Adrien Aumont — Midnight Trains’ approach to catering has always been at the heart of our vision, which stems my own night train experience, which inspired this whole idea. You may remember it from the very first episode of Confidences — my partner decided she would never fly again and had swapped our flight to Italy for a night train. To sweeten the arrangement (and me), she brought along excellent charcuterie, delicious cheeses, very good bread and a magnum of Beaujolais wine.
She knows full well that being hungry puts me in a terrible mood. And if I have a bad meal, it gets worse. I usually tell myself that I’ll make up for it at the next meal by eating something that makes me happy. It was my partner’s impromptu railway picnic that won me over: why shouldn’t you have an excellent meal on board a train? The recipe is pretty simple: good quality ingredients, eaten in pleasant surroundings.
Months later, when Romain and I began thinking about catering options and looking at what was being done elsewhere, we realised something. Operators bend over backwards to look like they're serving something exceptional. They call upon great chefs — who knows how they’re persuaded to come on board with such a nightmare brief — to come up with dishes that all follow the same formula: tons of ingredients, laborious execution, complex logistics and a mediocre result at best. It’s the same with aeroplane food. Companies use big names, but once served, the vegetables are limp and the meat doesn’t resemble anything edible. Sometimes the sauce is decent, but it’s rarely enough to save the whole thing.
Our thinking is that it’s better to eat a good-quality mozzarella with good-quality olive oil, salt and pepper, over an ultra-processed, microwave-zapped dish. It's not a matter of taste. Everyone would rather eat a snack made with quality ingredients than something mass produced, even if the menu was designed by a Michelin-starred chef. The same chefs who espouse the height of simplicity and minimalism in their own restaurants.
What’s more, we’re keen to provide food and drink which is in line with the trains themselves. There will be a few high-end and very high-end cabins, but in general, our trains are for everyone. We want a menu that matches the surroundings and reflects this price range: neither cheap nor overpriced, and a compromise between haute-cuisine and a dodgy sandwich. It will enable you to treat yourself in the way you’d want, with the funds you have. Sometimes, you want a budget dinner, and other times, an expensive treat meal is the perfect way to celebrate. Both of these moments should be possible in our train’s restaurants.
The foodies among you may have noticed that our vision is largely inspired by the philosophy of bistronomy: a culinary movement led by chefs, who for the past twenty years, have been running simple restaurants, much like bistros, serving haute cuisine food. They’re much like high-end restaurants, just without the valet, starched white tablecloths and stiff, grandiose atmosphere. We’re big fans of this approach and want to be part of it. Ideally, we’d incorporate the tenets of bistronomy as much as possible. But of course, we need some help to do that.
The hard task is finding someone with the right profile: someone with immense culinary talent, great knowledge of good producers and, above all, the desire to enable access to quality food for as many people as possible. After all, cooking for hundreds of people in a completely reinvented night train is a completely new adventure.