My Four Course Polaris Cooking Experience!

For those of you who aren’t up to date on this saga, in December United Airlines introduced a cookbook based on the food that they serve in Polaris. Yes, a US airline introduced a cookbook about food, and yes, apparently the irony is lost on United.

I’ve never cooked before in my life (like, actually, never), so I did the logical. I decided I’d have my first attempt at cooking be from a United Airlines cookbook.

So Tiffany made a post recapping some of the dishes in the cookbook, and asked you guys to vote on which we should prepare. I actually didn’t realize we’d be preparing a four course meal until after the voting was complete, but oh well, I figured we might as well go all-in.

Then I shared my thoughtsĀ after we did the shopping for this cooking experience, and OMFG was it intimidating.

Now that I’m a seasoned chef, in this post I wanted to share my thoughts on the overall experience, in no particular order:

The Polaris cookbook is ridiculously complicated

The cookbook starts with an introduction from the chefs, which says the following:

“Between the two of us, we’ve been at United for more than half a century…”

Do they really have enough seniority to cater for United Polaris? With “only” an average of 25 years, I’m surprised they’re even off reserve. šŸ˜‰

In all honesty, the cookbook is incredibly complex. Tiffany is a good cook, and she was shocked by the degree to which ingredients were prepared from scratch.

That also leads me to ask the question of what exactly this cookbook has to do with United. Is the concept that the dishes served in Polaris are loosely based on what’s in the book, or is the suggestion actually that the dishes served in Polaris are anything like this?

For example, here’s the last dish I was served in Polaris, which was downright disgusting.

Am I to believe that for this Chinese-style chicken noodle soup the chicken was gently massaged before being slaughtered, the noodles were flown in fresh from Italy the day they were made, the carrots came from United’s organic garden at O’Hare Airport, etc.? Cause that’s not what it tasted like to me…

We literally spent two days cooking

I can’t fully describe just how damn complex all of this was. Tiffany and I were several hours into cooking on Thursday and I asked her how far through the process we were. “Maybe 10%.” What the heck, I thought we were almost done?

But this comes down to how complex the cookbook is, and the fact that every ingredient basically had to be prepared from scratch.

If the recipe called for corn, it said we had to shuck six ears of corn, rather than buying it frozen, for example. So I imagine we could have taken a lot of shortcuts, but we wanted only the best for our guests, just as United would want!

I have a new appreciation for cooking

Having now cooked, prepared, and plated food myself, I have a new appreciate for this, whether getting food delivered via Postmates, eating at a restaurant, or eating on a plane. There’s so much effort that goes into it, and it’s damn complicated, so I’ll no longer be taking it for granted (well, unless it’s presented like an American Airlines lobster roll, in which case I will take it for granted).

How did the dinner service go?

On Friday night we had our Polaris dinner service, and I’m here to report back on the results, for those of you who weren’t following along on Instagram live. Sorry it has taken me so long to post this, but frankly I’m still recovering from two straight days of cooking.

I’ll let the videos speak mostly for themselves (there’s another full cooking video coming, so these are just the Instagram Live videos, which is why they’re in portrait mode and low quality, which I apologize for).

Well, I didn’t love the octopus prep…

Then here’s the plating of the crispy octopus, avocado, pickled pearl onions, cilantro, and chicharron spices:

Here’s the plating of the confit chicken salad with roasted butternut squash, pickled beets, and goat cheese:

Then the plating for the five-spice braised short ribs with fried black rice:

And lastly the plating of the black sticky rice with fresh mango and sweet coconut cream:

What our guests had to say

I’m quoting directly here:

  • “It’s kind of a mess, it’s a mashup, but it all goes together” (in regards to the first course)
  • “I would have the salad and make it again as a main course, it was very good” (in regards to the second course.”
  • “I love the rice, I can’t get past the rice” (in regards to the third dish)
  • “The short rib might be as good as my mom’s”Ā (in regards to the third dish, and not a “your mom” joke, as far as I can tell)
  • “it’s fun to have the black rice in two ways, a savory and sweet option, it was fun” (in regards to the third and fourth courses)
  • “The flavor matches exactly what you’d get in Thailand” (in regards to the fourth course)
  • “I’m very impressed, everything was good” (overall thoughts)
  • “You’ve shown that like ratatouille, anyone could do it” (overall thoughts)

It actually wasn’t a disaster

Frankly I came away from this whole thing with surprisingly positive feelings. Yes, it took forever to cook, and it was way too involved, and yes, maybe my presentation was similar to what you’d get on a plane. But I was thrilled that in the end every dish was not only edible but actually sorta good (well, minus the octopus, chicken confit, and short rib, which only our guests ate). šŸ˜‰ It just required following a lot of instructions.

