One of my latest trips was across Africa during which I got the chance to visit unique, magical places and interviewed some chefs along the way.
Traveling to Africa had always been on my mind, this vast continent stretching from the Mediterranean Sea all the way to white shark diving off the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. It was going to be hard to plan a culinary tour around this continent since I had no idea where to go and most importantly, what to do.
Researching the best way to travel through Africa, I came across TCS. This travel company based in Seattle, Washington, has long been known as the leaders in luxury travel on board private jets around the world.
Operating the Four Seasons Plane (Yes! The hotel has a private plane), which could carry up to 295 passengers, has been reconfigured to accommodate 50 customers in business class seats, among the other TCS jets. For anyone who has dreamed of visiting these majestic corners of the world, TCS has a unique and magical experience called, “The Best of Africa”.
Shelley Cline, president of TCS and her expert team of travel connoisseurs and board members such as Klara Glowczewska, executive travel editor of Town and Country and former editor-in-chief of Conde Nast Travel and Jordan Mackay, James Beard-award winning wine, spirits and food author and contributor to Food & Wine, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Wine and Spirit magazines are among the members of the board that with their expertise on topics ranging from travel to culinary trends help make these journeys a magical experience.
The majestic Black Pearl, this Boeing 757, is one of a kind: when you walk in the jet you are treated like royalty. Their crew team makes you feel at home, they cater to you and pamper you in every way.
“Each plane has a private chef carefully hired by Executive Chef Kerry Sear. The meals are well-balanced, professionally executed, warm and with different dining options for people with allergies.”
I was very curious to try the food on board as we all know food served on board a plane has always had a bad reputation, even sometimes in first class. But this is not the case, each plane has a private chef carefully hired by Executive Chef Kerry Sear. The meals are well-balanced, professionally executed, warm and with different dining options for people with allergies. Their food and banquet operation and execution during the flight was flawless.
We began our journey in Zurich, Switzerland continuing to Addis Ababa, and the Lalibela world heritage site known for their rock-hewn monological churches in Ethiopia, then off to the Indian Ocean to visit the beautiful Seychelles Islands. Our first safari was in Tanzania at the Serengeti National park, following with Cape Town, South Africa, then off to the Namibian desert, continuing to the Okavango Delta in Botswana to Zambia to see the breathtaking Victoria falls, then off to Rwanda to visit the gorillas at Volcano National Park.
When the trip was over, I had the opportunity to interview the TCS Executive Chef Kerry Sear. We talked about what it is like to work for TCS and how complicated and challenging it is to cook 10,000 feet above sea level and still have that fine dining experience. After all, the trip is not cheap and the clients have high expectations, especially when it comes to food quality on board the plane.
Chef Kerry worked for the opening of Arts, the gastronomical restaurant inside the Four Seasons Hotel in Seattle, Washington. His brilliant career was praised by Bon Appetite with an article about “American Northwest Cuisine” and by the prestigious newspaper USA Today as one of the top six chefs from America. He then left the Four Seasons to join TCS. After all, he stills “manage the kitchen of the highest Four Seasons restaurant in the world,” says Kerry Sear.
“The main challenge in not having a kitchen. I am working in an office, not a restaurant or hotel”
Kerry Sear, TCS Executive Chef
How long have you been working for TCS and why did you decide to work for them?
I started working full time for TCS five years ago. Before that I worked for two years preparing for the jet program in a part time capacity.
What were some of your major challenges when you joined the company?
The biggest thing was not having a kitchen. I am working in an office, not a restaurant or hotel. That was strange for me. Another thing that continues to be a major challenge is that I have to adjust everything to fit aviation rules.
What is your favorite place to travel to and why?
I don’t have a favorite place, because every location offers something different and the experiences are different. I love seeing and meeting people wherever I go. On board the plane every hour there will be something to snack on, it could be something from the location we left, or something highlighting the location we are going to. You are going to have people who expect a three-star Michelin experience, but then you’ve got somebody who really wants a peanut butter jelly sandwich.”
That is the thing that makes travel fascinating. I also love discovering new places – you are always looking for the adventure of finding the next fascinating place.
What are the requirements you look for when you hire a new chef to be part of TCS?
Flexibility is by far the most important thing. Personality also has to be a fit. This chef is both working with guests and having to deal with the different cultural aspects of caters around the world. If you don’t have the right personality for that, you are not going to be loving life. Thinking outside the box is important too. You never know what challenges you are going to have to face. For example, you might think you are going to have a certain main ingredient when you arrive somewhere, and then it’s nowhere to be found. Or the schedule might change, and instead of having a day to source something you only have four hours.
Is this your dream job?
No – simply because it’s beyond anything I could have dreamed up. How could I? I didn’t even know this type of thing existed seven years ago. I still can’t believe it. You’re flying around the world on a private jet working in all these countries and getting paid for it. If you had told me about this seven years ago, I would have said, “How is that possible?”
“This job is beyond anything I could have dreamed up… You’re flying around the world on a private jet working in all these countries and getting paid for it”
What do you need to be successful in a company like TCS?
You have to be able to work with the team in the office knowing that the team is not familiar with having a chef or the challenges the chef faces. On the plane, you are working with aviation people. You have to train flight attendants, who don’t necessarily have a restaurant background, to recreate a restaurant-type experience in the air.
What are the things that you love the most and hate the most about this job?
The thing I hate the most is the lack of control in the locations. You are at the mercy of airport security and aviation caterers, since they are often buying the products. Chefs are accustomed to controlling everything in the kitchen. I don’t even know for sure that all the food will make it onto the plane at each stop because somebody else is bringing it on and it’s going through security. We’d had things stolen or gone missing, and then you have to improvise in the air without the guests knowing that anything has happened.
The thing I love is that you meet so many interesting people. I have so many friends around the world. Especially as we go back to locations. I also meet new people each time we go to a new destination. My “office” is the world, so I have office mates all over the globe. I also love seeing people around the world that I’ve known in past positions.
When you create new menus, what are the guidelines and standard procedures you go through to achieve a successful menu?
First, I look at the locations, because each one offers different products. Then I look at what the guests are experiencing on the ground at the location, because I don’t want to repeat something. Of course, I look at flight times, because they stipulate the amount of time we have for service. I also take into account my past experiences and knowing what works. The jet is their home away from home, so we have learned to keep it simple. We start with caviar, but we also offer sandwiches. The trip also evolves as you go. You listen to guests and evolve with what they want along the way.
“Gourmet food is simply too rich to eat while in flight. We go for variety. We try to keep it healthy because of travel. They are experiencing so many local flavors on the ground, we keep it simpler on the plane”.
What is it like to cook gourmet meals inside a plane and why?
It’s not too gourmet per say. Gourmet food is simply too rich to eat while in flight. We go for variety. We try to keep it healthy because of travel. They are experiencing so many local flavors on the ground, we keep it simpler on the plane. You also have to work with that space. It’s a commercial jet galley, which means you have ovens that do either high or low heat and that’s it. You are basically reheating things. Then you throw in turbulence, which seems to hit every time we start serving lunch without fail.
When are you most proud at work?
When the guests say they are booking another trip. It’s the highest compliment you can get.