Category Archives: The Galley

How do Cruise Ship Chefs create a Menu

How do Cruise Ship Chefs create a MenuOn board a cruise ship, it’s worth noting that even ‘Today’s Specials’ in the menu have probably been decided weeks earlier. Because cruise lines spend a few days out at sea and are constantly moving from port to port, cruise ship chefs must be prepared for a meal days in advance.

A lot goes into planning the menu for each day. In fact, each meal itself is a logistical behemoth. Cruise trends of emphasising quality and quantity continue, and cruise ship chefs in management must consider optimising the efficiency of production as well as prices of ingredients for it to be a cost-effective operation.

The history of each meal goes all the way back to reservations and sales, where management understands the type of clientele they are expecting each season. Studies have shown that people of different nationalities or cultural backgrounds prefer different types of food. British guests, for example, still prefer roasts dinners and puddings for dessert. Guests from continental Europe opt for more Mediterranean-style dishes that feature fresh seafood and desserts with fruit.

With an understanding of their guest list, including such details as special dietary requirements as allergens or religious restrictions of certain passengers, the cruise ship can go ahead and finalise the menu for each day.

Care is taken to ensure that sufficient variety and distinctiveness is added to cater to both, guests looking for familiar comfort food as well as those who want to try something new. Understanding changing trends is key to creating menus that are enticing yet cost-effective. One cruise reviewer on P&O cruises, for example, discovered that guests were unlikely to touch unfamiliar brands of items such as milk, jam or butter. This means that breakfast menus on that cruise must feature a market survey backed list of spreads and products.

Data has revealed that the Queen Elizabeth II at one point had 1600 items on her inventory list. Compared to this, some full-service hotels barely feature 500 items. Granted the Queen Elizabeth II is a big cruise ship, but sailing with a large number of items is not unusual in this industry.

However, despite this, reports have suggested minimum food wastage. To do this, cruise ship chefs follow a complex maze of cyclical menus. A cyclical menu is a series of menus repeated over a specific period of time – often the length of each cruise trip.

This allows them to use one inventory item for more than one dish, such as lemon curd for a meringue as well as a Swiss roll, while also using leftover food for new dishes – such as leftover roast for beef bourguignonne.

Menus are sometimes changed based on stocks or leftovers so temporary adjustments to the cyclical menu can occur to avoid wastage. However, for the most part, thanks to in-depth insight into passenger trends over the years, the menus remain as planned.

For the main dining room buffet, many items are in high demand daily, including breads, pastas, burgers, pizzas, fresh fruit selections, ice creams, etc. Their presence on the menu is almost guaranteed each day on most cruise ships.

It is interesting to note that trends are moving towards themed buffets and meals. Disney Cruise Line, for example, has recently announced the launch of a Tangled-themed restaurant with themed menus, set to open doors next year. Holland America offers a MasterChef cruise, and there are tons of culinary river cruises in Europe.

For these, drafting the menu for the day will involve even more intricate planning from research to logistics, storage, preparation and service.

Food safety rules for Cruise Ship Crew

Food safety rules for Cruise Ship CrewApart from creativity and passion, cruise ship chefs jobs demand vigilance and a keen eye on food safety. Being attentive at every step of the food production and service process enables cruise ship companies to keep their guests safe from food related diseases and in turn secure their reputation in the market.

Companies in the US ensure that cruise ship chefs follow the HACCP system – Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point – which research has shown is a viable food safety operation system. By rigorously following the procedures, chefs on board can identify chemical, physical and biological threats at any step of the flow of food – from delivery and storage to cooking and service.
All across the board, including the galley, the HACCP system follows a seven step procedure.

  1. Analysing the hazard

Here, kitchen management and cruise ship chefs carefully observe how food is prepared, cooked and served. Notes are made about each step of the process from temperatures of food to the utensils used and the manner in which the dish is plated. It begins from analyzing the various dishes on the menu and noting which dishes are most susceptible to contamination. This effectively means that every restaurant on board a cruise ship will have its own HACCP system.

  1. Determining the points of risk

This involves observing how the food is made and noting at which points during the process risks can be prevented, removed or reduced to safe limits. These are called critical control points. They could be the minimum length of time or temperature – or critical limit – that a certain food item must be cooked for/at, or that a dirty dish must remain in cleaning solvent or hot water, or even the temperature at which a food must be defrosted at.

  1. Establishing critical limits

At this juncture, cruise ship chefs must determine the highest and lowest points for preventing or removing a hazard or reducing it to safe levels. Procedures may specify how to reach the temperature necessary for cooking a meat product safely, or how long a certain dish could remain in the holding pot.

  1. Formulating procedures for monitoring

With the fourth step, HACCP moves into the next phase of safety – controlling the hazard. This involves specifying ways in which cruise ship chefs or other staff assigned to the job can monitor whether safety measures are being consistently maintained. This can mean checking the internal temperature of each dish or even each individual steak or chicken breast.

