UAE Inaugurates New Initiative to Upgrade Kosher In-Flight Catering
Updated: Apr 28, 2021
By MICHAEL SUSSMAN
A year ago, it would have been impossible to imagine that the national airline of a Muslim Arab country would aspire to be a leader in elevating the quality of kosher food for the benefit of Jews around the world. Yet that is exactly what occurred when Kosher Arabia, the new kosher catering company based at Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport, recently celebrated its grand opening. Like many things following the Abraham Peace Accords, all of us present felt that we were experiencing something groundbreaking.
As noted by Director Ross Kriel in his welcoming speech, from the beginning the aspiration was that Emirates – one of the world’s top ranked airlines, would also serve the best kosher food in the world.
While Kosher Arabia was inaugurated only last week, the vision for a catering company to provide kosher catering was floated four years earlier by Saeed Mohammad Ahmad, the CEO of Emirates Flight Catering, who explained, “we want to have the best Kosher meal served on our aircraft and in our lounges worldwide.”
At that time, long before the Abraham Peace Accords, the project was deemed commercially viable through a partnership with Emirates Flight Catering, the company that already supplied in-flight catering services to Emirates Airlines, the flagship airline of the UAE, offering access to its 58 million passengers and 3,500 weekly flights this new gourmet food option. The Abraham Accords have made the commercial opportunity far more relevant since there are now many daily flights to Tel Aviv and a greater number of Jews expected to come to UAE as a result of the agreement.
Until now, In-flight kosher catering has been renowned for its poor quality. It is excessively wrapped in cellophane and aluminum foil to protect its separateness and must be ordered well in advance.
Kosher Arabia seeks to improve this experience by offering fresh meals served no-later than 48 hours after being produced and will include a menu of gourmet foods, to include a modern kosher twist on classical Middle Eastern foods. At the launch, samples of gourmet food included the classical Middle Eastern shakshuka amongst other delectables.
One aspect that makes the Kosher Arabia brand so unique is the diversity of its team, which is not solely Jewish, as people might expect. Like virtually every endeavor in the UAE, the directors, executive officers, chefs and staff all come from different countries and backgrounds. The General Manager is from the United Kingdom and the Director of Business Development from South Africa. All are professionals from the food industry but come with their own unique cultural traditions.
The importance of the inauguration was evidenced by the prestigious guest list of people who attended, including businesspeople, religious leaders, diplomats and public figures. Like virtually everything in Dubai, the event featured a diversity of guests, who came from many countries around the world as well as a mixture of customs, which included Judaism and all the Abrahamic faiths, making it a significant and special evening.
Canada’s Ambassador to the UAE, Marcy Grossman, and the Israeli Head of Mission, Ilan Sztulman Starosta, both participated in the customary inaugural ribbon cutting ceremony. The CEO of the Orthodox Union in Israel, one of the main kosher certification agencies in the world, Rabbi Yissachar Krakowski, attached the mezuzah to the doorpost in the entrance. Jews affix mezuzot to the entrance ways of their homes, offices and places of worship to keep these important institutions blessed and protected.
The level of investment and the sophistication of Kosher Arabia’s headquarters also illustrated the seriousness of the event. Setting up a kosher commercial kitchen entails significant expense, and in this case no expense was spared. The vast kitchen is state of the art with large commercial ovens, prep tables, and walk-in refrigerators that exist in most commercial kitchens, and huge stainless steel sinks that the guests were obliged to use per COVID requirements. Actually, the kitchen was even more advanced because the sanctity of kosher food is heavily guarded and watched by a mashgiach. The loading dock where ingredients are brought in and prepared food is sent out, likewise uses the latest technology and contains special refrigerated airtight seals to prevent the food from being spoiled, contaminated or having its kosher seal compromised.
Even the location of the building housing the kitchen reflects the importance of the kosher project as it is located at a prominent area of the Al Maktoum International Airport, the main airport in Dubai. Rather than being tucked away or hidden in an obscure area of the compound, it is located right beside Emirates Flight Catering, the company that provides all kosher food to Emirates flights.
While the Abraham Peace Accords have brought about many unthinkable firsts as Israel and its neighbors work together, few would have thought that improving the quality of kosher food would be one of them. But the financial opportunity and will of the people has allowed it to happen.
For everyone present at the April 12 launch of the Kosher Arabia Flight Catering, it was clear that they were experiencing a new milestone in Arab-Jewish relations.
Michael Sussman is the CEO of Sussman Corporate Security. He previously worked at the House of Commons in Canada and at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute in Israel. He is editor of the book Varieties of Multiple Modernities: New Research Design.
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