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Portland Rose, china specially comissioned for a Union Pacific Railroad’s dining car


A meal with a view is served on another Swiss express rail line linking Luzern and Interlaken


railroad worked closely with the Waldorf Astoria hotel to create similar menus.”


One class for all On European trains, only first class travellers could enjoy these delights, but in the United States any passenger could reserve a seat in the restaurant car for first class dining on real silver and proprietary patterned china. On famous trains like the Super Chief, the Santa Fe, or the Broadway Limited, passengers dined on oyster croquettes, extra thick lamb chops (available at breakfast too!), lobster thermidor, sweetbreads smothered in mushrooms, and even green turtle soup. But railways have cost challenges not faced by brick-and-mortar restaurants. Unionised railway employees with benefits mean the cost of labour is higher. The number of diners is uncertain until the train is under way, so quantities are an issue. While it’s often difficult to re-use foods at end of a trip, a run on a popular item leaves the chef with the opposite problem, and no way to source additional product. And delays en route can sometimes mean an extra meal must be produced.


“Until three years ago, we had different regional menus on every train,” says Daniel Malzhan, executive chef for


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culinary product development at Amtrak. “But dining cars always lose money. In 2013, our CEO, Joe Boardman, announced foodservice must break even, so menus have been pared back to a one-size-fits-all approach. These days we’re a lean machine. Steak and fish are cooked to order but we use a lot of frozen product and convenience items, often designed by us.” In fact, railways were the first designers of convenience foods like their own cake and bread mixes, says Porterfield. “Chefs couldn’t sift flour on a moving train, so prepackaged baked goods were used. Railroads were years ahead of restaurant chains in standardising procedures to maintain uniformity.” “A bricks-and-mortar restaurant can have a continuous inventory and reconcile paperwork infrequently. Our chef has to account for every item at end of day,” says Malzahn. “It’s like opening a new restaurant every day.”


European trains like Switzerland’s famous Glacier Express face the same challenges, says Anna Maria Schlager, director of Marketing and Services with Rhätia Werte AG. The chef on a moving train must work in tight spaces with restricted infrastructure and storage,


Dinner on Belmond’s Royal Scotsman


and limited water for cooking and warewashing. Add to that steep ascents and descents while the train moves up the mountain and his job can be trying. Nonetheless, their culinary team produces elegant versions of local specialities like spinach stuffed roulade, or veal in a creamy mushroom sauce with spätzli. “We prepare everything on the train, using fresh products and high-quality convenience food,” says Schlager. “But there is no obligation to reserve, so we never know how many guests will come. We could have 210 guests at one time, and with partial trip passengers leaving and joining, this could rise even higher. Though our operating costs are very high, we don’t lose money currently. But because of the weak euro and yen, we calculate a shortfall this year.” Some train journeys include upscale dining incorporated into the fare, so cost


ALAMY


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