  1. Corrective action

If the safety parameter, that is the critical limits, are not met, procedures are to be put in place to guide staff on what to do next. This could mean continuing to cook a dish until it reaches its internal temperature, or discarding a dish that is not considered safe to eat. All corrective action is logged for records.

  1. Checking the system

Through this step, cruise ship chefs are able to figure out if their safety method works. Through hazard analyses, logs, monitoring charts and other records, they are able to check where the weak points of the safety system are and implement remedial action. This remedial action will now form part of the new critical limits to be checked and logged.

  1. Keeping records

Maintaining records and logs are a very important part of the process. Cruise management are able to assess food safety conditions easily. Cruise ship chefs keep records of monitoring activities, remedial action, equipment to ensure they are in good working condition, supplier information including invoices, shelf-life, specifications, etc. This helps revise the HACCP plan often and keep it as watertight as possible.

Challenges of Cruise Ship Chefs Jobs

Challenges of cruise ship chefs jobsThe thing about challenges is that they are generally always looked at in a negative light. However, while they present difficulties, they always represent chances to learn something new or perfect an art.

Cruise ship chefs jobs are an exercise in perfection, maintaining standards and realising logistical targets. The biggest challenge of cooking on a cruise ship is the volume. Guests on the latest vessels can number in the thousands – the largest, Symphony of the Seas, scheduled to launch in 2018 will carry as many as 5500 passengers.

Feeding each of these can be a logistical nightmare for a regular chef. Cruise vacations offer guests an opportunity to taste different food types and indulge in all sorts of treats, so many will eat more than they normally do. Chefs expect that each passenger will eat all three main meals and at least one or two snacks during the day. After all, the guests are on vacation.

Limited space is available on a cruise ship, so galleys need to be functional and efficient within that area. Cruise ship chefs jobs entail quick learning in how to manage with such restrictions – passing each other and other kitchen staff in narrow alleyways, keeping cooking and prepping areas clean always – while still getting food out the door on time.

Another challenge is the volume of food that needs to be cooked. Even with smaller numbers of about 1300-1500, a cruise ship galley will go through nearly six tonnes of fresh veggies, four tons of meat, 18,000 eggs and 1600 bottles of wine a week. Compared to a land-based job, these numbers are astronomical. On the bottom rung, line cooks might spend a great deal of their time doing just one job – making stock, cleaning vegetables or prepping chicken.

The volume also presents another obstacle. Cruise lines do not stop in port every day, so access to fresh supplies is limited. Cruise ship chefs must be able to assess how much stock they will need well in advance. If there’s a mistake and they run low, chefs will need to be able to come up with an acceptable alternative on the go.

This situation often crops up with food items like lobster tails or beef medallions, for which requests can vary every day. Cruise ship chefs have the precarious task of ordering enough to last them the week, but also not over-order in which case the food can go bad over time.

Storage becomes important. Cruise ship chefs ensure they use items that were stocked on board earlier, so they don’t pass their use-by dates. They constantly make note of their stocks, and must follow stringent rules regarding old food.

Due to the volume, stocks like meat and fish are most often frozen. These need to be defrosted correctly, often changing temperature zones over a couple days before being brought to room temperature. This gives you an idea of the type of planning that goes into making a single meal. If a couple has requested a special beef carpaccio for their anniversary on board, planning and defrosting preparations begin a few days in advance.

Cruise ship chefs must also contend with limited opportunities to display their own creativity. For those who are not in the upper echelons of hierarchy that decide the menus on board, recipes must be followed to the ‘T’. Cruise line companies prefer to maintain standards on all their vessels. For this, they provide each liner with the recipes as well as images of what the dish should look like. The executive chef will taste every dish under his or her charge every day to ensure that the taste and look matches the company vision.

In addition, cruise ship chefs have stringent safety rules to follow and are not allowed the use of gas stoves and open flame barbeques. Everything is electric, and the challenge here is to recreate that taste. Carnival Cruises went to the extent of creating a custom-made smoker that adheres to international sea safety laws for its Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que by Guy Fieri on the Magic.

There are many challenges on board for cruise ship chefs, but that is usually never a reason to say ‘no’ to a guest’s request.

Cruise Ship Chefs on Show

Cruise ship chefs on showIf you thought that cruise ship chefs jobs meant slogging it behind closed doors for hours on end with guests having no clue who the creator of their delicious dish is, you’re partly mistaken. Yes, you will be slogging for long hours, but you knew that already. However, cruise ship chefs today are not entirely hidden from the public gaze.

Food is a quintessential part of the cruise experience, and today, has become a huge part of the travel industry. In fact, the Food Travel Monitor for 2016 by the World Food Travel Association stated that as much as 93 per cent of travellers can be considered ‘food travellers’, or travellers who participated in a food or beverage experience other than dining out. This means gourmet store visits, cooking schools, food tours, tastings, etc.

Cruise ship companies are not too far from cashing in on this exciting statistic. On the high seas, guests focus on the experiences on board, and food comes with a high social media-friendly factor. Think Facebook live feeds, Instagram pictures and Twitter updates.

