Chef Rachid Benboudy has only ever worked with Michelin-starred chefs, including renowned chefs Alain Ducasse and Joël Robuchon. Now he has embarked on another challenge, to provide in-flight catering for commercial flights and private jets. I had the pleasure to meet with this passionate chef and entrepreneur recently, onboard a luxury 767 private jet in Switzerland.
Can you briefly describe your career?
My career in the kitchen began at the age of 15. After an apprenticeship in Paris, my first job was in London when I was 18. I have only ever worked with Michelin-starred chefs, including renowned chefs Alain Ducasse and Joël Robuchon; I have however also worked with Swiss Michelin-starred chefs.
When I was about 30 years old, I came back from the United States, where I had been working for Joël Robuchon at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and I decided to create a business for private chefs. I then set about searching for the opportunity to find a kitchen, to develop the business for private aviation.
How did you sign your first contracts?
“Our first contracts were the result of various encounters and opportunities. We won those contracts because of our reactivity and agility.”
One of our first big agreements was with a VIP airline from the Middle East. It was 24th December, and all our teams were getting ready to enjoy the Christmas holiday, when the airline contacted us because they urgently needed our services. They required a significant number of staff. Our teams immediately sacrificed their plans for the Christmas holidays. We’ve worked with these clients for three years now.
That’s one of Bijoux Catering’s strong points: our ability to adapt to urgent situations and to demonstrate our flexibility and our skills at short notice. The fact that our clients trust us helps when it comes to developing long-lasting relationships with them.
What is the difference in catering between private aviation and commercial flights?
Private aviation is all about working at short notice and providing a specialised service, one which meets the clients’ personal needs. You have to be able to adapt very quickly; you must be dynamic, efficient and flexible so that you can satisfy the clients and meet their requirements, by offering a tailor-made experience.
On VIP flights, clients prefer bite-sized platters. They feature a wide range of small portions and provide passengers with various choices.
Commercial aviation has a simpler operational model, with well standardised and regulated industrial processes, in terms of safety and hygiene, and menus are typically planned on a rotation. That’s another difficulty when it comes to civil aviation, it involves ensuring compliance with a number of standards. I think that the worlds of civil and commercial aviation are complementary, with each one having something to learn from the other.
The higher we reach in the sky, the more we tend to lose our sense of taste. As a result, our food features more powerful seasoning and has more intense flavours.
Can you give some examples of the challenges you face when you start?
In the inflight catering industry, we must face different difficulties every day. Among those, one of our biggest challenges was when we started to operate commercial airlines. In 2017, Bijoux Catering was awarded to operate the Buy on Board concept for Niki Airline. Though having a lot of stressful moments, our team could still manage to build the licenses and prepare for the operation within only 3 weeks. During that time we welcomed 30 new employees to our company, due to the business expansion. The operation was working for 8 months with a fully motivated and qualified staff.
Unfortunately, Niki Airline got into a crisis and went bankrupt by the end of 2017. This event brought us into an extreme situation, since Niki was one of our most important customers. I was under pressure and depression had set in, I decided that I had to start laying off our staff. However if I did not do it, our business could not have survived. Sometimes, we must make tough decisions for the longevity of the company.
What impact has COVID-19 had on the company?
Despite the pandemic, Bijoux Catering is still growing. We have anticipated our clients’ demands by offering innovations, as part of our various services; also we have been offering new services within various sales channels, both in the air and on the ground. Innovation is in our DNA, we are committed to boosting our performance, whether in terms of operations, administrative work or production. Our start-up mentality is a real strength!
What advantages do you have over your competitors and what's your next move?
We are competing with international companies, who find it more difficult to make quick decisions because of their size and Worldwide operation. We have the same licenses as the bigger companies; but what sets us apart is precisely our ability to act immediately, our flexibility and our responsiveness. We can adapt to any local situation, setting up processes quickly and ensuring that the logistics are perfectly organised.
“We love a challenge and we are driven to succeed, this encourages us to move forward, to improve and to provide even higher quality services.”
Luckily, with all the hard work, we were again awarded a contract by Turkish Airlines, for not only Zurich but also Basel station. We also got awarded a contract by another commercial airline in Zurich, which will start to operate from 1st April 2021. Additionally we are now the official caterer of Bern Airport at all points of sale, including commercial flights, private flights, duty free, shops and tobacconists. We are very excited for the New Year and the beginning of a new adventure.
What inspires you?
Great service inspires me, happy clients motivate me. Seeing a satisfied client is the best reward, it proves that our expert teams have carried out their work as meticulously and as rigorously as possible. In terms of cuisine, we are inspired by international dishes; combined with the basics of French gourmet cooking. We also easily adapt to the latest trends and to our clients’ specific dietary requirements. Knowing how to keep up with the latest food trends, and focusing on our clients’ preferences, is a key part of Bijoux Catering’s philosophy.