Chargrilled asparagus with polenta. Virgin Trains seeks out fresh ingredients within 15 to 30 miles of the track
approach to product development, led by Winter and his team. The shortbread sold onboard is the team’s own recipe, produced by a bakery in Flint on the Welsh borders. In order to minimize waste, Virgin Trains works with a company called Rubies in the Rubble, a sustainable food brand that makes high quality relishes and jams out of surplus produce that would otherwise go to waste. Any bruised apples are turned into chutney and used in a sandwich, for instance. Winter’s team developed the recipe for a cheese and West Coast apple chutney sandwich that appeared on the Standard Class menu. Winter describes the firm’s approach as “end to end.” His team thinks carefully about how ingredients can be used for one dish and then transformed into an entirely different meal option, drawing on their network of suppliers. At time of writing, the team have been busy working on the new menu, launching in May. One highlight will be crispy buttermilk chicken, corn fritter and slaw. “We’ve also got linguine with lemon butter sauce with salmon. The salmon price has gone up, so we’re working on our sourcing. We only use sustainably sourced proteins, such as fish landed in the UK, and British meats,” he notes. Alongside seasonality, sustainability plays a huge part in the catering operation. “We avoid overprocessed and overtraveled food. This would affect the flavor and texture, the quality, and also the quality of how we can deliver it.” When selecting prawns or tropical products, for example, the team considers the issue of exploitation in the wider world. The inclusion of beef is another similar concern, due to the amount of raw materials consumed in order to raise the
cattle, among other considerations. Winter emphasizes authenticity as an important factor in the selection of dishes. For example, Virgin Trains has been working with a chef on a new vegetarian biryani recipe originally created by his mother. “The key to this recipe is it’s a layered biryani with six different layers, combining spiced rice with vegetables and curry sauce,” he says. Communication of the layered concept on the menu will be key, to inform passengers that this is no ordinary biryani. Winter’s team studies food trends, but they ultimately aim to offer what a passenger would expect to see. For a main course, there is always an option that’s more on-trend, alongside a traditional dish and usually a naturally gluten-free meal. He describes gluten-free as a popular lifestyle diet right now in the UK as well as a therapeutic one. “We reflect on what’s happening now, but people expect to see familiarity and old favorites,” he observes. “Over the Autumn, for example, we had a sticky toffee pudding on the dessert menu, an old favorite that’s very popular. The other options were fresh fruit or cheese and biscuits.” When it comes to coffee, Virgin Trains offers the Aroma brand by Nero in Stan-
dard Class and Douwe Egberts coffee in First Class. “We’re not so concerned about the brand name, we’re more interested in the quality of the drink. We see all sorts of passengers onboard – some are highly informed, some follow fashion trends, and others are just looking to refuel.” Winter said he delights in finding products in limited volumes that would work well onboard. He cites as an example Mrs. Kirkham’s cheese, produced by a very small supplier. “This cheese is now made by the son of Mrs. Kirkham on a farm in Lancashire. We identified the cheese and have used it several times. It’s good quality and not widely available. Passengers like the feeling that they’ve found something new,” he smiles. Selecting dishes for Virgin Trains also takes a great deal of imagination. Taking inspiration from high-end restaurant-style jar desserts, the company buys the jars and has its own dessert recipe made fresh each day. “It’s a screw-top jar that looks high class; it’s easy to serve and eat onboard. People find it interesting and some take them home afterwards!” Jar desserts have included lemon and lime posset, chocolate mousse, raspberry posset and chilled rice pudding with lemon curd. Plans for 2017, between March and December, include revamping the Standard Class trolley and onboard shop selection. The company will trial breakfast pots and new salads. “We use trials and promotions to test the market and understand what people would like to buy. What are their need states – what do they want and where?” A sausage roll will be tested in spring, and a new range of hot snacks will be trialed in September. Summer will see a new sandwich range and fresh salads. This year also marks the 20th anniversary of Virgin Trains. To celebrate the occasion, Red Velvet cupcakes in Virgin’s signature color will be given out at Virgin Trains stations across the UK in a staged event.
One of the chefs on Virgin Trains developed a biryani recipe from a favourite in his family
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