A Routine Dipped in a Secret SauceSeptember 6th, 2016 by Maria-Jose Viñas
By Eric Lindstrom
Food aboard the R/V Revelle is a cornerstone of happiness and good morale. Jay Erickson and Richard Buck are the cooks during this voyage and have many years of experience working together on R/V Revelle. I followed their daily routine all day on Friday, September 2, so that I can give you some beyond-consumer incite about food on the R/V Revelle. I will stipulate that their work is very good indeed and that we have been getting well fed. Since scales don’t work at sea, no weight gain can be observed. So says the fat blogger.
I think it is best to describe this important aspect of life on R/V Revelle in two ways. First is the routine that makes food service run like clockwork every day. Second are the secrets or magic of shipboard food service that those on land might find curious or amazing. I can touch on only a few highlights.
I’ll start with the clockwork routine. Richard and Jay alternate work assignments. Each day one them does the hot food preparation and other has salad/cold food preparation, cleaning/dishwashing, and supply runs to the stores (three decks down). The next day they switch. The key menu options for hot food are generally decided on the prior evening. Only one day has a predictable menu – Sunday is steak day! Jay and Richard’s workdays are over 12 hours long with two short breaks. That is a heavy, relentless duty.
Breakfast preparation starts at 6:00 am. Breakfast food options are those of a typical American diner (e.g., eggs several ways, several meats, potato, pancakes, oatmeal, cereal, fresh fruit), without the short orders, and do not vary substantially from day to day. Most people do not vary in their breakfast food choices so I’d characterize it as the constant, dependable meal (least challenging for the cooks).
After a short break from about 8:30 to 9:00 am, lunch preparation begins with galley and dining room cleaning. Typical lunch and dinner menus include a featured main course, a couple of side dishes, a vegetarian option, and a soup. After lunch cleanup there is another break in the action from around 1:30 to 2:30 pm. Some preparation for dinner will have been started during the lunch service.
Dinner preparation includes renewal and refreshment of the salad bar, bread baking, and work on the main meal from soup to nuts, as they say. Every day there are some extras or special events as well. On my day in the kitchen there were two birthdays, so a decorated birthday cake was prepared over the course of the day. Likewise, fresh bread, cookies, or a special dessert might be created for the dinner service.
As I learned over the course of the day, the vast share of labor goes into food preparation and cleanliness. The R/V Revelle professional facilities allow for the rapid and efficient cooking of food for 50-60 people. However, the washing and chopping of large quantities of fruit and vegetables, and meat handling are labor intensive. So too are the good habits of kitchen hygiene that assure that everything is done right and sparkling clean at all times. As you might expect, the work is hard enough without everything being shipshape and well organized. Fastidiousness was a hallmark of Jay and Richard’s work.
There are many challenges to creation of good meals at sea. Obviously motion of the ship can be a big issue. A ship’s cook is a cook who has mastered the art of corralling sloshing food! Richard told me of attempts to bake a level cake in the seas of the Southern Ocean. Rather than having it baked into the leaning cake of Pisa, he tried to balance the sea motion by turning the cake in the oven every few minutes to counter the sloshing of the batter. In that case, the ocean won…but I think the birthday recipient appreciated the effort nonetheless.
Jay shared an interesting secret of leftovers. Oatmeal is available for breakfast every day. Leftover oatmeal is mixed with water and yeast after breakfast and the slurry left to ferment. It is transformed by this effort of the microbes and a resourceful cook into the delicious bread at dinner!
A great deal of science and experience goes into the food storage on a ship. Three weeks at sea and we still have lettuce and perfect avocados. That never happens for me at home! While each fruit and vegetable seems to have its own story with regard to ripeness at purchase, storage, and revitalization, the keys to longevity seem to be in the cold room temperature and humidity plus the skills of Jay and Richard to give foods a second chance. Lettuce, for example, might look finished due to a dehydrating stay in the cold storage, but skilled knife work, a cold bath, and a little secret chemistry can return lettuce to salad fitness!
We are all in debt to the skill and labor of Richard and Jay. We will feel the full extent of the deliciousness they loaned to us when we climb on the scale back home!