In this exclusive interview, we delve into the culinary world of Diego Sabino, VistaJet’s fine dining expert.
In the opulent realm of luxury air travel, the journey is as much about the senses as it is about the destination. The hum of engines and the plush embrace of leather seats set the stage, but it’s the symphony of flavours, meticulously curated for the discerning palate, that truly elevates the experience.
At the heart of this culinary renaissance in the skies is Diego Sabino, VistaJet’s esteemed fine dining expert. Born and raised in the gastronomic haven of southern Italy, Diego’s love for food is not just a profession; it’s a legacy. Every dish he crafts carries with it the warmth of family gatherings, the laughter shared over meals, and memories of his cherished grandmother, Maria, who first ignited his passion for the culinary arts.
Navigating the unique challenges of high-altitude dining, Diego has pioneered techniques and philosophies that ensure every meal served aboard a VistaJet flight is nothing short of extraordinary.
From understanding the nuanced changes in taste perception at cruising altitudes to ensuring the freshness and authenticity of ingredients sourced from around the globe, his approach is both scientific and poetic. It’s not just about satiating hunger; it’s about taking passengers on a gastronomic voyage that mirrors the luxury and exclusivity of their airborne journey.
As we delve deeper into our conversation with Diego, we uncover the intricacies of crafting gourmet experiences for the skies, the future trends in in-flight dining, and the stories that inspire him. Whether it’s the tale of procuring pizzas from a historic Neapolitan pizzeria or the innovative ways VistaJet is championing sustainability, Diego’s narrative is a testament to the brand’s commitment to excellence. Join us on this captivating journey, where the horizon is limitless, and every meal is a masterpiece.
A Taste of Luxury: An Interview with Diego Sabino
Diego, can you tell us about your journey and how you became VistaJet’s fine dining expert?
Coming from the southern part of Italy, food is all we think about, from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep. I have this vivid memory of my grandmother Maria, who during the hottest day of the year, on a beach and in the height of summer asked me, “Diego, what shall we cook for Christmas?” What immediately springs to mind when I think of food is a family gathering, and every family gathering of mine is a truly unique experience.
Throughout my career, I have been privileged enough to work with some of the best restaurants and hotels in the world. Not only am I passionate about serving a meal, but also delivering an experience that people will talk about to their friends and loved ones for years to come. My approach has always been to have my guests’ desires at the core –– a home away from home feeling.
Ingredients and seasonality are the fundamental bases of my culinary philosophy. Sourcing the highest quality ingredients, and pairing them together to enhance flavours is how we are able to match the expectations of our valued Members.
How does dining at high altitude differ from dining at ground level? Are there specific challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Even the greatest gourmand has to reset her or his senses when flying as the effects of altitude, lower humidity and increased noise and movement will affect everything, from metabolism and digestion to how we perceive different tastes. In particular, recirculated cabin air reduces the aroma that, together with taste, makes flavour –– up to 80% of what people think is taste is, in fact, smell.
The traditional shortcut to combat a reduction in taste sensations has been to overload dishes with extra salt and sugar. Unfortunately, as well as being calorific and increasing water retention and bloating, this ends up altering how food feels in the mouth. The only solution is to rely on fresh, high-quality ingredients that are naturally high in flavour and will retain texture even when reheated.
When I design menus and work alongside our chosen partners and chefs, we always take into consideration that the food won’t be served directly from the kitchen, but that it will be blast chilled, packed and then reheated
To achieve the highest result possible, every step of the chain has to be as good as the previous one. If you are sourcing the finest ingredients then you have to respect them to utilise them in the best way possible, and ultimately our Cabin Hosts, trained by the British Butler Institute, have a huge task of finessing every dish on board to perfection.
What inspired you to delve deep into the art and science of dining at high altitudes?
Food is just one small part of life, but such an important one. It keeps our body ready for the next venture, and it nourishes the emotional side of the brain, affecting how we feel both within and with each other. Nowhere is this more true than in the air. The higher atmosphere, with lower pressure and lower humidity than on the ground, impacts many of the senses and greatly changes our perceptions.
Of course, flying private over a commercial airliner helps: at 45,000 feet, a VistaJet Global 7500 has an equivalent air pressure of only 4,500 feet and a controlled humidity level. But still, we do notice the difference.
This is why we have carefully reinvented our air dining experience – to deliver tastes and sensations that work in the sky. This is also why we are so focused on seasonality health and well-being, constantly evolving our menus in order to better reflect the way we live today
How does the palate change when one is flying, and how do you account for this when curating the menus?
Flying has one of the greatest impacts on the senses, as the effects of altitude, lower humidity and increased noise and movement can alter everything from metabolism to how we perceive different tastes. Where humidity in the home is typically around 45%, in an aircraft it can be 20% or less, desensitising taste buds. Likewise, the perception of salt and sweetness was reduced by 30%.
