Crew food on a trans-Atlantic voyage. This one is a more of an industry-specific post aimed at my fellow chefs at sea and anyone out there considering becoming one, but it is, I think, an interesting glimpse behind scenes too. It is essentially about provisioning and cooking in less than perfect conditions. Or, in my case, it’s about making sure you have all you need to keep a dozen people well-fed for two (often very long) weeks at sea.
Once or twice a year the yacht I am working on relocates from the States to Europe or vice versa. This entails a 14 day voyage across the Atlantic. Obviously. The owners are never on the yacht during these crossings, therefore the requirements of my job are different, but the main idea is the same - cook great tasting, healthy crew food that makes people happy. When the sea are calm with no wind and the sun is shining there isn’t a better job for a chef. However, this only happens approximately 25% of the time. The seas/oceans can be choppy with large waves, throwing the vessel from side to side, backwards and forwards. The yacht can bounce around erratically. As you can imagine, this is not a good or safe environment to cook in.
Also, I may not encounter a shop for at least 10 days. There is none of the “shit, we run out of XYZ, let me run to the nearest supermarket and get some”. You need to be organised, which at this point in my career I am, but it hasn’t always been smooth sailing if you’ll excuse the cheesy pun! So, basically I need to make sure the vessel is stocked up with at least two weeks worth of supplies. If the yacht is travelling from the East Coast, my next shop will more than likely be Morrison’s in Gibraltar, maybe Madeira, or the Canaries. In either case, a bloody long way.
My first tip is always buy more dry goods than you need. Obviously, you are confined by whatever space limitations, but it’s better to push it and get more, than to run out with no shop in site. Amazon is not delivering to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Not yet. I usually have 12 or so people on board for the voyage. If the conditions are favourable, people will eat a shitload of food. If it’s rough you will only see the really salty sea dogs for lunch and dinner. Usually the captain, engineer and a few deck hands. Everyone else will be horizontal!!
Milk has always been a funny one for me. Turns out most people don’t like UHT milk, which would seem the obvious choice. Also, full fat milk doesn’t freeze well. It splits when defrosting. So, I do like my mum and I bang 48 litres of semi-skimmed milk in the freezer. I also buy about 24 litres of almond milk. I could offer more of the alternative milk options, but my crew likes almond milk, so I keep that one simple.
When it comes to fruit, my biggest problem are bananas. People love bananas. They expect bananas. But, you ain’t getting a banana to stay yellow or edible for 14 days. I have tried many, many techniques. I have stressed about it a lot over the years until I have arrived at my present solution. Buy 2 boxes of bananas, probably about 24 bunches. Serve them, eat them, whatever. At around day 5 or 6 out at sea, take all the bananas that begin to look shit, peel and slice and freeze them. By day 10, when, more than likely you will have just black bananas, that people won’t eat, regardless of how much you try to tell them, “it’s okay”. Go to your frozen supply and make them a banana smoothie every morning. A massive smoothie, with some almond milk, honey and vanilla, thus, fulfilling their potassium requirements. If the sea is calm, use the black bananas to make muffins. I have a great recipe here on my site.
It’s great to cook at sea when the weather is nice. You make great crew food in the morning, sunbath for 2 hours at lunch, and then come back and bang out dinner. You can practice your sourdough. You can prep everything in sight, veggies, fruits, pasta and rice, for example. Best of all, as you are doing all this, you can get stuck into your podcasts and audio books. Sadly, in reality this doesn’t happen often. As I mentioned, cooking may not be possible at all if the sea is rough. Frankly, at least half the time it is very uncomfortable trying to do a day’s work in the galley. So you really have to be prepared. This is where you need to have your freezers full before you set sail. Full of stuff. Curries, pies, sauces, stews, pasta and anything else you can think of. Just freeze it. Vacuum pack, ziplock or put it all in plastic containers. You really don’t want to spend at moment longer than you have to in the galley when the sea is not calm.
So, to sum it up, when provisioning for a crossing, overstock your pantry, get milk, have a plan for bananas* and freeze loads of yummy, healthy meal options.
Best of luck,
*Or pick a boat where the crew hates bananas. Let me know how that questions goes on a job interview, though.
Here is an example of what we do in preparation and the stock I have.