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Flying out of Chennai Airport? This is where food sold at this airport gets cooked.

A cook preparing samosas to be sold to flyers in the kitchen facility operated by Travel Food Services at Chennai International Airport

A cook preparing samosas to be sold to flyers in the kitchen facility operated by Travel Food Services at Chennai International Airport   | Photo Credit: Pradeep Kumar

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We take a tour of the newest facility inside the Chennai International Airport: the building where all your travel food gets made by the master concessionaire

It is something unique to Chennai International Airport. No other airport in the country has provided the master concessionaire responsible for food and beverages outlets with a building of its own — and with an area of more than 15,000 sq.ft., it is quite some space.

The building, which is operated and managed by Travel Food Services (the master concessionaire under contract with the Airports Authority of India), features state-of-the-art equipment and employees working round-the-clock shifts in order to continuously meet the demand for food products from outlets at the terminals.

“We started operating in Chennai in 2013. Earlier, this kitchen was inside the T2 terminal, but then AAI started its demolition, after the new T1 and T4 terminals were opened. So, instead of being moved around terminals, they (AAI) decided to set us up with a permanent space,” says Srinath Raghavan, regional director, TFS Chennai.

Taking the lead

The facility cost nearly ₹20 crore to build. “It is the first of its kind facility as far as India is concerned,” he adds. Arvind Singh, Chairman, AAI, in a statement to media, had noted how the cooking equipment could take up various jobs such as stewing, braising, deep-frying and boiling, and that this facility improves “efficiency and output”.

A cook preparing sandwiches for flyers in the kitchen facility operated by Travel Food Services at Chennai International Airport

A cook preparing sandwiches for flyers in the kitchen facility operated by Travel Food Services at Chennai International Airport   | Photo Credit: Pradeep Kumar

As Nikhil Rastogi, executive chef, TFS Chennai, takes us on a tour of the facility, he points to the VarioCookingCenter equipment, describing it as an “automated wok”.

“The recipes are already fed inside. There is a touch board. You just need to feed it fish, meat or rice and the vegetables. It will fry, sauté, boil, grill and roast,” he remarks, adding that such equipment helps them produce food quickly, to be supplied to the 87 outlets and six lounges the kitchen serves inside the Chennai Airport.

“We make around 1,800 samosas a day here,” Rastogi adds, providing an insight into the non-stop production cycle. There is also a bakery and confectioneries section.

Right from the processing stage, the kitchen segregates the vegetables and meat produce that it receives in its bay. Once the food is cooked and packed, a colour code helps demarcate vegetarian dishes from meat-based food. “There is also a steriliser equipment for the knives used,” Raghavan adds, emphasising upon hygiene standards.

A cook preparing food to be sold to flyers in the kitchen facility operated by Travel Food Services at Chennai International Airport

A cook preparing food to be sold to flyers in the kitchen facility operated by Travel Food Services at Chennai International Airport   | Photo Credit: Pradeep Kumar

There are also two blast chillers, besides 11 walk-in freezers, which can get the temperature of hot food from over 75 degrees Celsius to below five degrees Celsius in under two hours.

This level of automation and optimisation enables TFS to operate with limited manpower if needed, although there are nearly 1,000 people employed by the firm in Chennai alone, Raghavan notes. “Around 160 people work here in the kitchen. The remaining work in the outlets in the terminal,” he says.

Umbrella brand

The biggest advantage of the master concessionaire system, Raghavan adds, is that complaint redressal is effective. “It works to the advantage of AAI, the franchise outlets as well as the customer,” he says.

Rastogi adds: “For instance, for general complaints about the food served, there is a customer care number printed on the bills. You can call it and quote the bill number to lodge your complaint. Our team will go to the spot and do a proper root cause analysis before getting back in touch. We ensure that we win back the customer who has a grievance.”

Until two years ago, Chennai and Kolkata were the only two AAI-controlled airports which had separate master concessionaires to operate F&B and retail outlets in terminals.

A cook preparing food to be sold to flyers in the kitchen facility operated by Travel Food Services at Chennai International Airport

A cook preparing food to be sold to flyers in the kitchen facility operated by Travel Food Services at Chennai International Airport   | Photo Credit: Pradeep Kumar

Then, AAI decided to open up 12 more airports — primarily in tier II cities like Bhopal, Bhubaneshwar, Raipur, Lucknow and Guwahati — to master concessionaires. TFS was a beneficiary of the proposal.

“Besides Chennai, we operate outlets in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Goa. There is also a small outlet of ours at the Chennai Central railway station,” Raghavan says.

The firm has extended its reach beyond airports to include both national highways and the massive Indian Railway network, and now, in-flight catering may not be too far an objective for them. “The thought process is there but we need a security programme in place,” Raghavan notes.

Rastogi chips in: “There is some process differentiation. In-flight food has to be prepared only 24 hours before flight, and it needs to go into blast freezers immediately after. We have built the infrastructure to meet those needs, but it will take time.”

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 4:49:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/flying-out-of-chennai-airport-this-is-where-food-sold-at-this-airport-gets-cooked/article30459387.ece

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