When you think about a destination for locally sourced ingredients, fresh dishes, and memorable meals, the airport is not exactly the first place that springs to mind. And by that, we mean that it’s basically the last place on Earth that you’d head to for farm-to-table cuisine.
But that might be changing, because the newest trend in the culinary scene is airport farm to table restaurants. Farm-to-tray-table, that is.
Back in 2011, Chicago O’Hare International Airport made waves when they installed the world’s first airport aeroponic garden. A method of cultivating plants without soil, the aeroponic garden may look like an art exhibit — but it is, in fact, fully functional and helps supply fresh produce to the airport’s nearby restaurants.
The aeroponic garden, which serves as a centerpiece to the O’Hare Rotunda Building’s mezzanine, was one of the first indicators that a change was coming in the quality — and sourcing — of airport cuisine.
Following ORD’s lead, we began to see other airports take steps to provide locally sourced ingredients to weary travelers. Last year, JetBlue’s Terminal 5 at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport became home to a 24,000-square-foot potato patch. The urban farm is multi-purpose, providing crop yield to airport restaurants and local food banks, as well as offering a space for student education.
But the intersection of airport culinary endeavors and the farm-to-table movement goes beyond the implementation of this specific brand of urban farming, and also has been evident in the types of restaurants moving into bustling airport terminals.
The charge is in part led by Tastes on the Fly and CEO Michael Levine, who has helped bring farm-to-table restaurants into airports across the country. At San Francisco International Airport, Napa Farms Market offers a spread of food products and fresh meals from the Bay Area.
Boston’s counterpart to Napa Farms Market is Berkshire Farms, a food hall that similarly features the best food products from beyond the airport walls. Logan is also home to Boston Beer Works, Stephanie’s, DINE Boston, and Jerry Remy’s Sports Grill & Bar — all of which embody a farm-to-table philosophy and highlight local cuisines.
At JFK, Tastes on the Fly helped open Bobby Van’s Grill, a full-service steakhouse dedicated to providing a level of quality that will change your perception of “airport food” forever.
The same can be said for Modmarket at Denver International Airport, a fast-casual project that doesn’t sacrifice quality for timeliness. Denver is also home to Root Down, a renowned restaurant that showcases the best of Colorado cooking using the freshest — and most vibrant — local ingredients.
The Los Angeles International Airport’s most recent renovations, including to Southwest’s Terminal 1 and the Tom Bradley International Terminal, have been distinctly food-centric, attracting acclaimed local restaurants to bring travelers a taste of Los Angeles. From an installation of Michael Voltaggio’s ink.sack to SoCal sensation Lemonade, the offerings at LAX feel distinctly modern and unbeatably fresh.
So, where to next? We can only assume (and hope) that the farm-to-tray-table trend continues to evolve as we become more conscious of the food we’re eating and the method by which it’s prepared.
With healthy-living diets like Vegan and Paleo sweeping the nation, we as a country are becoming more in touch with the quality — and sourcing — of our meals. Perhaps next we’ll see more healthful (and fresh) foods being offered not only in-airport but in-flight. A girl can dream, right?