AS ANYONE who has taken a flight from the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport knows, the process can seem suspiciously simple compared to other fly zones across the country. Drop bags at curbside check-in: two minutes. Breeze through automatic doors and step into the security line a few hundred yards away: 30 seconds. Chances are, you’ll be cleared within half an hour, and that’s a generous estimate. Arrive more than an hour before your departure, and you’ll likely spend more than an hour sitting in the tiny terminal adjacent to the tarmac. Skipped breakfast? Suddenly your trip turns tedious: options at the lone café kiosk are paltry and pricey, and snacks will not be offered on the plane. A hungry traveler is in for a long flight — even if it’s just to Denver.
Those flying private, however, can order pretty much anything their hearts desire from a handful of local and franchise caterers that deliver meals directly to their cabins.
“I’ve seen the notes that go to the caterers — they’re very, very specific,” says one pilot for a large fractional company speaking on condition of anonymity. (Really; for a topic as innocuous as What We Ate Today, private jet pilots and the Atlantic Aviation representatives who serve them are a nervous bunch.) “What size portion, no honeydew melon, low-carb diet — we get it all. I flew a lady from L.A. to Vermont. She was upset there was no caffeine-free Diet Coke on the airplane. She was really pissed. I thought, Who the hell is drinking caffeine-free Diet Coke at 5 a.m., anyway? But when you’re paying ten- or fifteen-thousand dollars an hour, you deserve to get what you ask for.”
Requests run the gamut from fruit salad with extra pineapple and 10-vegetable platters to Colorado rack of lamb, caviar and magnums of Champagne.
“People who have private jets are very specific about the yogurt they want, the water they want, and how you prepare things,” says Mawa McQueen of M&M Catering & Cooking School, which has offered customized meal delivery to private jet passengers since 2008. “They don’t use the menu. It’s based on diet. My client is gonna say, ‘I need you to make me a Caesar salad, no croutons, this type of cheese.’ Some individuals like petit fours, beef tenderloin sliders, fresh Maine lobster. We are a fancy à la carte service. There’s no ‘no.’”
A pilot for charter service Colorado by Air, who also asked to not be identified, estimates that 60 to 70 percent of his passengers have in-flight meals catered.
“These are sophisticated flyers,” he says. “Every single one has seen an outrageous catering bill. Don Johnson (best known for his lead role on ‘Miami Vice’) always wanted a big thing of guacamole. He’s consistent, but that’s rare. You get the craziest things sometimes: the Matsu plate, big layouts of seafood that they don’t even eat….”
Common folk flying coach, on the other hand, can’t get much more than mixed nuts or muffins at the Aspen airport.
“People who don’t fly private, (are) punished” by the lack of dining options, McQueen says. “Aspen caters to the rich and famous, but the airport…there’s a disconnect. We have valet service to pick up your luggage and skis, but when it comes to food, it’s so basic. When you come to Aspen you want fresh, high-end food.”
So, beginning Dec. 1, to kick off the holiday rush, M&M Catering is offering airport meal delivery to the general public.
Though not quite as customizable as offerings for private jet clients — who pay a pretty penny to make super-specific demands — M&M’s commercial in-flight menu is extensive and suits all types of dietary requests. (McQueen, a former hospitality manager at The Little Nell, launched M&M in April 2006 as an in-home dining service specializing in intimate dinner parties and personalized meal planning and delivery, which honed her careful attention to detail.)
For breakfast, choose from eight packages ($20) that include fresh fruit and a half-pint of fresh-squeezed orange juice: an egg, cheese and meat burrito with salsa and sour cream; quiche with spinach, artichokes, and Avalanche goat cheese; smoked salmon with bagels, cream cheese, boiled egg and savory accouterments. The Healthy Nut box assembles house-made granola, Greek yogurt, berries, and a blueberry muffin; fresh-squeezed juices — from açai and beet to Swiss chard, watermelon, and a rainbow of produce in between — are available by the half-pint ($8) and pint ($14).
Sandwiches ($20), which transcend basic deli preparations — homemade roast beef with Boursin cheese and arugula; chicken salad with fennel and green goddess dressing; prosciutto with goat cheese and radicchio — are built on a choice of fresh bread, and served with a small Caesar salad, fresh fruit and a brownie. Salads ($22) also include those accompaniments and may be customized with a protein of choice (tuna, salmon, shrimp, chicken): heirloom tomato, kale, Niçoise, Santa Fe, Quinoa Greek. Picky palates might explore Snack Boxes ($20), such as a Mediterranean sampler of marinated olives, eggplant “caviar,” stuffed grape leaves, hummus and pita, or simple platters of crudités, domestic and imported cheeses, charcuterie, jumbo shrimp cocktail, even chicken wings with spinach-artichoke dip or sushi and sashimi.
But perhaps most unique are hot entrées: roasted bison with Bordelaise sauce, seared sea bass with lemon-parsley brown butter, seared filet mignon, spice-rubbed tuna steak, and half of a roasted free-range chicken with pan gravy. Each includes seasonal fresh vegetables, starch, bread and dessert, for $32. Kid-friendly choices range from mac and cheese ($10) and crudités with hummus and ranch dressing ($12) to fish sticks with sweet potato puree and green peas ($15) and petite filet of beef tenderloin with mashed potatoes and broccoli ($18). Vegetarians choose from six special meals at $28 apiece.
McQueen is banking on volume, but between early-morning travelers who miss complimentary hotel breakfasts to passengers stuck in the terminal due to snow delays, she’s confident that the niche is there to fill. Orders may be placed via phone, four hours in advance, though it’s worth a shot to call last minute; M&M Catering is located just on the other side of Highway 82 in the Aspen Business Center, after all.
“We need to change the mentality about how healthy food is for rich people — it’s not true,” McQueen says. “That’s what I’m trying to do (at) the airport. (My service) adds to how people view Aspen. You can eat healthy and not break the bank. If you want your toxin cleanse, I’m gonna bring it to you!”
Amanda Rae only has to cross the highway to hop a flight. email@example.com