By Kelsey Archer Barnhill
From my seagoing experiences, I have found that people are often curious about the day-to-day life aboard a ship. One of the questions I am most often asked is what the food is like on a ship. As a vegetarian, I’ve struggled a few times during travels abroad to have my dietary needs catered to, and stomached my way through some pretty odd and bland meals. However, this is absolutely not the case on the RV Sarmiento de Gamboa!
There are two chefs on board – a head chef and an assistant – who are responsible for keeping the entire ship fed. I was surprised to find out this expedition is actually assistant chef Krasimir’s first cruise! Just like us, he had to sit through the same on boarding safety briefing and get used to being off the grid.
Our meals are served on a set schedule each day. Breakfast is served from 7:30-8:30, lunch from 13:30-14:30, and dinner from 17:30-20:30. However, if the meal times do not work well with your shift schedule or if you are hungry between meals, there is always some food available. Fruit bowls, milk and cereal, yogurt, and bread with toppings are always accessible along with tea, coffee, soda, and of course, water. If you know where to look there are also some cookies stowed away! A weekly culinary highlight is Sunday, when we are treated to churros with chocolate for breakfast and ‘Pinchos’ in the afternoon. This week we enjoyed these tapas-style appetisers with Spanish food like tortilla, manchego cheese on bread, seafood and some sliced meats.
The food on board is fab! Images © Kelsey Archer Barnhill / iAtlantic-UEDIN / iMirabilis2
The chefs are wonderful! They are genuinely nice people to sail with, and are always checking in on us and asking if the food is nice. The head chef, Juan, is Spanish and has been working as an on board chef for 4 years. He has worked on five different ships and has been on Sarmineto de Gamboa for a year. Krasimir is Bulgarian and, despite not having any at-sea experience, has worked for 10 years in the food industry, mainly in hotels. They both had to undergo several training courses and earn certificates to be fully qualified chefs at sea. In addition to cooking, as members of the crew they also participate in safety drills on board in case of an emergency.
There is a lot of work for them on board. As the only two cooks, there are no days off. They have a break in the afternoon between lunch and dinner but mostly are working all day long preparing food, planning the next day’s menu and cleaning the kitchen. There is also work before a cruise begins. Juan said his method is to think about where the cruise is going and then plan the recipes before making the large food order. On average there are 20 kilos of food ordered for each day at sea!
Whenever we are in port they top up on fresh fruit and vegetables – I didn’t realise there are different types of lettuce which will last longer than others. To ensure variety, short-term, medium-term, and long-term lasting lettuce is purchased and used in the corresponding order in our salads. Some tomatoes are purchased red and ripe and others green to ripen on board. The trick to keeping everything fresh is having a top-of-the-line refrigerator which seals completely shut to prevent any oxygen from entering. The cooks are careful to open and close it quickly each time they need to enter to help preserve freshness. One interesting fact is that the onboard menu sometimes gets adapted depending on the weather! If it is a very hot day the chefs will prepare a last-minute salad to help us stay hydrated.
After we eat each meal on board we separate our trash into three bins: organic waste, paper waste and plastic. The organic waste is placed in a machine and ground up with water to become fish food. The paper waste is burned and the ashes brought ashore, and the plastic waste is compacted to be dealt with on land. With their cooking experience there isn’t too much food waste, as they are familiar with cooking the correct portions. In case of a one dish not being as popular as expected it may be placed out with the following meal or repurposed into something else, but never later than a day after first being served!
Overall, Krasimir is enjoying his first time at sea, and often joins the science team to hear talks about our work and watch the ROV dive. He might be a budding benthic ecologist as he took pictures of our species ID guide! Juan likes working on a scientific vessel as he gets to know lots of different people and finds the deep sea work we do interesting. When I asked Juan why he wanted to be a chef he told me he ‘just is one’ and that he has always had an interest in going to sea, so was happy to be able to combine the two passions.