Anthony Bourdain Wasn't The Biggest Fan Of Airplane Meals

Anthony Bourdain was never one to shy away from a food challenge. The late chef, author, and host of widely acclaimed television shows including "No Reservations," "Parts Unknown," and "A Cook's Tour" once chowed down on the still-beating heart of a cobra, a delicacy he described in the show as akin to a "very athletic, aggressive oyster." 

A highly enthusiastic world explorer, Bourdain spent a lot of time in planes flying from one adventure to the next, but even while enduring the most arduously long flights, he steadfastly refused to eat airplane food. Think about that. A guy who was willing to swallow the still-beating heart of a cobra; the same guy who remained graciously nonplussed while sampling unwashed warthog anus — an experience he later described as the worst meal of his life — so as not to offend his hosts would not, under any circumstances, eat airplane food.

That's saying a lot. But why? His reasoning is pretty straightforward, and not even slightly critical of the process. In fact, he's well aware of the challenges airlines face when it comes to serving food at 30,000 feet, telling Bon Appétit in 2018, "The food can't possibly be that good. It can be edible at best, no matter how hard they try. The conditions that they're working in, there's not much they can do."

Giving credit where credit is due

Bourdain had a point about not blaming airlines for the sometimes sub-par food they serve to passengers. The process is fraught with potential pitfalls, starting with the basic fact that our bodies experience food consumed at altitude differently from food eaten at ground level. By the time an airline meal lands on an in-flight tray table, an army of chefs and scientists have already researched, developed, and taste-tested their way through myriad versions of the same dish, striving to come up with creative ways to mitigate environmental factors like the lack of humidity, lower air pressure, and even background noise that wreaks havoc with our senses — factors that contribute to a diminished ability to detect flavor nuances like sweetness and saltiness. Combine that with the fact that current food safety protocols stipulate meals served to airline passengers must be fully cooked, blast-chilled, and refrigerated before they are loaded onto the plane to be reheated at service time and it's a recipe for disaster.

So what did Bourdain do to sustain himself during long flights? As he said to Bon Appétit in 2016, he filled up on cheese and wine, port to be exact. Either that or make a quick stop at an iconic local restaurant en route to the airport but, that can be tricky, too. Bourdain told Bon Appétit, "I brought some Joe's BBQ on the plane from Kansas City once, and the look of pure loathing on everyone's faces as I gnawed on my ribs — I wouldn't care to repeat it."