When you fly, fly in style.
Written By: Elizabeth Nutt We Set the Table at 36, 000 Feet with STAjets
Photographed By: Patrick Martin
The Experts: Kurt Belcher, President/CEO and Owner of STAjets
The Experts: Scott Caygill, Executive Chef at True Food Kitchen Santa Monica
Life is all about choices, and the easiest choice these days is to forego the typical air travel experience and opt for one that meets your sky-high expectations. We all know that flying today is synonymous with painfully long lines, outrageous baggage fees and inconvenient delays; and the only consolation prize for all that hassle is a miniature-sized bag of peanuts. So, why not opt for the luxe in-flight experience?
Enter one of STAjets’ G4s, a sleek, newly refurbished private jet that gives new meaning to the phrase “Relax and enjoy your flight.” It’s equipped with Wi-Fi, a satellite phone, two pop-up flat-screen TV monitors, and Apple TV and iPads so you can truly kick back on your spacious, buttery leather seat.
You can indulge in an in-flight meal catered by True Food Kitchen, which boasts honest, nutritious fare that’ll leave you feeling refreshed, healthy and ready to take on your next adventure. With a spacious table, real silverware and china, and a few platters of mouthwatering, good-for-you hors d’oeuvres, you might feel like you’re on vacation even before you arrive at your final destination.
We sat down with the two people who make that happen: Kurt Belcher, President, CEO and Owner of STAjets and Scott Caygill, Executive Chef at True Food Kitchen Santa Monica
Q: My first question is for you, Kurt. Tell me about your background and experience in the aviation industry. How did you end up with STAjets?
Kurt Belcher: I grew up in Corona Del Mar, and I first started flying at John Wayne Airport before working as a flight instructor. I started flying charter, and from there I started getting into aircraft sales and management. Eventually, I took over a jet center in Encino that was failing and I got it up and running again, flipped it and sold it. With the proceeds, I bought STAjets in 2009. There was only one airplane on its certificate, and it was a mess when I took over. But since then, I’ve moved it to Orange County and grown it from one airplane to 22.
Q: You run one of the nation’s leading private air charter companies. To what do you credit your success?
KB: The majority of my clients are right here in Orange County—my growth has been OC-based through local customers. I also think that we have a different approach than other charter companies; we’re a lot younger than most aviation departments. My whole crew here has a lot more energy, enthusiasm and drive than other companies that have been doing this for twenty-plus years. Aviation got so boring over the years—back in the day aviation was hip and sexy and cool, but that excitement went away. We try to bring that back, and make things a lot more fun.
Q: What does STAjets do differently from other private air charter companies?
KB: We don’t say ‘no’ to anybody. Flying jets is second nature to us, but what we’re really good at is figuring out what people want. We had a client who, on the way home, wanted to stop at these different surf breaks—so we accommodated his plans. We also had an actor who was supposed to fly down to Chile, but we got a phone call from his assistant saying that he and his buddies jumped on another airplane to Paris the night before. So, we had to go over to Paris and get him first. We always stock the plane with gift boxes, thoughtful presents for our clients, or special requests from entertainers. Our clients love us because of the experiences they have with us.
Q: Why fly private?
KB: Flying private is extremely expensive. Everyone is always trying to figure out how to gap the difference between commercial and private. But flying private, the time saved is so much more valuable than the money being spent. And it’s a one of a kind experience—you can make it exactly what you want.
Q: Tell me about working with True Food Kitchen, and why the restaurant appealed to you as a chef.
Scott Caygill: My wife worked with the first brand chef of True Food Kitchen, Michael Stebner. A Facebook post went out before True Food Kitchen opened in San Diego, where we were living at the time, and the post called for any chefs who were interested. We found ourselves in Orange County, and so we decided to go check out the True Food Kitchen at Newport Beach. I instantly loved the feel of the restaurant, the diversity and pliability of the menu. And I was drawn obviously to the health aspects of the menu, too.
Q: From where do you source the ingredients for your dishes, and what are some of the most popular menu items?
SC: Well, here we have the awesome Santa Monica Farmers market, and we love to walk over there on Saturdays and get whatever we can. All the produce we use comes from California, and we source our meats very responsibly—we always do our due diligence there. And the seafood is sustainably harvested or wild-caught. The kale salad is at the top of the list in terms of popularity. It is super simple; it’s made with organic, shredded kale, parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs with a flavorful dressing that includes lemon, EVOO, chili flakes and garlic. Our bison burger is a really good, popular option—bison is a great alternative to beef because it’s naturally lower in fat.
Q: What’s the ideal in-flight True Food Kitchen snack?
SC: The crudité couldn’t be simpler—it’s taking farm fresh produce and serving it with some simple sauces to highlight the vegetables. The roasted vegetable board uses the same concept; we simply roast vegetables in our pizza oven with olive oil, salt and pepper. We get a nice color on the vegetables and develop the flavors a little more, and they’re served with two vegan dipping sauces. And the avocado dip is delicious—who doesn’t like avocados? It’s a pure avocado dip with roasted peppers, grapefruit and orange segments, cilantro, green onion and kale. We also spend every morning making fresh juices that you can order to go and take on the plane with you.
Kurt’s Favorite Destination: St. Bart’s. “The island is like magic—the people and the culture are amazing.”
Shooting Stars: STAjets has worked with a litany of celebrities and entertainers including Justin Timberlake, Prince and George Lucas.
Spotting True Food: You can pick up healthy grub from True Food Kitchen no matter where you plan to fly; it has locations in AZ, CO, FL, GA, IL, NY, TN, TX and VA. In California, it has locations in El Segundo, Newport Beach, San Diego and Santa Monica.
STAjets—John Wayne Airport (SNA) Corporate Headquarters
19301 Campus Drive, Suite 256
Santa Ana, CA 92707
True Food Kitchen
395 Santa Monica Pl, Ste 172
Santa Monica, California 90401
Patrick Martin is an editorial and lifestyle photographer who strives to be the best at everything he does. With creativity and ambition, he uses his determination to produce unique portraits that show the better side of people. From Georgia and now residing in Southern California, you can say that he is a guy with a camera and very big aspirations. www.patrickmartinphoto.com