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Bringing Food Scale-Up Challenges to Life

Making food at scale vs making food at home, presents a set of challenges. How do you store your ingredients? What does it take to ensure even baking in a huge oven? How do you produce freshly smoked meat on a daily basis?

How to store a week’s supply of bananas

Ever thought about how all those people on a cruise ship are fed? On the bigger cruise ships out there, over a hundred thousand meals need to be prepared every week.

But cruise ships can’t receive new ingredients on a daily basis. They may be out at sea, or in a region without the proper supply. As such, this all has to be thought through well in advance and presents itself with some huge logistical challenges.

Just of those: how do you store a week’s supply of bananas?

Bananas ripen and produce ethylene

Bananas ripen quite quickly and once they’re ripening they produce ethylene. This ethylene then stimulates the ripening of other bananas. But, it can also induce the ripening of other fruits and vegetables.

Moreover, bananas shouldn’t be stored in the fridge, nor should they be stored too warm. That’s why cruise ships may need a separate storage space for bananas

Varying degrees of ripeness

Once the ripening process has started, there’s no real way to stop it. To ensure that there are perfectly ripe bananas available every single day, cruise ships buy bananas with varying degrees of ripeness.

They’ll have overripe bananas (which are brown already). These are great for making smoothies. Then they’ll have ripe bananas, ready to be eaten as a snack. Last but not least, they have green bananas. Thanks to the optimal storage conditions, these bananas they will be ripe by the end of the journey. It’s a great combination of culinary understanding and food science that have to come together.

2 week old frozen bananas
Sliced bananas

We learned about bananas on cruise ships through the show Mega Food. This used to be on Netflix, but as of writing (summer-2022) is no longer available on the platform.

How to (not) cook airplane food

Have you ever wondered what flight attendants still have to do when preparing your airplane meal?

If it’s an economy class meal, the food only needs to be re-heated and served out. To do so, they have special airplane ovens. These ovens are designed to heat food only. They can’t cook or brown food.

That means that all the flavor development, browning, etc. all has to be done on forehand. This is a 24/7 operation where food is cooked non-stop. To ensure that food isn’t overheated either, most of the food isn’t cooked through completely. It is prepared in such a way that the additional heat in the airplane cooks the food properly. Steaks for instance are browned nicely but not completely cooked through, that is done in the airplane oven. This way, the quality of the food will be as good as it’s going to get.

To make food turn brown you need the Maillard reaction. For the Maillard reaction to happen you either need more time in an airplane oven, or higher temperatures.

Developing airplane food

You may have heard that people tend to order a lot more tomato juice in an airplane, than on the ground. This is because your senses work differently, when up in the air. The air is drier and is circulated through the cabin rapidly and repeatedly. Aside from the earlier mentioned re-heating process, these factors also impact which dishes can be developed for in-air consumption.

In such a small, busy space, you want to avoid any strong-smelling foods. And to compensate for the lack of taste, airplane foods have to be spiced up. Also, it should be easy to make equal portions. You wouldn’t want a neighbor to have significantly more, or less food.

Lastly, it should of course be suitable for being re-heated in the airplane. To test this, test kitchens contain the actual airplane ovens to simulate what happens in-flight.

We learned about airplane catering through the show Mega Food. This used to be on Netflix, but as of writing (summer-2022) is no longer available on the platform

How to make fresh food 24/7

Large tourist destinations, such as theme parks, aren’t just good at entertaining people. They also tend to have large-scale catering operations going on in the background.

In Seaworld Orland for instance, they run a 24-hour bakery baking cookies, breads, and more on a daily basis. It’s a great example of what scaled-up production can look like.

Bread is no longer shaped by hand, but with a machine. Oven racks rotate to ensure even baking, and the mixers used to whip cream are noticeably larger than your own home-scale piece of equipment!

Some foods need hours of preparation. Breads need time to rise for example. And barbecueing meat naturally takes long as well. If you want to serve people on a daily basis, that means starting and running your barbcues in the middle of the night.

Mixing, kneading, proofing, shaping, proofing, baking; making bread every day is a huge undertaking.

How to feed 100,000 people every day

At the golden temple, in India, meals are made for 100,000 people on a daily basis. And, these are free to all who visit. It is an impressive operation and a perfect example of scaling up food in a way that the production still looks very much like the one you would do at home.

It’s mostly the choice of dishes that makes it possible to feed so many people. Dishes that can be prepared in large pots and don’t require exquisite, specific handling conditions, but can be cooked simply, at scale.

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