The award-winning airline Emirates, out of the United Arab Emirates, has become synonymous with luxury and comfort. Globally known for its incredible service, including some of the most impressive business class cabins, Emirates is now the world’s largest international airline.
The airline flew over 56 million passengers to 157 destinations in the financial year 2019-20, and it served an impressive 225,000 meals a day to its pampered customers before the Covid-19 pandemic.
These meals, which align perfectly with the company’s elite reputation, are developed by Greek chef Doxis Bekris, who serves as the Assistant Vice President of Concept Development at Emirates Flight Catering, and his team in cooperation with the airline’s catering unit.
Bekris spoke with Greek Reporter about his Greek heritage, how it has influenced his work as a chef, and the impact of Covid-19 on the airline industry.
Born on the Greek island of Rhodes, Bekris later moved to the town of Krestena in the Peloponnese. There, his family cultivated many fruits and vegetables on their own land. Bekris recalled his family grew “tomatoes, corn, root vegetables and even (made) our own wine and olive oil, as we do to this day.”
While he is the only chef among his four siblings, Bekris remarked that his family instilled a love of food and cooking in him from a young age. “I have to say that my childhood and the love of both my mother’s cooking and my father’s passion for agricultural life have shaped my willingness to become a chef and be where I am today. I thank them for that and I am most grateful.”
Chef Bekris visits Greece at least twice a year, but hasn’t returned home in nine months because of the coronavirus. He hopes to visit Greece again very soon, to soak up inspiration from his home country in creating new dishes.
He has used his Greek roots as his inspiration throughout his whole career, including his time working for Emirates Flight Catering.
Currently, the menus for Emirates flights include a wide array of Greek products, including “Greek yogurt, feta cheese, Greek olives and olive oil… and depending on the season, we also use a variety of Greek vegetables and fruits as well as honey and tarama,” Bekris told Greek Reporter.
Greek chef and his cuisine
Greek dishes such as “Greek salad, tzatziki, gemista, keftedes, moussaka, and more” are served on Emirates flights throughout the year, according to the chef.
When he first went to the region, Bekris says that he “thought and felt that the differences were huge” between Greece and the United Arab Emirates, but through “working and living in the region, and in Dubai in particular,” he came to understand that “our food culture is very similar.”
This in itself, he says, made adapting to his new home less difficult.
Bekris believes that the UAE and Greece have a great deal of culinary similarities, especially in terms of “favorite ingredients like lamb and seafood, and vegetables like eggplant, tomatoes and zucchini.”
These similarities made an impression on him, despite the fact that “between the two countries you will find very unique and signature dishes or cooking techniques that define the food culture of the people living there,” according to the chef.
When asked about how the Covid-19 crisis has impacted his work, Bekris admits “the impact of the pandemic has been tremendous in our industry, along with all other sectors.”
Although food safety and hygiene has always been at the center of all services at Emirates Flight Catering, Bekris noted that because of the coronavirus, they had to juggle heightened concerns about safety while maintaining the same quality in their meals.
While food safety was always a given, now this also must be extremely visible, in the form of “individually-wrapped fruits, sandwiches, pastries, and complete snack meal boxes prepared for each passenger,” he states.
These measures have helped passengers “feel comfortable flying and enjoying their meals with Emirates again,” Bekris explains with palpable relief.
An increased demand for airline travel recently has allowed Bekris and the team to expand and develop new menus which are updated every month. Emirates also offers unique regional menus according to their many destinations.
As the Vice-President of Concept Development, Bekris heads a team with the goal of “constantly challenging ourselves and questioning everything we do in order to provide the best possible combinations of menus and meals for passengers,” he explains.
This reflects Emirates Flight Catering’s wider goal of being a “pioneer” in the industry, both classic and innovative simultaneously, Bekris adds.
Developing new menus and dishes can be a process which takes months, or even a whole year, and must take many factors into consideration, such as “convenience, usability, quality, functionality, originality, authenticity, and the overall passenger experience,” he states.
Bekris says that in the end, his ultimate goal is for Emirates’ meals to exceed customers’ expectations, and to always provide them with new and exciting dishes.