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Paula Kraft

Tastefully Yours

Paula Kraft, founder and President of Atlanta, GA-based Tastefully Yours Catering.

Tomato Season

on’t you just love tomato season? I realize we can get fresh tomatoes all year round, but there's something to be said for the taste of a fresh sun-warmed tomato plucked right off the vine.

The flavor is beyond words. Tomatoes have an intoxicating effect with which no broccoli or green bean can compete, but that’s just my opinion. Tomatoes, when picked fresh (or handled correctly) are nothing short of amazing. They are juicy, sweet, tangy, and custardy all at the same time. They are a gentle crisp, and if you love tomatoes as I do, you will savor the classic drip of those sun ripened juices as they run down your chin as you take a bite.

As the season for these mouth-watering treats approaches, I thought it might be of interest to let you in on a few things about tomatoes in general as you start to create visions of tomato- filled catering.

Of all those common foods and ingredients we use on the aircraft day in and day out, I must tell you that the miracle of the tomato is that its flavor doesn’t vary at all in the air or at altitude.

Ever wonder why our flight crew and passengers enjoy so much marinara, lasagne, and other tomato based soups, salads, beverages and dishes containing tomato? Think about it . . . how seldom do you get negative feedback on a tomato based meal? I would guess rarely.

Red might be the classic tomato color, but now we are fortunate enough to see a multitude of colors, shapes and sizes year round. It's not uncommon to see orange, pink, white, purple and the famous green tomato that we use for our fried green tomatoes with goat cheese crumbles and roasted red pepper coulis. As you plan the uses for your local crop of tomatoes, it is fascinating to me how each type of this succulent fruit has its own unique flavor profile. The varied exterior colors have a direct impact on their individual flavor and actually sets its taste sensations on how acidic, sweet, bitter, or mild their flavor will be.

I have to ask myself what I am most drawn to, the color or the flavor?

When planning a meal for the aircraft, I always consider the colors on the plate for the initial “eat with your eyes” ahh moment. But then the perfect taste on your tongue must immediately follow, or you turn the visual experience over. I try to spark your passengers’ and flight crews’ taste buds by drawing in on the color first, while considering the end taste the entire time.

What are we looking for in a tomato?

Are we, as your food source, planning menus based on the tomato’s high antioxidant level, its fiber, or vitamins? For Tastefully Yours, that is the last on my list, unfortunately. Although there are hundreds of varieties around the world, each variety is best suited to that part of the world’s climate, rainfall and available sunshine. As you travel the world over, you will discover there are basic shapes and sizes of tomatoes found in the endless list of varieties around the world. For you to recognize when ordering from your catering source, or for you to better understand a menu item with a description listed next to a tomato item, I felt it would be helpful to provide you with a review of the basics:

  • A currant tomato is the tiniest of all tomatoes, as the name implies. The individual tomato is generally no bigger than ½ inch diameter. The currant size tomato plant typically bear fruits in large sprays of grapelike clusters. Rich in flavor and this tomato, when left in a cluster, is a beautiful visual for a plate garnish or condiment for a platter.
  • The next size up is the cherry tomato which we all see regularly. This tomato is generally stuffed, added to salads, used as a plate garnish, or simply popped into your mouth off of the crudité tray. The cherry tomato is between ½ inch to 2 inches in diameter, but we tend to prefer the smaller. The cherry tomato is usually round and comes in a variety of colors.
  • The plum tomato group encompasses the paste tomatoes, which are usually elongated. (tidbit of trivia for you…the paste tomato are frequently used in making sauces and pastes because they are very proliferate) Within this group we find subgroups of shapes which include the favorite pear and fig shapes.
  • The globe tomato is probably the shape you would associate as the standard tomato shape. The globe is a sphere shape about the size of a baseball. They are usually extremely smooth but occasionally might have some slight ribbing on the exterior.
  • Beefsteak tomato’s name is probably one of the most common types used on menus. This tomato is well liked for its meaty flesh and slightly crisp interior. The beefsteak is jumbo, the fruit is wider and longer than any other variety. This tomato is regularly used for slicing and added to sandwiches, wedges added to salads. If picked when perfectly ripe, this tomato is hard to surpass.
  • The Oxheart shape tomato is heart shaped. This name makes me smile and for some reason makes my mouth water and send those visions of that sun kissed tomato straight off the vine and eaten like an apple for me. As a child, this was a common shape in our garden even though my mother was attempting to grow either the plum tomato or beefsteak . . . oops!

Another bit of trivia for you; Never refrigerate fresh tomatoes, unless sliced or cut into the skin. Doing so spoils the flavor and texture that make up that garden tomato taste. The taste and texture of the tomato peaks just before it becomes over ripe. And one more bit of tomato trivia; if you cut into a tomato that is pithy or “mealy” and overly watery? Well, this is NOT the catering sources fault, it is because it received too much water prior to picking.

Color and varieties

Did you know that the dark reds and dark purple tomatoes have the fullest flavor. They might also appear to be slightly more acidic and for me tend to have a bit of a salty taste. Very mild, however.

Light Yellow and light orange tomatoes are usually more mild if they are eaten when just ripe to a bit under ripe, but, if you allow them to reach a deep yellow or deep orange color, they too will be a bit more acidic and will develop a much richer tomato flavor. For me, these colors are slightly sweet and almost fruity. I love these colors on a salad with nuts, berries and a sharp contrasting cheese. The natural sweetness of this color variety of tomato will make a very flavorful sauce or add incredible color to a plate.

