The manic job of cooking for the masses

By Alex Robertson

It's not the prospect of overseeing 150 chefs and 70 kitchen hands making more than 16,000 meals a day that's worrying Queen Mary 2 executive chef Klaus Kremer - it's the strawberries.

For the voyage between Auckland and Sydney, then on to Yokohama, Klaus wanted about 2000kg of fresh strawberries to be collected at Auckland and Sydney. However, New Zealand has only 150kg available and drought conditions, fires in Victoria and floods in Queensland and New South Wales mean Australia has about the same.

"We will have to stretch them out a little."

The 47-year-old from Cologne, Germany, has worked as a chef with Cunard for 20 years and is in charge of feeding the 2500 guests and 1300 crew every day of the QM2's four month world cruise.

"I work four months, 11 hours per day with no days off. Then I get two months off."

The saying goes, "Never trust a skinny chef", but Kremer is the exception that proves the rule. The long hours and constant attention to everything from ensuring the stores are kept up, to watching over the decorations of a birthday or anniversary cake, keeps him trim. But the quality never falls short.

The QM2 has 12 galleys that operate 24 hours per day. All food is made from scratch, including breads, pastries, soups, sauces, cakes and sandwiches.

All menus are planned before the liner sets off on her journey from Southampton. Kremer must estimate the quantities of lobster, lamb, beef and turkey to cook each day... and not run out.

"We prepare 1200 lobster tails each night," he says.

"Most guests will eat lobster at least twice on a voyage: Once at the beginning and once at the end."

That planning has to take account of the nationalities of the guests, "Australians and British like more lamb. Americans prefer turkey and Germans eat most beef and fish."

Containers are shipped all over the world from a base in the USA. In Auckland, for instance, the ship loaded 14 containers of food.

The stop also allowed him to stock-up on fresh fish and he manages to secure a 70kg wahou for the first night out of Auckland.

Despite the 1200 Australians on board mostly snubbing fresh fish on the menu, the wahou is a hit as he puts it on display in the Britannia Restaurant, the main dining area of the ship.

"If the food is prepared in front of the guests, more people take it," he explains.

"It is difficult to keep people interested over a two-month voyage and we have to come up with different things."

With limited space and days spent at sea the executive chef must keep a check on waste and he employs a sophisticated meal count system using a scanner that logs each plate prepared by the 12 kitchens. A computer screen in the main galley shows him what is moving and what is not so he can control the output of each menu item.

But with the mountains of food prepared each day comes a monumental amount of waste. With the Cunard policy of no rubbish in the sea, each item of waste is meticulously dealt with: paper and plastics are separated and incinerated; glass and china are shredded and bagged and stored until port is made; bones and egg shells are separated from other food wastes and stored; waste food products are ground into a fine meal and, under international regulations, are allowed to be dumped at sea as fish food.

Even the 1900 tonnes of water made in the ship's desalination plant each day for washing up is recycled for washing down decks.

There is respite for the chefs in rough conditions, however. "We reduce cooking and there is more room service. Many people might eat a few crackers, that's all."

Kremer and his team can handle pretty much any request on board, he reckons. "We cater for all diets: gluten-free, lactose-free, allergies - you name it, we have this on board."

And what's the most unusual request?

"We had a man ask for crocodile meat, but where we were it would take a couple of days to organise. So we asked around and we managed to find some at the next port."

So another satisfied customer then?

"But unfortunately that was where he got off."

- NZ Herald

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