MONTREAL — Herb-encrusted rack of lamb with a balsamic jus nestled on polenta. Thai beef strips napped in ginger and soy. Braised short ribs atop roasted garlic-infused red-skinned potato mash.
Travellers flying out of Trudeau International Airport who order a kosher meal in the future may find such delectable fare on their tray.
Gate Gourmet, a Swiss-headquartered company that caters to 14 major airlines at Trudeau, including Air Canada, now has a kosher kitchen supervised by Montreal’s Vaad Ha’ir, which supervises the MK hechsher.
The new service was launched Feb. 21, and the company says it will be able to supply up to 1,000 kosher meals a day.
The Vaad’s executive director, Rabbi Saul Emanuel, is thrilled with the new venture, saying both observant Jews and many others who opt for kosher believing it represents higher quality will benefit.
Airlines, too, he said, will gain from working with an established international company that describes itself as the world’s largest independent provider of catering and provisioning services to airlines and railroads.
Rabbi Emanuel has been trying to persuade Gate Gourmet to open a kosher kitchen in Montreal like the one it runs at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
“Their services in Toronto have received excellent ratings,” he said
Until now, airlines contracted with local kosher caterers to supply meals, and they still have that option the rabbi noted.
Four years ago, the Vaad began supervising the Pearson kitchen, then owned by Cara Operations Ltd. Cara sold its airline catering division’s Canadian operations to Gate Gourmet in late 2010.
Today, Gate Gourmet serves about 24 airlines out of Pearson, including 15 that require kosher meals, with El Al Israel Airlines among them.
At the official opening of its Montreal kosher kitchen, located at offices on Rodolphe Pagé Street, a short walk from the terminal, executive chef David Tushingham showed off the type of kosher food Gate Gourmet offers.
Danielle Medina’s company, Food With a Conscience, is a partner to the project, advising on the menu, sourcing of ingredients and controlling costs. Her company also served as a consultant to the Vaad Ha’ir on its Canadian Kosher Food Safety Initiative, in collaboration with the federal government.
Even among kashrut authorities, the Vaad is known for its stringency, and Medina is helping to bridge the requirements of religion and business. Rabbi Emanuel said only glatt meat and the mehadrin level of kashrut are acceptable.
The Vaad traces every single ingredient from its source to the table. Even produce must meet the Vaad’s exacting standards.
All meals leave the kitchen wrapped and bearing the MK label.
Besides the main dishes, there were a selection of cold soups, appetizers, salads and desserts on display (and for tasting) at the inauguration, appealing to the eye as well as taste.
Among them was caramelized fennel garnished with orange segments and nestled in radicchio; a pepper-encrusted fresh tuna Niçoise; whole-wheat penne with roasted vegetables and sun-dried tomatoes with basil, and roasted corn and black beans with tomato and avocado.
Chicken is, of course, available, but Tushingham elevated this rubber staple to grilled breast on a sweet potato latke, dressed in charred tomato coulis and surrounded by snowpeas and baby carrots.
For dessert, there was a tangy tofu-based lemon mousse parfait atop blueberries, apple tarte Tatin, and mini red velvet cupcakes. Gate Gourmet does its own baking.
Whether travellers get such choices will, of course, depend on how much the airline wants to spend or is looking for. Gate Gourmet’s job is to customize.
The spacious kosher kitchen, which is separate from the regular kitchen, is brand new and built to specifications, Rabbi Emanuel said. The chefs and staff are trained in the complexities of kashrut, and the meat and pareve preparation and storage areas and equipment are easily distinguished by colour-coded signs. Dairy foods may be added in the future, if there is demand.
A Vaad mashgiach is present at all times that food is out and is the only one who can open and close the premises.
“There is zero tolerance for cross-contamination,” Rabbi Emanuel said.
The kitchen will be koshered for Passover to ensure no stoppage in service. The same safety standards are enforced as in the regular kitchen
Gate Gourmet, which has more than 70 years experience in catering, has 122 flight kitchens in 28 countries on five continents. It produces 250 million meals every year for more than 250 airlines.
But the kitchens in Toronto and Montreal are its only kosher ones, said Doug Goeke, Gate Gourmet’s North American president, who came in from the company’s regional headquarters near Washington, D.C. He told The CJN that Cara’s kosher kitchen at Pearson was losing money when Gate Gourmet took it over, but after two years, it’s showing a small profit and making more than 240,000 meals annually.
Keeping the Montreal kosher service in the black should be a challenge, since Toronto’s Jewish population is almost double that of Montreal.
But Rabbi Emanuel is confident Gate Gourmet will pick up a lot of business from the non-Jewish public, noting that consumption of kosher products in North America has grown dramatically over the last decade, due to the perception that it is safer or suitable for those with certain non-religious dietary concerns.
In Montreal, Gate Gourmet is already considering extending its kosher services beyond the airline industry, to perhaps retailers, institutions or even large private events, as it has been doing in Toronto.