Daniela Sibaja wraps arctic char meals. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Behind the scenes at Air North’s kitchen

A small facility near the Whitehorse airport runways is where the cookies happen

The smell of coconut curry and freshly-baked pie crust hits you as soon as you open the door to Air North’s kitchen. Immediately to the left are two long, metal tables covered with at least a hundred paper plates arranged in neat rows, the beginnings of deli platters — crackers, cheese cubes and slices, small bunches of green grapes — are starting to take shape on each of them.

Beyond the tables in the room next door is the source of the smell: a handful of women wearing deep-blue uniforms, hairnets and gloves are either ladling out a mild Thai curry sauce over dozens of portions of Arctic char and vegetables on rice, or pulling turkey pot pies out of the oven.

In a time where the majority of airlines in North America have stopped serving (free) food on domestic trips, Air North, based in Whitehorse, is an outlier, serving passengers meals on almost all of its flights. The magic all happens in a small, inconspicuous building just a stone’s throw from the runways at the Whitehorse airport.

“The easiest part of the whole thing is making the product because that’s something we’re very comfortable with doing,” said Michael Bock, Air North’s manager of catering and cabin services, told the News during a recent visit to the facility. “It’s, how do you make it for hundreds of people and how can you supply it and serve it? How will it hold up during transportation?”

The answer: A lot of testing, and a nearly around-the-clock effort.

A typical day at the kitchen starts at 5 a.m., when the day crew comes in to load the breakfast food, prepared by the evening crew the night before, on to the morning flights.

The staff’s usually back at the kitchen by 6 a.m., which is when they begin the in-house, from-scratch baking: loaves, muffins, and, of course, the famous cookies.

The day crew also preps meals for flights later that day — on the morning the News visits, two staff are assembling deli plates for the Whitehorse-Vancouver flights while the rest are making the casserole dishes for the long haul to Ottawa — before the evening crew comes in at 3 p.m. The evening crew is busy loading planes, cooking and getting breakfasts ready until 1 a.m., during which time the kitchen is quiet for four hours until the day crew arrives and starts the cycle all over again.

During peak travel times like Christmas and summer, it’s not uncommon for the kitchen to pump out 1,400 meals a day, Bock said, with closer to 600 a day during off-season.

“It’s quite a complex system when you think about it, because airline catering is pretty different from any other catering sector, where meals are made here in advance and delivered to the aircraft,” Bock said. “It’s almost like a military exercise at times.”

Besides the volume, which fluctuates from flight to flight, the team also needs to create recipes that can stay palatable and presentable through the intricacies of getting it from the kitchen to a passenger’s tray table, said Jaclyn Flaherty, flight kitchen supervisor.

“Every menu item needs to go through the test of freezing, defrosting naturally and then reheating, so we try to do our best to mimic the ovens on the aircraft with our oven here and we get to try a lot of things, but that’s the way to make sure it’s a solid, true recipe,” she said, adding that past successes include breakfast burritos, meatballs and pasta, chicken cordon bleu, chicken parmigiana, chicken pad thai, beef stroganoff, beef bourguignon, and perogies and sausage.

There’s also another key challenge that the kitchen needs to keep in mind — food tastes different at different altitudes, so what might taste good on the ground can seem bland in the air.

“Not that we over-salt the food, but we try to season it as tasteful as we can so people don’t have to put on extra salt when they’re having a meal,” Bock said, noting that some ingredients like cauliflower seem to lose all taste at a certain altitude.

“It doesn’t seem to make a difference when it comes to desserts, though,” he added. “Desserts always taste good for some reason.”

When it comes to the cookies, Flaherty said it may be more than the taste that’s made them so popular amongst travellers.

“I think it’s something about the smell…. Everyone loves (it). It’s a comfort thing, I think, and everyone loves the smell of a warm, fresh cookie,” she said. “So when you’re flying, maybe you’ve been flying all day, you’re coming from overseas and you’re trying to get home, I think that adds an extra element to it.”

And although not quite a secret, Bock said there’s one ingredient that makes it into almost every cookie.

“You’ll find most of them have chocolate chips because the owner of this airline likes his chocolate-chip cookies,” he said. “So almost all our cookies have a chocolate chip in them.”

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

Air NorthFood

 

Air North’s famous chocolate chip cookies sit on cooling trays after being baked for flights. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Just Posted

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before using it on Nov. 24. The Yukon government is reopening the drive-thru option on June 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Drive-up COVID-19 testing opening June 18 in Whitehorse

The drive-up testing will be open from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. everyday and increase testing capacity by 33 spots

A draft plan has been released by the Dawson Regional Use Planning commission on June 15. Julien Gignac/Yukon News
Draft plan released by the Dawson Regional Land Use Planning Commission

Dawson Regional Land Use Commission releases draft plan, Government of Yukon withdraws additional lands from mineral staking in the planning region

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Let them live in trailers

“I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city… Continue reading

X
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for June 18, 2021.… Continue reading

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Yukon News file)
Yukon logs nine new COVID-19 cases, 54 active cases

More CEMA enforcement officers have been recruited, officials say

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council at its June 14 meeting

Murray Arsenault sits in the drivers seat of his 1975 Bricklin SV1 in Whitehorse on June 16. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Bringing the 1975 Bricklin north

Murray Arsenault remembers his dad’s Bricklin, while now driving his own

A presumptive COVID case was found at Seabridge Gold’s 3 Aces project. (file photo)
Presumptive COVID-19 case reported at mine in southeast Yukon

A rapid antigen rest found a presumptive COVID case on an incoming individual arriving at the 3Aces project

Jonathan Antoine/Cabin Radio
Flooding in Fort Simpson on May 8.
Fort Simpson asked for military help. Two people showed up.

FORT SIMPSON—Residents of a flooded Northwest Territories village expected a helping hand… Continue reading

A woman was rescued from the Pioneer Ridge Trail in Alaska on June 16. (Photo courtesy/AllTrails)
Alaska hiker chased off trail by bears flags down help

ANCHORAGE (AP)—An Alaska hiker who reported needing help following bear encounters on… Continue reading

Two participants cross the finish line at the City of Whitehorse Kids Triathlon on June 12 with Mayor Dan Curtis on hand to present medals. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
2021 Kids’ Triathlon draws 76 young athletes

Youth ages five to 14 swim, run and bike their way to finish line

NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq rises in the House of Commons, in Ottawa on May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Unacceptable’ that Inuk MP felt unsafe in House of Commons, Miller says

OTTAWA—It’s a “sad reflection” on Canada that an Inuk MP feels she’s… Continue reading

Lily Witten performs her Canadian Nationals beam routine on June 14. John Tonin/Yukon News
Three Yukon gymnasts break 20-year Nationals absence

Bianca Berko-Malvasio, Maude Molgat and Lily Witten competed at the Canadian Nationals – the first time in 20 years the Yukon’s been represented at the meet

Most Read