Flying private, of course, does help to minimise the impact on the senses. As mentioned, at 45,000 feet, a VistaJet Global 7500 aircraft has an equivalent air pressure of only 4,500 feet and a controlled humidity level. But still, a difference can be noticeable.
VistaJet works with more than 7,000 trusted suppliers around the world: the finest producers and purveyors to source the freshest and highest quality ingredients and dishes. Every dish is prepared for in-flight, high-altitude dining.
When taste drops at altitude, the texture is all-important and simple dishes, designed with this in mind, will shine. Recipes celebrating an element of crunch, like salads or grain-based options, can provide higher satisfaction. Bitter and sour tastes remain relatively stable at altitude, whilst umami, the fifth sense, is actually boosted.
Are there certain ingredients or dishes that are particularly enhanced or diminished by the altitude?
Yes, as atmospheric pressure decreases, water boils at lower temperatures so foods that are prepared by boiling or simmering will cook at a lower temperature, and it will take longer to cook. High altitude areas are also prone to low humidity, which can cause the moisture in foods to evaporate more quickly during cooking. Likewise, lean meats with high water content are susceptible to drying out while being cooked if special precautions are not taken.
The taste of sweetness and saltiness is typically reduced on an aeroplane due to altitude and pressure, yet adding more can result in dehydrating travellers.
Therefore, umami and savoury flavours are typically enhanced while flying. Ingredients like tomatoes, mushrooms, parmesan cheese, soy-based foods and condiments, anchovies, seafood, cured meats and aged cheeses will produce richer flavours, and spicy flavours like curry, ginger, and garlic can withstand the changes on aircraft.
When curating a menu for a private flight, what are the key factors you consider?
Dining is one of the most important factors of the onboard experience with VistaJet. It’s more than just consuming food on a flight, our dining experience is all about taking clients on a journey in every possible sense — so as they enjoy the superb service which takes them to their destination, they are also being taken on a culinary journey with the finest cuisine and ingredients tailored to their every taste.
We pride ourselves on the level of bespoke detail that goes into planning the food and beverage experience for our clients. We are able to tailor courses for each and every traveller on each and every flight.
All VistaJet Program Members have a dedicated client services team that ensures their preference profile is kept up to date — from food and drink likes and dislikes, to their preferred newspapers and magazines on board, and their overall service preferences. This allows us to create a seamless plan for every trip, and ensure the right dining options are ready and available.
Through our curated menus we always strive to create a dining experience that mirrors that of some of the finest and most exclusive hotspots, at 45,000 ft.
How do you ensure the freshness and quality of ingredients, especially given the constraints of preparing food for a flight?
Our attention to detail when it comes to the culinary experience on board our jets are designed to surpass what our clients thought could be possible — a core mantra behind every step of the VistaJet service.
Our offer at VistaJet in terms of gastronomy is based mostly on finding the greatest ingredients locally and combining them with culinary techniques so the dishes are perfectly suitable to be enjoyed on board, in terms of texture and taste.
Menus are finalised at least 24 hours before departure to ensure sourcing and preparation standards. Hot dishes are freshly prepared by hand and par-cooked. Ingredients are packed into over-ready containers and then blast-chilled to lock in taste, texture and freshness. The meals are couriered to the departure airport in refrigerated vehicles and loaded onto the jet around 90 minutes before departure then, once in the air, the VistaJet Cabin Host will finish cooking the food before it is expertly presented and served to passengers.
All VistaJet Cabin Hosts are trained by the British Butler Institute, certified up to Level 2 in wine and spirits training and are food-safety qualified. They have also received expert plating tutorials from chefs specializing in different cuisines.
Can you share some insights on foods that can help combat jetlag? Conversely, are there foods that travellers should avoid if they want to minimize jetlag?
One of the most important factors to prevent and combat jetlag is to stay hydrated during a flight and try to regulate sleep as much as possible.
Melatonin is produced naturally by the body and helps regulate the sleep cycle, so can also help improve symptoms of jet lag. Cherries and cherry juice contain melatonin so is recommended to have on flights to support sleep. Likewise, hydrating fruits and vegetables like watermelon and cucumber can help fight feelings of fatigue and improve focus.
As tempting as coffee may be to increase energy after a flight, however, it isn’t recommended for dealing with jet lag as it can contribute to dehydration and alter the body’s natural body clock.
How do you cater to the diverse dietary preferences and restrictions of VistaJet’s clientele?
As soon as a client books a flight, VistaJet’s Private Dining team will propose bespoke menus for them to choose from. They then source individual ingredients which can take a full day. Our team checks all allergies, intolerances and dietary needs at the time of booking and several times ahead of the flight, before the menus are finalised 24 hours in advance.
Wine and altitude: How does the altitude affect the taste and experience of wine?
