It’s not often everyday folk like me get to sample gourmet cuisine, but I was one of a lucky few who had been invited to lunch at the Panorama Restaurant in Lisbon to experience what passengers flying BusinessFirst with United Airlines expect as standard – beautifully crafted top-flight gastronomy designed by a celebrity chef.
The venue was in keeping with the high-end theme of the occasion, the Sheraton Lisboa Hotel & Spa. The restaurant sits on the 26th floor of this luxurious five-star property, the tallest hotel building in the city, and the views are breathtaking.
Cooking for us was none other than James “Chef Jimmy” Canora.
Thumbs up: James "Chef Jimmy" Canora in the Panorama Restaurant. — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
Chef Jimmy is a member of United Airlines’ prestigious Congress of Chefs: a group of carefully selected culinary experts and a master sommelier tasked with taking United’s inflight dining experience to new heights.
Jimmy is also consultant chef for Delmonico’s, the world famous New York City restaurant, and chef/owner of NYC Culinary Events, a private catering company. And he’s equally celebrated as the “Chef to the Stars”, having personally cooked for the likes of Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Sean Penn, Harvey Keitel and Joe Pesci, among other Hollywood cognoscenti.
Greeting guests at the tables. — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
Introduced by Marcel Fuchs, United Airlines’ managing director (sales) for Continental Europe, Chef Jimmy greeted us all before heading straight for the kitchen – he was as eager to begin cooking, as we were to eat.
The curtain raiser, a classic lobster bisque – marine lobster salpicon with tarragon crème and brioche baton – was followed by a another treat: rare seared nori-wrapped tuna with marinated shitakes and alligator pear mousse garnished with ginger soy and wasabi aioli.
Rare seared nori-wrapped tuna with marinated shitakes and alligator pear mousse garnished with ginger soy and wasabi aioli. — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
A crisp fresh white wine from northern Portugal’s Dão region, Quinta Mendes Pereira Encruzado, was an inspired choice as was the red, a Escolha da Produtora 2006, also from the Quinta Mendes Pereira winery, that readied the palate for Canora’s signature dish, a gargantuan marinated grilled Delmonico steak with garlic butter, asparagus and black truffle whipped potatos and a side dish of creamed spinach and horseradish croquettes.
Baked Alaska with fresh berries, berry coulis and caramel sauce. — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
The dessert, a perfect Baked Alaska served with fresh berries, berry coulis and caramel sauce, rounded off one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in years.
“This menu is available in business class,” Jimmy told me later over coffee. “Everything except the Baked Alaska. I haven’t figured out how to do this at 30,000 feet without a [blow] torch. But this year we’re going work out how to get it ‘upstairs’.”
This was his first time in Lisbon, and I asked what his initial impressions were of the Portuguese capital.
“Flying in over the city was amazing. What impressed me was the San Francisco-style bridge,” he said, referring to Lisbon’s Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge, which in fact was inspired by the Golden Gate. “I also liked the look of the castle. The architecture is fantastic!”
Chef Jimmy signs copies of his book 'Dining at Delmonico's' after the lunch. — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
How much influence did Portuguese gastronomy have on his style of cooking? “When you think of Portuguese food you think of the freshest seafood in the world,” he declared. “So whenever I prepare seafood in my restaurant I try and do it their way using big, plump, juicy fish fresh out of the water, simply grilled with olive oil and lemon juice, salt, pepper and some herbs. That’s it!
“Actually, Lisbon has a very cosmopolitan food choice,” he added with a smile. “We went out a little bit last night and let the menu speak for itself. I can tell the Portuguese really enjoy their food.”
And what memories would he be taking back to New York?
“Everything, the whole package. The people are wonderful. I found everyone to be so friendly and helpful. I love Portuguese history, too. The old city is amazing. I’m just going to take back a whole new world.”