Culinary Waves: by Chef Mary Beth Lawton Johnson
I’m in the galley cooking, and in comes the bosun. It’s his duty to cook for the crew tonight. Tied up with a task the captain had given him, he is an hour late. Now he is there to cook at the exact time I am trying to get dinner out for the owner and guests, roughly 15 people. Meanwhile, the crew of seven very hungry men and women are waiting for their meal. So we both are in the galley, vying for cooktop and counter space.
As time went on, that scenario was starting to become a familiar thing – the stewardess, deckhand and others coming into the galley around dinner time, simply ignoring my requests to stay away until I had the dinner under control. They just didn’t get it. Or was it me that didn’t get it? How could this situation be rectified – or even prevented from happening in the first place?
First, there has to be communication with all crew and the captain about when the crew is allowed into the galley. Use time sheets and a calendar to make the schedule clear.
Time sheets are easy. Just put the time down, allowing five minutes for each step, such as chopping and cleaning celery, or mixing meat for meatloaf. Be sure to have set times for the protein to go into the oven and to come out. It keeps a schedule going, and there is no waste of time or the issue of two cooks in the kitchen overlapping one another.
Have the calendar handy for penciling in the name of whoever is coming into the galley to help. At the next crew meeting, go over the schedule with them. Have it prepared at least one month in advance and remind crew members a couple of days prior that they will be cooking on such and such a date. Put it on the crew bulletin board, if need be.
Let’s say “Sue,” the second stew, is scheduled to cook on Thursday. What if Sue has minimum cooking experience? What if it is the busiest time of the season? Two options: I would give Sue a recipe, along with the entire ingredient list pulled together in a container in the walk-in, and a time sheet to follow so that all she would have to do is grab it and start prepping.
Now, if it is a very busy season, I would have a more experienced cook in the kitchen to do the crew meal. They can get in and out quicker. Then, when it is a slower time, I’d have the less experienced crew member in to cook and practice. Galleys are tight quarters and vying for the knives, cutting boards and sink is not what you want to happen when you are planning an elegant six-course meal for the owner and guests.
Make sure crew members are there at the allotted time. What if they can’t be there? As chef, I would have an alternate crew scheduled. Put that name on the calendar and remind them a few days prior as well.
Have menus set up for the crew meal. Choose simple recipes, like salad and roast chicken with veggies. Include pictures, if possible. That way, the crew won’t use the protein you had chosen for the guests – or worse, the dessert. Another good option is to compile a book with favorite crew meals. Be sure to get crew input on creating the book.
Have all ingredients pulled for the crew ahead of time. Gather the protein, the potatoes or whatever carb you are using, and the vegetables and put them in a tub in the walk-in labeled “crew meal,” along with the date.
Have cleanup scheduled to be done by the same crew member or another, so you can focus on getting the owner and guests dinner out.
Make sure that the crew meal is ready and in the crew mess at least one hour before the guests’ meal. That way, the crew won’t starve while the guests and owners are being served. There is nothing worse for crew, after working a long day, than when it’s already 10 p.m. and they have not eaten. There would be a new chef brought in the next day if that happened.
Sure, some things can’t be helped – we run behind once in a while, or a guest ties up our time. Things are not always going to go according to plans, no matter what we do. But if we can stay one step ahead of the game, the flow of food will continue flawlessly.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments are welcome below.