BANGKOK -- Flashy burgers — colored buns, smothered with melted cheese, non-traditional patty, etc. — are usually just gimmicks to get the attention of social media-loving foodies. Because in today's food scene, you have to stand out to get noticed.
This new burger launched by AirAsia as its newest Santan inflight meal, has the characteristic of a gimmicky burger. A Thai-inspired chicken patty, green chili mayonnaise, and red cabbage and onions are sandwiched between two beetroot-colored red buns.
It's an attractive burger packing a lot of flavor.
But the burger is more than just a flashy gimmick, because besides it being a meal that can satisfy hungry travelers, it actually has a beautiful purpose. It's a sandwich that can help save lives.
Called the Inspi(RED) Burger and created by New York-based Thai celebrity chef Hong Thaimee, this new inflight meal supports the fight against HIV/AIDS.
“(RED) and AirAsia partnered together to give back to society. What we're trying to do is we want to help raise funds and send that to Global Fund to help HIV/AIDS programs in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations),” she said during the product's launch held in Bangkok, Thailand.
Born in Chiang Mai, Chef Thaimee is considered one of the “visible faces” of Thai food in the US. She has a restaurant in New York called Ngam and has published a cookbook called “True Thai” in 2015. She is also a humanitarian activist, inspirational speaker, and global ambassador for Thailand's culinary culture.
On the other hand, (RED) is an organization that partners with brands around the world in support of HIV/AIDS. It has teamed up with big names such as Apple, Amazon, Starbucks, just to name a few.
Chef Thaimee is actually a chef ambassador of (RED) and AirAsia partnered with her as part of (RED)'s “Eat (RED) Save Lives” culinary campaign. The Thai chef specifically created the Inspi(RED) burger for the airline company.
“The burger is my idea because now I'm living in New York City but I was born and raised in Chiang Mai, Thailand. As a global citizen, I would like to bring the flavors of East and West together. Not only that, I travel a lot and I know what it's like what I would like to eat. I feel like some fun colorful food especially in long flights like four to five hours. It is a good time to enjoy the meal and have the right flavors,” she explained.
So how will the burger help save lives?
Basically, 10 percent of the sales of the burger goes to the Global Fund that will eventually help support HIV/AIDS programs and activities in the Southeast Asian region. Some of these programs include testing, counseling, treatment and prevention.
The promotional price of the burger is only at P140 if customers pre-book the inflight meal -- an affordable price considering where part of the profit goes. It is available across all AirAsia destinations.
Despite all the breakthroughs in HIV/AIDS research, like the recent discovery of a possible cure, there's still a lot to be done.
According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, there are about 36.9 million people living with aids worldwide.
In the Philippines, HIV/AIDS infections are in fact increasing. The problem can be attributed to a lot of factors, including lack of awareness and contraception accessibility.
According to chef Thaimee, HIV/AIDS advocacy is something close to her heart.
“Growing up, I got the chance to volunteer at an orphanage and I saw the impact of HIV in one's life. I saw how babies were born and they didn't know whether they have the disease or not until two to three years after that. They just live short lives and it's disheartening to see something like that,” she recalled.
“Becoming a chef ambassador, I get to see and experience the impact of it myself in Zambia. I took a trip there and I saw with my eyes the reality of the virus. But we can prevent it and not only prevent it, we can erase it. Not only through medication, but by prevention and programs we could do.”
In terms of the burger itself, Chef Thaimee created something that's easy to eat, filling, and flavorful. She used traditional Thai flavors in the burger. The chicken patty, for instance, is infused with lemongrass, fish sauce, and kaffir lime leaves.
The patty is complemented with a zesty nam prik noom mayo or green chili mayonnaise. There's also fresh red cabbage to add freshness and the colorful red buns. The buns use beetroot juice for that bright red color.
“It is made with love and packed with flavor. The flavors and herbs we put in the burger like the lemongrass, galanggal, and kaffir lime leaves, they are good with the digestion. With the long flight it helps you to digest and it would make your flight more pleasurable,” she said.
Aside from the burger, AirAsia and (RED) also created a line of co-branded inflight merchandise for the campaign. These include the iconic AirAsia cap, aircraft model for collectors, and many more. US$2 from the sale of each item will be donated to the Global Fund.
“It [HIV/AIDS] used to be a death sentence. It used to be 'Ew!' in the society but not anymore. At now least people can live. And together we can help,” Chef Thaimee said.