Inside the Dubai-based company revolutionizing inflight kosher meals
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Why shouldn’t Kosher airplane food be fantastic?
That’s the question that Matt Rickard, Godrume Kriel and Trent Sanft are trying to answer with Kosher Arabia.
As the first-of-its-kind kosher catering facility in the Gulf , Kosher Arabia is quickly becoming the region’s go-to kitchen for all things Kosher.
The company’s goal, as I learned during a recent visit to its headquarters, is simple: to provide fresh airline meals in futuristic, biodegradable packaging that adheres to the strictest level of Jewish dietary laws.
It might sound simple on paper, but no single caterer has cracked the code yet, according to the trio. That’s especially true in the Gulf region, which before 2020, wasn’t exactly where you’d find Jewish travelers.
Before Kosher Arabia, those ordering Kosher food on flights departing from Dubai would either be served frozen or shelf-stable meals, most of which were produced weeks (or even months) in advance and flown in from various corners of the world.
Now, Kosher passengers departing from Dubai have some of the freshest meals in the sky. According to Trent Sanft, the kitchen’s executive chef, Kosher Arabia’s meals are consumed between eight and 12 hours after the time of production, which is nearly 50% less time the average airline meal.
Another selling point for Kosher Arabia’s meals is the focus on sustainability. “We want to be thinking ahead,” said Kosher Arabia’s general manager, Matt Rickard, referencing all the waste that’s usually associated with packaged airline meals.
He showed TPG a demo tray that had much less plastic wrapping and single-use plastic waste than you usually find on planes.
As for the food itself, that’s in Sanft’s domain. Along with his team of 10 chefs, they devise the menu according to each airline’s specific preferences.
For instance, one airline might say that it wants a 300-gram entree made with chicken.
It’s then up to Shaft’s team to come up with a recipe and meal. In that case, Kosher Arabia would whip up a chicken and vegetable tajine, a traditional North African dish.
Kosher Arabia is a joint venture between Emirates Flight Catering (a subdivision of the larger Emirates Group), along with Ross Kriel, the Jewish representative to Community Development Authority in Dubai (and uncle of Godrume Kriel, who serves as the director of business development for Kosher Arabia).
Kosher Arabia officially opened earlier this year in March, about six months after the historic Abraham Accords were signed between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.
But, despite the normalization of ties, the facility has been a work in progress for well over five years, according to Kriel, who told TPG that the underground Jewish community had first approached the government about opening something similar in 2016.
Fast forward five years, and in October 2021, the kitchen produced 4,000 kosher meals for a mix of airlines, representing 70% of its business. (The local Jewish community and other private events in the region accounted for the remaining 30%.)
Kosher Arabia is located on the premises of the Al Maktoum International Airport, located in the Dubai South neighborhood, and most recently in the news for hosting the Dubai Airshow.
The Kosher kitchen occupies 17% of the existing Emirates Flight Catering facility that was originally built at Dubai’s “other” airport when there were talks that Emirates would move there from its current hub at Dubai International Airport (DXB).
After the meals are produced, they must be driven 45 minutes in a refrigerated truck directly to the airline’s main catering plant at DXB, before being loaded into individual service carts.
Though it might sound inconvenient to be so far from the major hub, the shipping process isn’t the challenge.
What’s hardest for Kosher Arabia is sourcing the raw ingredients with the right levels of religious certification. Getting meats and processed foods isn’t easy, according to Kriel, who told TPG that the facility imports meats from Poland. The pickles come from Turkey. Many other goods are brought in from Israel.
While Kosher Arabia is still working through some start-up kinks, it believes it’s well on its way to becoming a powerhouse in Kosher catering.
As for what’s next, Kosher Arabia is eagerly looking forward to Emirates commencing service to Tel Aviv, which has now been delayed multiple times due to the pandemic.
Rickard estimates that nearly 50% of passengers on those flights will be ordering Kosher meals, which will keep his team very busy in the coming months.
And looking further into the future, Rickard’s vision is to expand Kosher Arabia worldwide.
As Kosher Arabia becomes more well-known in the market, Rickard hopes that people will start building a preference for its meals. And if that happens, well, the sky is the limit for Kosher Arabia.
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy
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