For years I thought no one ate green tomatoes. They needed to sit on the counter to ripen before eating. And then, I had my first green tomato. My initial response was WOW, awesome. They are sharp and tangy, but will lose some of this characteristic as they ripen. They continue to be tangy, but now are both sweet and acidic all at the same time. Can you imagine? Is your mouth watering yet? When we pan fry them in a cornmeal coating at Tastefully Yours, they need to be more tangy than sweet. A green tomato tastes almost as if it already has that acidic dressing built into its pulp. The green tomato is crispy and has a great crunch and a good choice to eat sliced raw or dredged in cornmeal and sautéed in olive oil as we do at Tastefully Yours.

I recently discovered that a pink tomato wasn’t really pink, but the skin was translucent which appeared pink as the red flesh of the tomato shown through the skin. The deep colored skin of the classic tomato is slightly bitter (another taste that does not change at altitude), so these tomatoes with a translucent skin are very sweet and extremely flavorful and their interior texture is just like heaven. These tomatoes are delicious sliced!

A newer tomato to the world market for me is the white tomato. No, it is not a sun bleached albino tomato, but, natures deliberate way of giving us an abundance of flavor! This tomato ripens as they ripen more into a yellow tomato with a pink blush at the blossom end of the tomato. When they are fully ripened, their robust taste can compete with any of the darker color and even the tangy taste of the green tomato.

Be Creative

Now that I have your taste buds being tantalized by the idea of an assortment of tomatoes, it is time to come up with some creative ways to incorporate them into your next catering order.

I enjoy taking the plump cherry red tomatoes and giving them a light sauté in garlic and olive oil and serving them with your inflight breakfast. One of our chefs decided that he would oven roast some slices of Roma tomatoes, lightly salted and dusted with fresh herbs to use as an egg garnish, or broil or grill a ½ of a tomato as a side dish. For the aircraft these grilled tomatoes would be marked by the catering source and when heated on board would do their final cooking. If they are cooked on the ground and reheated in the air they become almost too soft to handle. Their seasoning can blend with the food being served in tandem with the tomato.

And let us not forget about a good old southern tomato pie! It is one of my favorite light summer meals. In the south we like to take an unbaked pie short crust and fill it with layers upon layers of sliced tomatoes and eggs and cheese to bind, top with a buttery cracker crumb and bake.( I often make this as an individual tart for a single serving with parmesan and mozzarella cheeses and fresh torn basil leaves on top after baking . . . sound familiar?) The southern tomato pie is one of my son in law’ s favorite memories of his grandmothers’ best dishes. We have modernized and “lightened” the tomato pie by creating a puff pastry base and covering the top with a nice fresh pesto, then a layer of your choice of tomato, sliced green onions, salt and pepper, drizzled with a touch of olive oil and baked till the crust is done. This works extremely well for an aircraft meal. Reheat the tart on board, top with an arugula salad in a white balsamic dressing and viola! . . . yum and different!

Whether eaten raw, baked, grilled, sautéed, or dusted with a breading and pan fried, be sure that you ask your catering source for one of their creative ways to enjoy a tomato ripe off the vine while still warm from the summer sun this season.


Tastefully Yours

About Paula Kraft . . .

Paula Kraft is the founding partner of the DaVinci Inflight Training Institute located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and the founder/president of Tastefully Yours Catering, an aviation specific caterer, located in Atlanta, Georgia for over 35 years.

Paula is active with many aviation and catering-related groups including the International Caterers Association, the International Inflight Food Service Association and is a board member of Women in Corporate Aviation. She is the past chair of the NBAA Flight Attendant Committee Caterer’s Working Group for 15 years perfecting unique catering training sessions for NBAA conferences and events. Currently, she serves on the NBAA Flight Attendant Advisory Committee and is a member of the Training and Safety Subcommittee. Paula was a founding member of the Steering committee for the creation of a European Flight Attendant Committee and conference and serves as a subject matter expert to the board of International Standard for Business Aircraft Handlers (IS-BAH).

After founding Tastefully Yours Catering, she has been offering culinary and food safety related training to the general aviation community. With a strong dedication to improving catering safety, risk mitigation and safe food handling, she developed and introduced the concept of “catering safety management systems”. As a certified food safety instructor, Paula offers catering SMS and culinary classes for all aviation professionals.

Paula’s first-hand experience, business acumen, research, and relationships make her an industry expert - one which allows her to share information that will help raise the professional training level for flight attendants today that will reduce the risk of food-related concerns tomorrow.

click to visit DaVinci Training Institute

From Paula . . .

I have coordinated training programs and clinics for NBAA and EBAA conference attendees for over 10 years, created mentoring programs for caterers and flight attendants to broaden their aviation culinary skills, and to assist them in adapting to the unique challenges and constraints found in catering for general aviation. I recognize the need for training and have worked closely with flight departments, flight crews, schedulers and customer service reps at the FBOs to ensure that catering specific training provides information and skills necessary to reduce risk while assisting them in their job duties that include safe food handling, catering security, accurate transmission of food orders, and safe food production, packaging and delivery.

I fell into aviation catering quite by accident. I was the in-house caterer and bakery supplier for Macy’s department stores in Atlanta when catering was ordered for a Macy’s customer which was soon to change my life. After the client enjoyed the catering provided, I was summoned to the client’s corporate office to provide several of the items delivered through Macy’s to the executive dining room. Within a week, I was providing food for the flight department and my first order was for the President of a foreign country (as I was too be told soon after).

So, here I am, some 35 years later, still loving every minute of every day in aviation catering.

Got a question?

Paula welcomes your comments, questions or feedback
BlueSky Business Aviation News | 12th April 2018 | Issue #459

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