Blog entry by Lisa Skein
The RRS James Cook and her crew operate 24 hours a day. Whether it’s steaming between scientific study sites, deploying instruments, collecting samples, solving technical problems, planning next missions, or making sure the ship runs smoothly, everyone on board does their bit and works HARD. However, everyone needs to eat …
So what does the food aboard a scientific research vessel look like? This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions about life on board and admittedly is something I also wondered about before joining the ship. I think it’s safe to say that we are incredibly spoiled and the food has been nothing short of fantastic!
Breakfast is served from 07:30 and usually consists of classic English breakfast items, a variety of nuts, yoghurt, cereal, fresh fruits, scones, croissants, you name it! We have proper coffee and tea (of course) available around the clock. Lunch can be anything from hearty pies, mac & cheese, baked veggies, and burgers, and is usually from served from 11:30 while we’re at sea.
Dinner is by far my favourite and also when we get really spoiled (I’m talking dessert. every. day). We are yet to have an official vote, but the battle for the first place favourite is currently between fish & chips (Fridays) and curry nights (Saturdays). We also have steak nights, Asian-inspired nights and classic Sunday roast. Dessert can be anything from waffles and ice cream, cheese cake, sticky toffee pudding, black forest cake, or apple crumble. Every meal is also accompanied by a selection of fresh salad ingredients and cooked veggies, so you really don’t have an excuse of not getting your greens in too! Great effort goes into every meal, including special catering for different dietary needs.
Meal planning 101
So how do you keep a crew of 54 fed for five weeks? Meticulous planning. So much so that as soon as we arrive back in Southampton in September, orders are ready to be placed for the next cruise that will take place over Christmas season. A lot of special thought goes into this planning, for example making sure that the crew on board during this time will be able to enjoy foods characteristic of Christmas, making home feel a little less far away.
I’ve been lucky enough to have been given a tour of the food storage facilities by head chef Spike and was blown away by all the effort that goes into planning meals and ordering of ingredients. While in port, ingredients arrive by truck and are carried off into one of four main storage freezers/fridges with different temperatures. One freezer is for meat, another for fish, and then fridges for dairy products, fresh fruit and vegetables. Temperature gages are displayed outside of each freezer and in the ships’ engine room, so in the event of an electrical fault the engineers can act on it before anything goes to waste.
There’s also a massive pantry stocked with a multitude of spices, cereal, pasta, biscuits, tea, coffee, spreads, jams, and sauces. Items with the shortest shelf life are used first: things like bananas, mange tout, and green beans, while potatoes and the like will easily see us through the entire cruise. Chef Spike tells me that the longest that the RRS James Cook can provide catering without re-stocking is about 6 weeks!
Menus for each week are put together in advance to help keep track of what needs to be taken out of the freezer and when. From there it goes to the preparation area in the galley and can be placed in the short-term use fridge if need be. The galley is fitted with all the appliances you can think of. A combination oven that can either steam or dry heat, hot press, a giant mixer, more refrigeration space, two deep fryers, and many more. As I’m getting my tour, the chefs are busy preparing a lamb Rogan Josh sauce and chicken stock for curry night.
Feeding people in locations around the world has been a way of life for both of our chefs. Spike has worked in the catering industry for 40 years, many of which on ships. Before working on ships, chef Coleen spent about 24 years cooking for the British army. Having completed many trips with the army, including tours of Iraq, Afghanistan, Hong Kong, and many other locations, she is very much used to living out of a suitcase and I’m certain she’ll be able to tell you a good story or two. I sure hope I get to hear more of her adventures during this cruise!
I’d like to conclude this article by extending a sincere thank you to our wonderful chefs and the hard work you put in every day. Your warm spirit paired by excellent food is a true highlight of each day for everyone on board. And last but certainly not least, thank you to Denzil, who works around the clock to keep everything in a spotless state (and for explaining some British slang to this South African!).