American Airlines elevates lounge dining with James Beard

Travel Weekly’s Robert Silk sampled Sarah Grueneberg’s Flagship First Dining offerings on a recent visit to Miami Airport. (TW photo courtesy of Robert Silk)

Travel Weekly’s Robert Silk sampled Sarah Grueneberg’s Flagship First Dining offerings on a recent visit to Miami Airport. (TW photo courtesy of Robert Silk)

Travel Weekly’s Robert Silk sampled Sarah Grueneberg’s Flagship First Dining offerings on a recent visit to Miami Airport. (TW photo courtesy of Robert Silk)

Focus on Culinary Travel

American Airlines elevates lounge dining with James Beard

By Robert Silk

Travel Weekly’s Robert Silk sampled Sarah Grueneberg’s Flagship First Dining offerings on a recent visit to Miami Airport. (TW photo courtesy of Robert Silk)

Travel Weekly’s Robert Silk sampled Sarah Grueneberg’s Flagship First Dining offerings on a recent visit to Miami Airport. (TW photo courtesy of Robert Silk)

Travel Weekly’s Robert Silk sampled Sarah Grueneberg’s Flagship First Dining offerings on a recent visit to Miami Airport. (TW photo courtesy of Robert Silk)

It’s not news anymore when an airline partners with a renowned chef. It hasn’t been for a while.

But American Airlines introduced a different and more comprehensive take on that concept in November when it entered into a partnership agreement not with a lone chef but with the entire James Beard Foundation.

Under the multiyear arrangement, American will be a sponsor of various Beard Foundation programs, including its traveling Taste America dinner series as well as its annual awards gala, which will be held on May 4 in Chicago. 

More to the point, though, is that the carrier has begun rotating in Beard Award-winning chefs to develop menu items for its Flagship First Dining restaurants in Miami, New York JFK and Los Angeles as well as for its business- and first-class cabins on international and select transcontinental flights. 

American’s first chef partner under the Beard Foundation agreement is Sarah Grueneberg, 2017 winner of the James Beard Award for best chef in the Great Lakes region for her contemporary Italian Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio in Chicago. American expects to work with three to four Beard Foundation chefs per year, with the second chef likely to be introduced over the summer.

Grueneberg’s menu items debuted in Flagship lounges and on American flights in December. I was lucky enough to sample them while passing through Miami Airport in late January. 

Flagship First Dining is American’s full-service restaurant experience for first-class ticket holders on international flights and three-class transcontinental flights. Individuals with American’s invitation-only Concierge Key loyalty status also get two Flagship dining entries per year. 

The Flagship First Dining area is an intimate space within American Airlines’ larger Flagship First lounge at Miami Airport. (TW photo by Robert Silk)

The Flagship First Dining area is an intimate space within American Airlines’ larger Flagship First lounge at Miami Airport. (TW photo by Robert Silk)

The Flagship First Dining area is an intimate space within American Airlines’ larger Flagship First lounge at Miami Airport. (TW photo by Robert Silk)

Indeed, while exclusive is a much overused word, it’s appropriate in this case. Flagship First Dining is basically its own lounge set within American’s larger Flagship First lounges. I counted just a dozen tables in the Miami Flagship First. On a typical day the restaurant serves 60 to 70 people, executive chef Anthony Castro said. 

Executive chef Anthony Castro said Miami’s Flagship First Dining restaurant serves 60 to 70 people on a typical day. (TW photo by Robert Silk)

Executive chef Anthony Castro said Miami’s Flagship First Dining restaurant serves 60 to 70 people on a typical day. (TW photo by Robert Silk)

Executive chef Anthony Castro said Miami’s Flagship First Dining restaurant serves 60 to 70 people on a typical day. (TW photo by Robert Silk)

Grueneberg has partnered with Flagship First on one selection each on its appetizer, entree and dessert menus. I ordered all three. First came her grilled Roman-style artichokes seasoned with black truffle, served in a fondue (fontina fonduta for you foodies) and topped with a squeeze of lemon. The artichokes were excellent, but it’s the fondue that I’ll remember. I wanted to lick the bowl to clean the last drops. 

Next up was the entree, a mushroom Bolognese paired with a 2017 red blend from the Australian winery Mitolo. The fusilli pasta was paired with a combination of cremini and porcini mushrooms to create a light and mild, but flavorful, dish. 

Sarah Grueneberg’s mushroom Bolognese was paired with a 2017 red blend from the Australian winery Mitolo. (TW photo by Robert Silk)

Sarah Grueneberg’s mushroom Bolognese was paired with a 2017 red blend from the Australian winery Mitolo. (TW photo by Robert Silk)

Sarah Grueneberg’s mushroom Bolognese was paired with a 2017 red blend from the Australian winery Mitolo. (TW photo by Robert Silk)

Last came the dark chocolate budino, an Italian-style custard flavored with citrus and enhanced with a chocolate crunch and whipped cream. It was tasty, though too rich for me to quite finish. 

Castro said that since its introduction, the mushroom Bolognese has been among the most popular items at the Miami Flagship First Dining. He also made it clear that American is serious about the treatment the menu offerings that come out of the Beard partnership get. 

Prior to the introduction of the Grueneberg creations on Dec. 3, American flew Castro and other chefs to its Dallas/Fort Worth headquarters for a day of training in order to make sure the preparation was precise and consistent. 

“We’re all excited,” Castro said. “It’s making me challenge myself. The program is really great.”

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