Sydney | Published on 3rd March 2017 at 10:42

This month, Qantas and Neil Perry celebrate their 20th anniversary as culinary partners – the longest relationship of its kind in aviation industry.

Mr Perry and the Rockpool Group joined Qantas as consultants in 1997. After initially working with the airline to redesign First Class inflight dining, the restauranteur went on to revamp the menu and service offering for international and domestic Business Class.

Two decades on, Mr Perry is Qantas’ Creative Director, Food, Service and Beverage. His team of chefs, sommeliers, mixologists and service experts oversee the design of the domestic and international in-flight menu, as well as First and Business Class food and beverages. Since 2015, Qantas Rockpool Sommeliers have selected the airline’s in-flight wine, while Rockpool mixologists create the airline’s lounge cocktails.

Mr Perry and Rockpool are also overseeing the design of the inflight dining experience for the Qantas Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, which joins the airline’s fleet in late 2017.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said Mr Perry had made a unique contribution to Qantas’ tradition of premium service – and showcased the best of Australian produce for millions of the national carrier’s customers.

“It’s impossible to imagine food and wine on Qantas without Neil’s influence, which shows you the way he’s made it his own over the past two decades,” Mr Joyce. “We say that when you step on a Qantas flight overseas you’re already in Australia – and a Neil Perry meal is part of that experience.”

“We love the passion and perfectionism that he brings to the job, but also the way he challenges us to experiment and evolve. Qantas has always worked with brilliant Australians, and Neil is well and truly part of the hall of fame.”

Mr Perry said it was a privilege to work with Qantas and adapt inflight dining to the changing tastes and growing sophistication of Australian travellers.

“Australians today are also incredibly food savvy – they understand what’s in season and love exploring food and wine regions around Australia and overseas. They expect to see great produce grown by passionate locals both inflight and in our lounges.

“Twenty years ago, we put tagine on the menu and had to call it Moroccan braised lamb, but now we use terms like baba ganoush and garam masala without thinking twice.

“Listening to customer feedback, engaging with the crew who prepare the menu inflight and being sure to create dishes that use the best seasonal produce across each destination that Qantas flies to, are the three vital components to creating a successful menu each season,” said Neil Perry.

The Rockpool signature steak sandwich with tomato relish is the one menu item that has been a constant on the Qantas’ First Class in-flight menu for the past 20 years.

An attempt to rest it briefly in 2009 was met with protests from customers and the steak sandwich was promptly reinstated to the menu, where it remains a firm favourite today. Qantas serves up more than 600,000 steak sandwiches each year worldwide.

Other popular “can’t-take-off-the-menu” dishes include the chicken schnitzel sandwich (in-flight), the salt and pepper squid with green chilli dipping sauce (First Lounge and Chairmans Lounges) and the Signature Pavlova (First Lounge and Chairmans Lounges). Neil Perry’s signature chicken club sandwich (First Lounge), Zucchini soup (Business Class in-flight) and Garam Masala Fish with noodles (Business and First Class in-flight) are also popular favourites.

To mark the 20-year anniversary, Qantas will re-introduce some of the most popular menu items from the last two decades to both in-flight and lounge menus over the next six months. The most loved dishes of the past 20 years include:

• Stir fried crab omelette with oyster sauce
• Korean style yellowfin tuna tartare with sesame dressing
• Lobster with XO sauce, lo mein noodles, bok choy and sesame seeds
• Grilled salmon with chilli, garlic, cherry tomatoes and squid ink noodles
• Chermoula lamb rack with vegetable tagine, couscous, harissa and coriander yoghurt
• Rockpool Bar & Grill style beef fillet with “mac and cheese” and green beans
• Spice Temple inspired caramel, chocolate and sesame ice cream sandwiches