If you prepare food for Angelina Jolie, Michael Jackson, Simon Cowell and other multi-millionaires while they’re lying on their private planes, what’s on the plate had better be darn good and nothing your diners’ palates might desire had better be missing. That slice of lime, wedge of Morbier cheese, tin of Russian caviar or bottle of Dom Perignon has got to be on board before takeoff; after all, there’s no Whole Foods Market or Super Cellars in the sky.
Harry Purut, CEO of the Wood-Ridge, N.J.-based Gourmet Inflight Catering, is well aware of that. The 61-year-old Wyckoff resident has been working hard for the past 16 years to satisfy the culinary whims and drink requests of the 1-Percenters whose private carriers fly out of the airports in the metropolitan area, including Teterboro, Newark, JFK and LaGuardia. His catering company, which sits next door to Martini Grill, the Italian-American restaurant his chef brother-in-law, Aret Cakir, owns and for which he is a partner, is open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Cakir is also chef of the catering company, which has a staff of 14.
“We never close,” Purut said. “We’re like an airline.”
Purut’s clients are not the passengers, but their companies or managers who hire him to feed their well-heeled travelers. He is in charge of supplying them top-notch snacks, top-end meals and top-shelf liquor. Sometimes an astoundingly large and expensive amount of liquor. Purut recalls one flyer for whom he fetched 16 bottles of Patron Platinum Tequila ($250 per bottle), 6 bottles of Cristal Champagne ($150/bottle) and 6 bottles of Johnny Walker Blue ($200/bottle). The liquor was to be enjoyed on a flight to Atlantic City.
“We have five-star clientele,” said the gray-haired and mustachioed Purut, who was born in Istanbul. “We’re not providing regular airline food.”
WHAT’S ON THE MENU
Among the dishes Gourmet Inflight is providing: grilled filet mignon with roasted rosemary potatoes, rack of lamb encrusted with herb-flecked Parmesan and thinly sliced marinated ostrich over caramelized onions. Flying breakfast time? There’s challah French toast with Vermont maple syrup, a selection of smoked fish with black German bread or paper-thin French crepes stuffed with fresh fruit. Just a light nosh? How’s about Beluga caviar with crème fraîche?
If however a passenger wants something other than what’s on the company’s extensive menu, Purut will try — real hard — to please. He spends lots of time, he said, shopping for food, often searching for specific sometimes-difficult-to-find products a client just can’t fly without. For one, he recalled, it was mini veal sausages. “In this area it’s not mini and the sausages are made with pork.” Still, he managed to find a Fair Lawn butcher to make mini veal sausages for him. “Money is not the issue,” he said. For another, it was black pudding (English blood sausage). “I found it in a New Milford Irish deli,” he said, For still another: organic Gatorade. “I never heard of organic Gatorade,” he said. Neither it turns out did any store owners in the area. “I had it shipped from Phoenix.”
Sometimes the demands are not food-related. Jennifer Lopez wanted a dark Santa Fe fleece throw and a crystal-cut ashtray, Purut said. “Do you know how hard it is finding this stuff?” He managed to find the throw in Lord & Taylor and the ashtray in Bloomingdale’s.
“It’s challenging work, never boring,” Purut declared. It is work he took on after Martini Grill customers, who happen to work in nearby Teterboro, asked him if he’d start an inflight catering firm. They offered to give the restaurant “all their business” if it would.
Though hesitant at first, the two men decided to go for it when the tanning salon next door to the restaurant moved out and they had the space to build another kitchen. “It’s a niche business,” Purut said — one that they knew nothing about.
So they hired people who worked for the competition — and learned from them. “We had to learn about different containers — those for hot food and cold food — size of plane ovens and microwaves, how to cook food that will need to be reheated, etc.”
Today, they have 250 customers.
Flight attendant Maryann Minaesian can’t be more pleased with Purut.. “I never have to worry ‘Did he get it right?’” she said. “He is so professional and his food is fabulous. Plus he’s a nice person.”
Have the eating habits of the rich and famous changed over time? Yes, Purut says. Like most everyone else, they are eating less carbs — “Instead of rice, we make mashed sweet potatoes, instead of potatoes, pureed cauliflower — less fried foods — “We used to sauté vegetables, now we mostly steam or roast” — and there’s more demand for gluten-free dishes.
One customer didn’t care about gluten or carbs. He had one demand: English tea sandwiches. Purut supplied them. A few days later, the vendor told him, he said, “The guy never talks. He never says a word. But he liked the tea sandwiches so much that he actually spoke to tell me how pleased he was.” The guy was Keith Richards.
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