We chat with Singapore Airlines Food & Beverage Director, Antony McNeil, about the airline’s farm-to-plane approach and how they’ve gained their reputation as a world-class ‘flying restaurant’.
Antony McNeil is the current Food & Beverage Director for Singapore Airlines and is responsible for the Food & Beverage Design & Delivery for Inflight Services.
He hails from Melbourne, Australia, with 30 years of hospitality and culinary experience, previously as an international hotelier, working with five-star luxury hotel brands(Ritz Carlton, Hyatt and Hilton International) before moving into the world of airline catering.
Antony has extensive global culinary experience and has spent a considerable amount of time in the Far East and South-East Asia including China. Antony now sets the strategic direction and design for onboard food and beverage experiences on Singapore Airlines.
Your job is pretty cool, how has your career led you to become the Global Food and Beverage Director for Singapore Airlines?
I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to lead the F&B team at Singapore Airlines, we have a fabulous team of culinary & beverage specialists.
My career started at Melbourne Airport Travelodge making club sandwiches and milkshakes part time for extra pocket money. I then earned an apprenticeship in Cookery and Hotel Management and worked my way through the Melbourne hospitality scene to Executive Chef positions, leaving Australia 16 years ago to work overseas to work in leading luxury hotels in Sri Lanka, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia & Dubai, with a short culinary study tour of Perugia, in Umbria, Italy.
Now, 30 years later, working here with Singapore Airlines creating exciting dining experiences, coupled with a love of global aviation, has landed me with this fabulous role working with the world’s #1 airline.
We’ve heard Singapore Airlines’ in-flight dining experience described as a ‘flying restaurant’, what do you think sets you apart from other airlines?
Several key areas support this comment. Firstly, it is, of course, our world-class cabin crew, providing dedicated, personalised service to our customers onboard. Secondly, Singapore Airlines has a commitment to popular local favourites, signature dishes and showcasing Singaporean heritage cuisine. Working alongside our International Culinary Panel and Wine Consultants gives you a global perspective of seasonal cuisines with a focus on a farm-to-plane approach, complemented by our wide selection of vintage wines, extending from Burgundy, Champagne and Bordeaux, through to new world wines of Australia, NZ and the USA.
It is most definitely a substantial and unapparelled inflight offering that we are very proud of!
How does the in-flight experience and choice of food differ to the choices in the airport lounges?
The lounges provide a respite for our passengers, a home away from home. We balance our menu designs, so you don’t see a repeat of meals or menu items in our lounges versus in-flight. We do offer SIA signature dishes in the First Class & Business Class lounges – Singaporean Laksa being one of the most popular items on our menus.
We hear a lot about different foods being good for jetlag and helping to get some sleep on the plane, do you have any insights into what foods we should be eating to make our travel experience easier?
SIA partners with Como Shambhala (Singapore) and Canyon Ranch (US) to curate a wellness program, not only dedicated to food and beverage in-flight, but also to starting your journey well with a pre-flight ritual for helping to set your travel expectations, through to in-flight exercises to help get you to your destination in fabulous condition.
Pre-flight exercise is always a bonus if you have time stretch your legs, cycle or run; eat light meals and avoid overly rich foods; drink plenty of water; sleep when your body is telling you to rest; all of this should assist your arrival to your destination.
And we have to know about the thought process behind what menu to serve on the world’s longest flight?
The inflight services team worked with Canyon Ranch, our cabin crew division, along with our customer insight team to build a dining profile for passengers flying on the Singapore to New York sector. 18 hours is a long time, so we took our time to develop several menu options.
A few key areas we focussed on were wellness, lighter foods, balanced calorie intake, and use of ingredients to reduce the impact of swelling /inflammation on the body due to limited movement during the flight.
On the other hand, passengers also like to indulge when they fly, so we need to provide a balanced option of cuisines to cover all tastes.
Living in Singapore, how does the food scene inspire you when thinking of what to serve on flights?
I really enjoy the local hawker scene – it is such a honest home-style cuisine, prepared and served by generations of families, using one or 2 secret recipes, handed down. From Malay, Chinese, Indian, Peranakan, Nonya cuisine styles there is a unique dish that can be found – everything from kaya toast with egg and milk tea through to clay pot chicken rice, a dish cooked over charcoal giving you a wonderful caramelised crust on the base of the clay pot, and the classic Satay of Singapore.
Most dishes are best cooked and served fresh from the venue, and SIA takes the time to convert and translate these dishes for inflight dining. They are known as Popular Local Fare, and can be found on our Book the Cook program and featured on route menus, so keep your eyes open for these original dishes.
What can passengers expect next from Singapore Airlines’ in-flight food?
We recently announced our partnership with Como Shambhala. Their cuisine focus is one of wellness, with a spotlight on south-east Asian cuisines using natural & raw ingredients. Other areas include the introduction of guest chefs to work in collaboration with our ICP program.
Seasonal festivities also feature in our food & beverage programming, such as Mid-Autumn Festival with Mooncakes, Christmas festivities, and the introduction of our newly developed Burgundy wine program, and a little surprise at year end, featuring a rosé champagne… But I can’t share those final details just yet!
And finally, if you were a passenger on the world’s longest flight, what would you be ordering?
For me, I would order a classic soupy dish – char siu won ton noodle soup: Chinese BBQ pork, pork & prawn wontons, Chinese green vegetables, thin egg noodles and slow-cooked chickenbroth, served with sliced chilli and soy sauce. This is Singaporean comfort food at its best!
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