If you have ever had the opportunity to do a behind-the-scenes tour of a cruise ship, you will know that one of the highlights is the galley tour.
For those of us who have not worked in a commercial kitchen, it is genuinely eye-opening.
It’s not just the scale – although the size of the galleys, or kitchens, is astounding.
Imagine trying to feed two thousand passengers in a three hour period with up to 40 different menu items.
Now imagine doing that three times a day.
And tripling that number on larger vessels like the Symphony of the Seas.
It is, truly, a Herculean task.
The amount of food that is prepared is quite astounding.
Take the MSC Musica for example (a ship we sailed on from the Caribbean to Venice in 2015.)
At 2500 passengers and a thousand crew, it is about mid-size for modern cruise ships.
In a typical week, it would normally use 20,000 eggs and two tonnes of chicken (whichever comes first), three tonnes of beef, 200 kilos of coffee, and 100 slices of pizza every hour!
Add a tonne of bacon and the same of french fries, two tonnes of cheese, seven thousand croissants daily, and 80 different varieties of vegetables, and you can see it is just a bit busier than the average home kitchen 🙂
But as I say, it is not just the scale (impressive as that is.)
It is also the diversity of the menus, and the skills of the staff.
Like all large restaurant kitchens, cruise ships have an executive chef, a sous chef for each of the galleys (and there are generally a number of galleys on board a ship), plus senior chefs, pastry chefs, sauce chefs, and more – plus all the usual line cooks, bakers, kitchen hands and ancillary staff.
It’s probably no great surprise, given the nature of cruise ship passengers, that pastry chefs play a very important role – after all, desserts are a must on a cruise ship, aren’t they?
And here’s something that I should have thought of but didn’t until it was drawn to my attention during a galley tour.
Menus are NOT created by those on board – or at least not on their own.
Due to the sheer scale of the provisions required (and the risk of expensive wastage), menus are scientifically created by cruise company’s head offices.
And those menus are very carefully structured.
For those who can’t read the fine print in this photo, here are the menu instructions for Mussels with Garlic and Black Pepper. The ingredients list includes ’30g of mussels’ per serve, plus ’25ml of white wine’, ’10 ml of soybean seed oil’, right down to the amount of fresh parsley.
It was prepared by the cruise line’s Corporate Chef, verified by the Quality and Compliance Manager, and approved by the company CEO.
This was for just one starter, to be served on day four of a 24-day cruise.
Of course, there are opportunities for the Executive Chef and his team to show off … if your cruise offers a ‘Chefs Table’ dining experience, it is amazing – with one-off delicacies and service that is extraordinary.
But even if you are just eating in the buffet, grabbing a quick bite before dashing off to another shipboard activity, the process is largely the same as in the Main Dining Rooms, or the specialty restaurants.
In fact, you’ll notice that many of the wait-staff in the buffets are the same wait-staff that seat you, and serve you, and suggest your desserts at night.
And don’t even get me started on specialty restaurants, or we could be here forever.