Enjoying a glass of wine while in flight should be the same as a glass of wine in a restaurant. At altitude, nasal sensors’ reception of aromas is limited due to the lower air pressure.
During the flight, the bubbles found in sparkling wines, which contain up to thirty times more aroma than the liquid, tend to stick to the sides of the glass. Fruit flavours are diminished, while bitterness and spiciness are largely unaffected.
Wine is a personal passion for us and we have a Signature Wine List on board every flight. Bottles can include the elegant, pure and aromatic Ruinart Champagnes; the dense, smooth and ripe Château Pape Clément, Pessac Léognan with its lifted notes of raspberries; and the Gaja, Rossj Bass Chardonnay, presenting a defined character and good acidity with a fresh and lingering finish.
Wine is also a passion of VistaJet clients, hence the pioneering innovation as part of the VistaJet Private World portfolio which offers Members access to exclusive travel masterclasses from the world leaders in the wine industry.
Are there any particular wine regions or varietals that you find work especially well on private flights?
At altitude, nasal sensors’ reception of aromas is limited due to the lower air pressure. During the flight, the bubbles found in sparkling wines (which contain up to thirty times more aroma than the liquid) tend to stick to the sides of the glass. Fruit flavours are diminished, while bitterness and spiciness are largely unaffected.
VistaJet invited some of the world’s foremost experts from Marchesi Antinori, Rothschild (Lafite), Ca’ del Bosco and Latour on dedicated wine flights to sample, taste and compare wines from all over the world. Our experts noted how taste and smell are affected by the atmosphere in a pressurized cabin by tasting on the ground and in the sky.
Oxford University professor Charles Spence observed that the level of background noise on a commercial flight adversely affects a person’s perception of smell and taste. On a VistaJet aircraft, however, the comforts of a home environment are more accurately recreated with cabin noise 35 decibels less than commercial, minimizing the inherent psychological impact. The cabin air pressure is almost minimised by XX, making many of the sensory effects of air travel far less noticeable.
The learnings from these memorable wine flights, touching down in exclusive vineyards including Clos de Tart and Château Smith Haut Lafitte, are the basis of the VistaJet Wine Program.
How have the preferences and tastes of VistaJet’s clients evolved over the past seven years?
The nature of what we do is managing detailed requests all over the world, and we have been on a journey to transform the private dining experience in the air — to make it something to savour.
VistaJet works with more than 7,000 trusted suppliers around the world to source the freshest and highest quality ingredients and dishes, but many customers have specific requests in mind before they board.
Our customers often have favourite restaurants, whether that be those they have accumulated from their global travels or a restaurant from their hometown which delivers a taste of nostalgia.
Can you share a memorable experience or challenge you faced while curating a menu for a specific flight?
One of my most memorable experiences happened on a flight of seven, all of whom craved the pizza from a tiny, ancient spot in the Porto neighbourhood of Naples.
A pizza might seem like an easily accessible meal, but to them, this wasn’t like any other pizza. Everything from the water used for the dough to the richness of the tomatoes, or the fact that the place has been family-run since 1870, made this pizza something of a delicacy for them.
Unfortunately, the restaurant—L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele—does not offer delivery or takeaway under any circumstance. It’s so popular every pizza has to be ordered, queued for and consumed on-site.
In the face of a nigh-on-impossible task, a member of our private dining team remembered he went to school with one of the chefs down at Da Michele—and after a short period of reminiscing, they managed to negotiate the arrival of seven pizzas to the airport, to the open arms of our clients.
With sustainability being a major concern in today’s world, how does VistaJet ensure that its onboard dining experience is eco-friendly?
We work with our vendors to improve our sustainability efforts across our Private Dining services. A good example of this is the Private Dining app which is a solution to reduce food waste. We have a dedicated sustainability team looking at how we can step forward in all areas and continuously improve the experience for our Members.
Are there any upcoming trends or innovations in the world of high-altitude dining that you’re excited about?
We partner with some of the best restaurants in the world, working in collaboration to curate bespoke menus and dishes for VistaJet Members, with a key focus on designing the menus to be enjoyed at high altitudes.
The scientific elements discussed above.
Finally, if you had to recommend one signature dish or drink that epitomizes the VistaJet dining experience, what would it be?
I would recommend the traditional Bolognese tortellini as its umami flavours adapt well at high altitudes. With thanks to Chef Michele Casadei Massari’s love for Bolognese cuisine, VistaJet Members can enjoy authentic handmade tortellini during a VistaJet flight.
This makes the culinary experience unique and adds a touch of warmth and familiarity to the air travel. Furthermore, imagine if there were an expert pasta maker, a “sfoglina’ from the Emilian-Romagna tradition on board, a grandmother who brings the art of making tortellini with her, close to your comfortable seating and dreaming of a destination she would have never thought of visiting, seeing it through your eyes, savouring such a traditional dish. The sky is the limit!