Let’s get cookin’

When I stepped aboard the Sikuliaq I was expecting freeze dried dinners and pop tarts for breakfast for a full three weeks. I was unaware of the well-planned operation underway to provide incredible freshly cooked food to the dozens of us sailing together with seamless efficiency. With the help of Chief Steward Mark Techenbock, hopefully some of the misconceptions and mysteries surrounding our dining experience can be illuminated.

The process begins weeks ahead of the first scientist stepping foot on the boat. Mark wades through the bureaucracy by way of inventories, deadlines, and projections, to make sure the next cruise will be well-stocked (and under budget). Despite a few logistical hiccups, several pallets of food are delivered the day before our departure, and subsequently loaded into the freezers. And just like that we’re ready to depart!

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In clockwise order: Kim, Mark, and Noah.

Ask Mark and he’ll quickly say that this is by no means a one man show. He is aided (and abetted) by Kim and Noah, the 2nd Cook and MA (short for MAN [also short for Mess Attendant]), respectively. Mark and Kim work rotating shifts to cook three meals in a row, often waking up at 3am to have breakfast ready by 7:15. Despite his behind-the-scenes hard work, Mark says the steward is often the one who receives the brunt of the blow when things don’t go as planned. Shortages in coffee, toilet paper, or paper towels fall squarely on his shoulders, and can be a big deal when you’re at sea for several weeks without!

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Fettuccini alfredo with shrimp, bacon and cheese chicken, kale, and a bun. One of our many delicious dinners. Note we set our plates on sticky plastic to avoid sliding. 

As for the day-to-day logistics, there is no planned menu. It’s a freeform process, guided first by a dialogue between Kim and Mark, and then a quick look at what’s fresh. They stay flexible to make everyone happy, which often means serving separate dishes to meet specific dietary needs.

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Another great dinner – seared tuna steak, ribs, and squash. There is also a salad/fruit bar at every meal (yes, I usually also get a salad mom!)

Unofficially, Mark acknowledges his role as a morale booster for the crew and science party. Despite the stressful parts that come with the job, he says that their primary purpose is to serve. The more flexible the cooks, and the more flexible the crew, the easier everyone’s life becomes. “We’re just out here camping,” Mark says, gesturing to the kitchen. “It’s like one big RV.” And he’s right. We are all on one big road trip right now, the only difference is that the RV constantly goes 10 mph down the highway and the kitchen serves filet mignon. But besides that, yes, it is just like camping.

– David Heath, Colorado State University, Graduate Student

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