Cooking at Sea: An Interview with Ray Gideons
December 16, 2005
What are the unique challenges of cooking at sea? Find out in this interview with Ray Gideons, Head Cook for the GalAPAGoS Expedition. In it, he discusses how you keep food fresh for months, the differences between land and sea kitchens and what it's like to cook during a raging hurricane.
Kelley: Let me start off inquiring what your background is.
Ray: CIA, Culinary Institute of America, College graduate. 22 years as a corporate chef for Hilton, retired.
Kelley: So you retired and then you came out to work on ships?
Ray: Well not exactly, I actually came here because I was friends with the port Captain we had at the time, and he called and said they needed someone for 19 days to come from Hawaii to Seattle. Well, three years later I’m still here.
Kelley: How long are you typically away from port?
Ray: That depends on the science party and the particular cruise. It could be anywhere from two weeks to 60 days.
Kelley: How often can you stock up on food for the longer cruises - say 30-60 days? Do you typically have a stop somewhere in between there?
Ray: We don’t have to. We carry enough food for 72 days with a full ship.
Kelley: So if you’re carrying enough food for 72 days, how you deal with the more perishable foods like milk, fresh fruits and vegetables? Are there certain ways that you store them?
Ray: Well, yeah, anything that’s wrapped in paper comes out. Anything that’s stored in cardboard you try to unpack- lettuce especially- the more air it gets the longer it will hold. We unpack it, and we actually stack them in layers. One section will go one way, and the other section will go the other way so it actually creates gaps in between it so the air can get through it. We put newspaper in between it that absorbs the moisture, and makes it last longer. We can get lettuce the whole - we’ve had it the whole 63 days. Your citrus fruits will hold real well, apples will hold real well.
Kelley: About how long will they hold?
Ray: You can get three months on apples, if they come in good. That being the key word right there, is how it comes in. If it comes in and it’s not really fresh and a good product, it won’t last very long.
Kelley: Now do you have control over that, or is that something you take into consideration when you order the food?
Ray: You try to but you can’t control the purveyor. The only thing you can do with him, if you have the time, is make him take it back and bring you something more fresh. If you’re stuck in a situation where you’re there for 12 hours, in this particular port, and they drop your grocery order at eight o’clock and you’re leaving at lunch time, you’re going to have to deal with what you have. If you run out, unfortunately, you substitute with something else.
Kelley: As far as items like milk are concerned, do you freeze certain quantities of it to help it last longer?
Ray: We will freeze it. We also have shelf stable milk, some people call it nuclear milk, it will last forever! I think it has a five-year shelf life on it, and it doesn’t have to be refrigerated, so we can buy cases of it and store it.
Kelley: Do you also have to do a lot of menu planning to try and use the food efficiently, and use it up before some items go bad, knowing that some don’t last as long as others?
Ray: Yeah, to some aspect, but you look at the groups that are coming on board, and if you have more college kids than adults, then you know the fruit is going to go a little quicker. So you don’t, per say, have to look into it that hard because you know it’s going to be one of the first things that you’re out of. So your biggest point at that time, is what you’re going to substitute it with - what’s going to happen then? Like I said, it has a shelf life that’s stable, so you don’t really have to worry about it too much. The stuff we do have to worry about is our seafood, so we freeze what we can, and the cheeses become a problem because you can’t freeze them. So they start molding and that’s when you eat a lot of grilled cheese, and you eat a lot of casseroles, and everything suddenly has cheese on it. That’s when you know it’s getting about that time.
Kelley: Do you find it difficult to cook for specific diets?
Ray: Well, we automatically prepare a veggie entrée. Every meal gets one of those. So the only problems that you really run into are people who are diabetic and are very strict about it. Their salt and their sugar has to be almost zero, we have to watch what we do. We have a young lady on board right now that is a vegan. We have a full salad bar and there is always rice and vegetables, which is pretty much their diet anyway. So it’s already there depending on whether it’s what they want.
Kelley: What are some of the hardest problems you encounter as a cook at sea?
Ray: Trying to make everybody happy. That is the most difficult one because no matter what we cook, there is going to be someone who does not like some part of it. So you cook for the majority, not for a specific person.
Kelley: What is the range of people that you cook for?
Ray: The maximum is what we have on board right now, which is 36, and there are 25 crew members.
Kelley: Is that more difficult? Cooking for larger groups of people?
Ray: No, it is easier to cook for more. It’s a lot harder to cook when just the crew is on here because you have a tendency of preparing too much, and then there are not enough people to eat it so you end up throwing it away.
Kelley: So what would you say, has been one of your most interesting experiences as a cook on board?
Ray: We ran into a hurricane heading for Japan last year, and that turned out to be probably the most interesting two days of my life - to try and cook, when the ship is rolling that hard. I had been through some storms, but never anything like this and it was just unbelievable.
Kelley: Did people get hurt?
Ray: No one was hurt, but we had a lot of stuff that had been secured that was flying around. We have rails on our stove that are about 8 inches high, that snap in to hold the pots, and we had pots jumping out from under them.
Kelley: What other modifications do you have in the kitchen for being in an ocean environment?
Ray: As opposed to a restaurant or a hotel, to start with, everything is stainless steel. There is no PVC, Formica or anything of that nature. There is no tile. Commercial kitchens have tile in them, tile floors, tile walls. Everything here is secured. It is either bolted down or fastened in by some means and is not moveable. Where it is at is where it stays. So you can’t take that mixer and move it to another counter because you don’t want it there for today. It’s there, that’s it.
Kelley: Are there different methods that you have to deal with?
Ray: As far as cooking or preparation, yes. You are limited to your equipment. We don’t have a fryer on board, so if we are going to fry something then we have to make a fryer - fill a pot up with grease. Obviously those are not rough days at sea when you do that. So that’s probably the biggest adjustment. You have all the pots and pans, you have grills, flat tops. We have eye burners, steamers, and mixers, so it is a well-equipped kitchen.
Kelley: So it is just not as much as you might have in a top of the line kitchen back on land.
Ray: Oh well sure, you know, and you would probably have a lot more room.
GalAPAGoS: Where Ridge Meets Hotspot will be sending reports from Dec 3 - Jan 10. Please check back frequently for additional logs from this expedition.
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