(By Natasha Stokes/CNN) — From boxed sandwiches and salads in plastic tubs to fine dining. The world’s gastronomic masters are now using airports for their new restaurant openings.
Heston Blumenthal is the latest big name chef to open an air hub establishment. The Perfectionist’s Café will open at London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 2 on June 4. While Blumenthal is best known for molecular gastronomy, his new diner with a wood-fired oven makes it the first British airport kitchen with an open flame. Fire safety and security are just two major hurdles for the potential airport restaurateur.
Gas can’t be used in the kitchens in most airports, food suppliers have to go through security clearance and perhaps most daunting of all, customers sometimes have as little 15 minutes to spend on the meal. Blumenthal isn’t the first culinary superstar to take on the challenge.
Gordon Ramsay opened Plane Food at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 in 2008, Catalonia’s Carles Gaig has a modern Catalan joint at Barcelona-El Prat and in North America, Los Angeles International and Toronto Pearson International are just two restaurants that have attracted restaurants from local celebrity cooks.
More people, more stomachs
Air travel has roughly doubled since 2003, with the International Civil Aviation Authority reporting that airlines served 3.1 billion passengers in 2013 compared with 1.6 billion a decade ago.
Airports are an integral part of that experience now, moving away from being mere gateways.
“It’s what the airport environment does to you,” says Heathrow Airport’s head of food and beverage Ben Crowley.
Take Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food.
Around 20,000 diners are served every month.
The restaurant receives hundreds of visitors a day, serving dishes such as braised pork belly and cod ceviche.
“Travelers have become a lot more demanding,” Heathrow’s Crowley says. “They eat out more and expect more when they come through the airport.”
These days, the greatest limitation of the airport restaurant is security, says Anthony Russell, restaurant manager at Ramsay’s Plane Food.
Kitchen knives need to be kept under strict eye, and suppliers and staff must pass through security clearance.
“Produce delivery becomes a challenge,” Russell says.
“You have to be organized and resourceful, but there is [still] no calling a supplier for an emergency delivery if you run out after lunch.”
Of course, quality airport dining isn’t the exclusive domain of celebrity chefs.
Porta Gaig (Barcelona-El Prat Airport)
The hook: Opened by one of Barcelona’s most celebrated chefs, Carles Gaig, who runs the city’s Michelin-starred Gaig.
The cuisine: Modern Catalan food, such as slow-braised beef cheeks or poached eggs over potatoes, enjoyed in peaceful, airy surrounds with plate-glass windows through which diners can watch aircraft land and take off.
Travelers in a rush can have quick tapas such as Iberico ham and pa amb tomaquet, a Catalan classic of bread rubbed with tomato.
Open noon-5 p.m., weekdays only, with main dishes from €10.70 ($15).
Porta Gaig, El Prat Airport Terminal 1 departures , Barcelona; +34 93 259 6210
Perfectionists’ Cafe (Heathrow Airport, London)
Opens June 2014
The hook: The king of inventive cooking, Heston Blumenthal applies his science to making British classics quick.
Cuisine: English diner food with a twist and some serious physics — imagine a burger designed with an oral physiologist to determine the optimal bun size and texture.
Fans of Blumenthal’s multi-sensory approach to cooking can sit at the bar where aromas will enhance the dining experience.
Prices for main dishes from £11 ($18).
Perfectionists’ Cafe, Terminal 2 departures, Heathrow Airport, London
The Gorgeous Kitchen (Heathrow Airport, London)
Opens in June 2014
The hook: Menu designed by four UK celebrity chefs including Sophie Michell of London’s Pont St restaurant, and cookbook author Jo Pratt (“In the Mood for Food”).
The cuisine: Light, wholesome fare prepared from British-grown ingredients.
Signature dishes include a chorizo toad-in-the-hole and sweet corn and coriander fritters with king prawns.
An express section of the menu can be ordered and served within 15 minutes.
The Gorgeous Kitchen, Heathrow Airport, Terminal 2 departures, London