your products come from? Do you support Latvian producers?

When you work for a large airline company, you have to take cost into account. We have cooperated with many great Latvian producers in the past and have continued to keep in touch. I hope to resume a greater degree of cooperation with local producers because their products really are very good and I would like to promote them on a wider scale. I would recommend rye bread or potato pancakes to foreign fliers who wish to get a taste of Latvian cuisine.

Do you often fly with airBaltic?

I do, but these flights are mostly related to my work as a chef. I tend to take charter flights for my vacation trips, as I enjoy such active sports as skiing and cycling. I cycle to work each day, about 13 km in each direction.

What travel destinations do you recommend to the readers of Baltic Outlook?

I have travelled quite a bit and would love to return to Barcelona and Paris. There is so much to see, and, no matter how often you visit these cities, there will always be something new to discover. BO