Cruise ship chefs jobs call upon individuals to do more than just cook a meal. They often put on a show. One of the easiest ways cruises do this is to host live cooking demos on board. This involves the chef demonstrating his cooking skills in a particular cuisine style or theme.

Cruise ship chefs are required to have an interactive session with guests while doing so, explaining the ingredients being used, asking and answering questions, offering tips on techniques, etc. Guests then get a chance to enjoy the meal that was demonstrated before them. It offers them a chance to learn more about the food they love, and the people behind their meals. In turn, chefs get a chance in the spotlight and an opportunity to share their passion for food.

Disney Cruise Line offers complimentary on board cooking demonstrations, showing just how popular these experiences are. Many other cruise lines have hands-on cooking sessions, where guests who sign up cook alongside the staff. Chefs teach them how to make the perfect salsa or how to cook risotto just right, the ideal way to roll sushi. It often takes place in the galley, or kitchen, and chefs offer one-on-one technique tips before participants enjoy the meal together.

Another programme offered by companies that greatly involves cruise ship chefs is the Chef’s Table. This is usually an event with the executive chef who heads the entire food and beverage operation on board. It is often a special, formal affair, priced quite high. Guests get a private tour of the galley with the executive chef with Champagne and hors d’oeuvres, following which they share a meal cooked by him or her with a chance to spend some time with the top chef on board.

Cruise ships also offer cooking classes on board. Holland America, for example, has a state-of-the-art Culinary Arts Centre specially created by Food & Wine magazine for its cooking classes. The demonstration theatre features auditorium-style seating and plasma screens so minute observations can be made. Celebrity chefs make guest appearances and cruise ship chefs take over culinary events such as wine or chocolate tastings.

Luxe line Silversea holds its L’École des Chefs by Relais and Châteaux cruise, which is an entire voyage dedicated to cooking demonstrations, “lunch and learn” sessions, market tours and classes, knife skills workshops and more. Celebrity Cruises even hosted a Top Chef At Sea competition in 2015 and 2016 in which guests watched the reality TV show contestants battle it out on board, and also got a chance to take private cooking classes or dine with them.

Today, cruise ship chefs are more than makers of meals. They are a major part of the reason the industry keeps growing.

Prevent Contamination as a Cruise Chef

How to Prevent Contamination as a Cruise Ship ChefHealth and safety is paramount on a cruise ship. Chefs and other staff working in the galleys must ensure that high standards of cleanliness are maintained at all times to avoid contamination and the spread of disease.

Prevention of contamination begins from the source. Cruise line companies ensure that the vendors of various food items comply with safety and hygiene laws during preparation (if any), packaging, storage and transportation. Staff in charge of receiving goods have various procedures to follow to ensure that only produce that adheres to strict standards is accepted. The rest is simply rejected.

During storage on board, a number of guidelines are followed. The major ones include storage of meat and vegetables – raw meat must always be stored below vegetables to avoid any liquids from dripping into fresh produce. Recent deliveries are usually stored at the back so that those with earlier use-by dates leave the store first.

Food items are also stored in a different area from chemicals such as cleaning liquids and other sanitisers used in the galley.

The threat to food is greatest from the people handling them. In this regard, everyone from the storage staff to the cruise ship chef to the wait staff must follow strict personal hygiene procedures. All staff is required to wash their hands frequently and in the correct manner, particularly between tasks, after using the restroom and after an interruption such as answering a telephone call. It is even required to wash one’s hands after scratching an itch to ensure that no germs whatsoever can make their way into the food being prepared.

Galley staff must have short nails, tie long hair – even beards, wear clean uniforms and aprons, properly cover wounds and cuts, use properly fitted single-use gloves when handling ready-to-eat food, and remove all jewellery when working in the prep areas.

Importantly, cruise ship chefs are expected to report when they are feeling ill, particularly if they have experienced diarrhea, nausea and vomiting in the last few hours. These are the symptoms of food-borne diseases, such as norovirus, which are extremely contagious and can cause an epidemic if not contained properly.

One of the main ways to prevent contamination of food on cruise ships is controlling the temperature at which a food item is stored at and the length of time it remains at that temperature.

It is virtually impossible and quite impractical to ensure that every last spoon of a particular dish is consumed in one sitting. Unfortunately, bacteria and germs tend to proliferate easily at warm temperatures – not too hot, not too cold. Guidelines are available to show chefs the proper temperature to store different food types at to slow the growth of harmful bacteria.

This is extremely important on a cruise ship as the population includes many individuals who could be at a higher risk of contracting diseases, such as old people, toddlers, or people with compromised immune systems such as those with HIV.

Dishes and utensils are expected to be kept cleaned and sanitised at all times. There are particular procedures to follow when washing, cleaning and sanitising, and specific food-grade solutions to use during these processes.

Each cruise ship has its own set of guidelines, but overall, most remain the same. Guests are key to the survival of the cruise ship industry, and to maintain high standards, companies have spot checks as do government authorities. Failing health and hygiene checks can cause the ship to be put out of service causing the company huge losses in revenue.

The first and primary responsibility of a cruise ship chef is always to ensure his or her food is safe for consumption.