Luke Nguyen to create Vietnam Airlines business class menus for Australian trips

Vietnam Airlines has signed on Australian celebrity chef Luke Nguyen to revamp its business class meals on all flights to and from Australia to Vietnam.

The three-year contract will see Nguyen, whose family is originally from Vietnam, create eight dishes for the business class menu on the route and advise on the 50 dishes the airline serves on its global routes.

Bringing on Nguyen, who is the owner of Vietnamese restaurant Red Lantern in Sydney and TV host of several Vietnamese cuisine shows and documentaries, is a logical fit for the airline that appears to be expanding its brand and presence in Australia.

Last year the airline launched non-stop flights from Sydney to Hanoi operating the Dreamliner on the route. In November last year, I travelled to Vietnam flying this exact route, and then flying from Ho Chi Minh to Sydney, in business class both ways.

While meals on both flights were fresh and, unsurprisingly contained dishes, such as pho, which are well and widely loved, the meals didn't capture the fragrances of traditional Vietnamese food you'd get on the streets of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh. This was a bit of a letdown, but it didn't ruin my overall flight experience. As someone who has travelled to Vietnam several times (my family is from there too) I'm familiar with the type of food you can get on the ground and the meals didn't quite hit that same taste sensation. Though, it's fair to say, capturing the freshness of flavours and the subtle balance of sweet, salty, tangy and chilli that is the signature of Vietnamese cruise is a lot harder at 50,000 feet in the air. 

It'll be interesting to see what creations Nguyen brings to the new menu and his take on the Vietnamese dishes and flavours that will most impress and delight travellers to and from Australia. I'm suspecting some fusion might sneak in, but I'm most keen to know if he'll slip in the kicker dishes that are a lesser known and sometimes a bit more pungent. Though in closed cabin spaces, pungent might not make the list.

The difficulty – as other chefs who have also designed menus for airlines have pointed out – will be creating a tasty menu when people lose about 15 to 20 per cent of their ability to taste during flight, add in the strict rules and regulations around airline food and beverage preparation, and also the differing taste preferences between passengers. But let's see what Nguyen has up his sleeve, he is not willing to share his ideas with us just yet.

Nguyen is the latest Australian chef to partner with airlines to design their in-flight menus. Neill Perry has been creating Qantas' in-flight menu for 20 years, Matt Moran has partnered with Singapore Airlines and sits on its global culinary advisory panel, and Luke Mangan is Virgin Australia's resident chef. In February, Virgin Australia announced new menus for business travellers on its domestic and international routes that rolled out on March 7, 2018, and feature beef wonton soup, poached chicken with egg noodles and steamed barramundi with sweet potato curry.

It's not Nguyen's first time working with the travel industry. The chef is an ambassador for APT's culinary cruises along the Mekong and Irrawaddy rivers in south-east Asia, including taking guests on escorted trips

The writer flew as a guest of Vietnam Airlines and Wendy Wu Tours.