My personal favorite was the dessert, which surprisingly tasted every bit as good as mango sticky rice that I’ve had in Thailand (and no, the quote in the section above wasn’t from me). šŸ˜‰

I didn’t love preparing the octopus…

But otherwise I’d say the prep went pretty well.

I have realized that I’m incredibly uncoordinated. Like, that’s not a surprise, I can barely walk straight without tripping myself. But I was reminded of that when trying to slice vegetables, etc.

Here’s what the finished product looked like, course by course:

And of course no airplane dinner is complete without…

A big thank you to Tiffany for both helping with this entire process, and for letting us destroy her kitchen.

And of course thanks to you guys for your enthusiasm in following along on this adventure!

Maybe it’s time I host a dinner for readers that’s cooked by me. Though I’m not sure whether that would be intended as a reward or punishment. šŸ˜‰

Comments

  1. Hats off to you for actually buying the book and following through on it. Let’s be honest, though; this book was never more than a thinly veiled marketing gimmick and (arguably terrible?) advertisement for their “celebrity” chefs. As you mentioned, nothing in the book remotely compares to what’s actually served on-board, either in preparation method, ingredients sourcing, or in taste. Glad you had a good time, though, so the rest of us don’t have to.

  2. So Ben,
    If you saw one of the items in the book, especially one you made for this dinner party, on the inflight menu in Polaris Business on an actual flight (for the sake of argument SNN-EWR), would you actually order it, and do you think it would taste as good as on the ground, in Tiffany’s house ?

  3. Sorry Ben – maybe it’s the plating, but it looks a notch or two below the Polaris chicken soup and just ahead of lobster roll.

    Looks like multiple courses of vomit from different people.

  4. @AdamR – Totally agree – a gimmick, (mis) management and/or marketing must be really struggling to think of something -at the end of the day it is just a list of things that they don’t serve in United Polaris, rather than things that they actually do serve – in that regard it may make them look bad, even,

  5. You should bring this book with you on your next Polaris flight and use it as a menu and see what they actually serve onboard.

  6. Nice. Great job. And wonderful you have found new appreciation for cooking.

    Next Brazilian waxing. Something to develop empathy about. Though don’t post any videos.

    Good luck.

  7. That actually looks – pretty nicely done. Good job for a first timer! I’m a reasonably competent cook (as in, not much creativity but can follow a recipe pretty well), but I don’t think I’d have the patience to pull that entire meal off.

  8. im glad that you learned from this to appreciate more, the food being served to you which is not always perfect and you will probably have more understanding with the hard working people that work to prepare all the fancy stuff. takes a man to admit that lucky !!

  9. I guess I could see why you wanted to follow the cookbook *exactly,* but for most of us that cook regularly, we’ll substitute or simplify as needed. For example, if this were summer, then yeah, I’d probably shuck the corn since it would be would be in top form. But in January? In all likelihood, frozen would have been just as good–maybe even better. In fact, I’m surprised you could find ears of corn in the store this time of year.

  10. @ No Name — We all pitched in across the two days of cooking (I only have so many dishes), but the bulk of the credit goes to my long-suffering husband who spent about six hours reconstructing the kitchen on Saturday morning.

  11. @ Michael — That was actually the biggest takeaway for me. No one who cooks regularly cooks like this. We’d buy the beets pre-pickled, quick-rice, etc. It was definitely a departure from my normal kitchen routine.

  12. I’m impressed. Everything looked beautiful, especially the octopus, but don’t tell anyone because they will raise the price. Congratulations on completing such a difficult and special endeavour!

  13. Highly recommend watching the Mega Food episode about airplane food on Netflix if you guys haven’t watched it yet. Gives you a lot more appreciation for airplane food.

  14. I enjoy cooking and do so from scratch but never to the extent of shucking corn. On the other hand, I purchase whole poultry from farms and the complete fish and clean and cut them myself. It’s just a wonderful daily activity for me after a stressful day at work.

    Wonderful to see such beautifully prepared dishes.

  15. Look like Tiffany did the most part of cooking.You just put them on the plat.Fortunately you were doing this with (sort of) love.And with love is the key part of cooking.

  16. Ben looks about as horrified as I would be when cooking. He actually pulled it off though. I would have either burned or overcooked everything.

    If I ever have a boyfriend, cooking will be his job! šŸ™‚

  17. In my single days my cooking was quite simple, but I did occasionally make myself a Chinese meal with my wok and ingredients purchased locally at an oriental market. The cooking itself was not particularly difficult, but I found that cleanup took 4x longer than actually eating.

    Now all my Chinese food is purchased already cooked.

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