By Franz Neumeier for "moving"
Cruise passengers are discerning customers, especially when it comes to food. But tackling the logistics in the kitchens behind the scenes of a sophisticated onboard restaurant is a Herculean task, even on smaller vessels like the Holland America Line cruise ship Veendam, which carries 1,350 passengers. Only the best chefs survive!
"We need the lettuce first, right now," the steward calls into his radio. He is standing at the railings of the Veendam, which docked into Montevideo an hour ago, his brow creased into an expression of concern. After the long cruise from Chile, round Cape Horn to Uruguay, the galleys are in desperate need of fresh fruit and vegetables. It is only 9 o'clock in the morning, but the sun is already scorching down. The steward has had the lettuce plucked from the field only this morning and now it needs to be taken quickly to the cold storage room onboard.
Cooking in dimensions – a logistic masterstroke
Pallets of lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes and strawberries are being loaded onto the ship by forklift truck. Even a comparatively small ship like the Veendam from the Holland America Line with 1,350 passengers consumes huge amounts of resources: 5.7 tons of fresh vegetables, 2.1 tons of potatoes, 3.8 tons of meat, 1.7 tons of poultry, 18,000 eggs, 1.3 tons of flour are consumed every week, while over 1,600 bottles of wine and 450 bottles of champagne and sparkling wine are drunk. The biggest cruise ship in the world, the Allure of the Seas, has to plan in a totally different dimension, having to take care of over 8,000 passengers and crew. In a single week onboard, for example, 31 tons of fresh vegetables are consumed. This ocean giant is therefore moored in Florida all year round, where restocking its huge volume of supplies can be easily organized. How does a galley (i.e., a cruise ship's onboard kitchen) differ from the kitchen of a big hotel?
Rudi Sodamin, Master Chef for the Holland America Line, says:
I hate it when people talk about cruise-line kitchens. A kitchen is a kitchen. No matter where it is. It needs to be good, down to earth and honest. Only a few mainland restaurants can truly appreciate the kind of service that is offered onboard ships today.
Enormous logistic challenge from supply to warehousing
Because the real difference between a ship's galley and a kitchen is the enormous logistical challenge it poses, which is kept largely hidden from the passengers. Not only in procuring supplies, but also ensuring that everything runs smoothly behind the scenes. The swinging galley door is separates the hectic 24-hour everyday work in the galleys from the dream world of the elegant cruise ship restaurant, where passengers enjoy a romantic illusion of ease and perfection, helped along by mighty crystal chandeliers, imposing racks of wine, waiters in white uniforms and the dulcet tones of a string quartet. But back to the lettuce that is just arriving onboard the ship in Montevideo. To ensure that it remains fresh for ten days, it simply has to be stored at the right temperature. By the end of the cruise only the outer leaves will have suffered slightly; there is little waste. Fruit, however, is a different story altogether. Once it has reached a specific stage of ripeness, it has to be stored in a different place so as not to accelerate the ripening of other fruit in adjacent boxes. This is a science in itself. The captain plays an important role in galley logistics: He produces wave and swell forecasts. If the seas are going to be stormy, stabilizing nets are put up over the pallets of fruit and vegetables, sacks of rice and onions, cartons of drinks and egg cartons in the stores. And the galley has to fetch what it needs in advance. Because when the seas are rough, it is too dangerous to access the stores, even when the nets have been put up.