Feasts in Flight
I hadn’t heard from my Elmira friend Steven Roske in a while, but that wasn’t unusual; he is a travelin’ man. And even though he may be a continent away, one can still call him on his local number. (How’d they do that?) Anyway, since to my mind he has a dream job, I wanted to interview him for this magazine. And, when I called him, he groggily answered. He was a continent away, somewhere in Europe. And this was not the first time I’ve awakened him by calling. (Another time, I recall, he was in Tokyo. I should keep a log.)
As I said, Steve has a job some people can only imagine. He is the sole flight attendant on a private jet that seats up to sixteen, although Steve rarely has more than the couple who own the plane, their family, and perhaps a few guests on trips that range from domestic to international. It varies. The plane is a handsome Gulfstream-5 model. That’s a good size, as befits a conveyance that can take folks from Elmira to, say, Paris, or perhaps Beijing. The compact galley holds a small refrigerator, a pantry, pots and pans, dinnerware, and a full-sized microwave, plus a convection oven. These are the tools Steve uses. He might do some of the meal prep at home, but he often cooks the well-planned, calorie-conscious meals on board, with the freshest ingredients. His clients prefer a simple, well-balanced menu.
And when Steve lands at home he enjoys concocting delicious meals for his partner, Jebb Dennis, and their friends. I know this, because I’ve been to a few of those gatherings and I’m also on Steven’s e-mail list. He often photographs his latest culinary creation. Do you have friends who enjoy cooking and do the same thing? To the list of babies and grandkids, nieces and nephews that I get to see from friends, I now can add Steven’s antipasto plate, pate en croute, coq au vin, and cherries jubilee (flames optional).
The Back Story
Steven is a native of western Massachusetts, and is number seven of eight siblings. As so often happens in big families, he was put to work setting the table and then helping in the kitchen. As if by osmosis, he learned to cook—and in large quantities. He is a graduate of Westfield State University with a degree in elementary education and moved to Elmira with Jebb (also from Massachusetts) with the idea that Steven would teach in the prison system here. They live in a wonderful Edwardian era (or slightly before) house of many rooms that they call The Ingleside because the shingled and brick place features several ornate replaces and woodwork to swoon over.
Two things I was surprised to hear, given what Steven has ended up doing for a living. When he graduated from Westfield, he was petrified (his word) of flying. On the other hand, he wanted to travel. What to do? Combining his likes and dislikes, he applied to the United Airlines flight attendants school in Chicago. This is an enormously difficult program to gain admittance to. And even after two months of training, few are chosen. Largely because of his fluency in both German and French, and his outgoing, enthusiastic personality, Steven and one other were chosen over more than 200 applicants for that class. The curriculum covered all the aspects of a career as commercial steward. This entails everything from first aid to the handling of irrational passengers to the care of unaccompanied children. That schooling also taught him the how-to of running an aircraft galley. He flew with United for over a year, and was based in Washington, D.C. “It was four days on and three days off,” Steve said. He’s been a private-plane steward for eleven years now, “and I love it!” he added, beaming.
By the way, Steve wears a snappy three-piece suit on board, and the jacket comes off when he is serving the meal. No apron.
What’s on Steven’s Menu? Avocado/Poached Eggs, That’s What!
This favorite—and easy-to-do—recipe knocked me out. I’ll be making this as a dinner starter or a luncheon main course, with a colorful mixed green, tomato, and red lettuce salad on the side (vinaigrette dressing). Avocados are loaded with good things, and they taste great. It’s a dish you can use any time. Start with ripe avocados, but not too ripe. They should lightly give when carefully pressed. Ripen the avocados at room temperature and, when they are not rock hard, put them in the refrigerator to complete the ripening process. You can figure out the shopping list for this based on how many people you’re serving.
Preheat the oven to 425. Find a baking dish that will hold the filled avocado halves egg-side up when you place them, perhaps around the edge of the dish or touching each other for stability. You don’t want the eggs to tip over. Be creative—perhaps a flat muffin-top dish. Another idea: cut a very thin part of the outer avocado skin on the bottom. That can stabilize it a bit. Be sure not to cut through or you’ll have that dreaded egg white drip all over the place. You will need:
- 1 just-ripe avocado per person (serving size is two avocado halves)
- 2 eggs per avocado
- 1 slice of bacon, cooked and crumbled for each avocado
- Garnishments: chopped chives, finely chopped fresh parsley, thyme, dill, or tarragon (all optional)
Halve each avocado and remove the pit. The easiest way is to cut around the outside of the avocado and then twist the two pieces until they come apart, exposing the pit. You can remove this by whacking it with your sturdy chef’s knife and twisting it free. Separate the eggs into two bowls, the yolks in one and the whites in another. Then carefully (with a slotted spoon) place a whole yolk in each cavity. Spoon in as much of the whites over the yolks as the cavity will hold. Carefully place the avocado halves in your baking dish and bake until the whites are set. This takes about 15 minutes. To serve, I’d try nesting them in a quantity of spinach or arugula that can double (with a vinaigrette) as a side salad. Garnish with the fresh herbs and sprinkle the top with bacon. I like to serve this with a spoon and I also like my egg yolk to be cooked but somewhat runny, too. If you like a firmer yolk just adjust the time to suit you.
It takes a person with good knife skills (turbulence!), as well as good people skills, to do what Steve does. This is decidedly not a “nine to five” career, but Steve is comfortable with his challenging and erratic schedule. I asked him what is most important in his position. “You have to be observant and know when to interact with the passengers and when to let them interact with each other.”
And, by the way, I was impressed that Steven can offer passengers—at a minimum—two meal choices, and he can improvise other things with what he has brought on board. His favorite ingredient is eggs (mine too!) because you can do so many things with them. There is an electric tea kettle on board and, through experimentation, he can turn out poached eggs that go from room temperature to cooked in eleven seconds. We both agreed that if you’ve never tried a soft-poached egg atop a spinach salad, you should.