Think you've got it tough whipping up a gourmet meal for four in your closet-size kitchen? Try trading places with seagoing cooks concocting dinners for dozens in smaller-than-closet galleys that sway under foot.
Cooking afloat requires a detailed battle plan, a steady hand and a cast-iron stomach, according to Orange County culinary experts who specialize in preparing meals on boats.
"There is a considerable difference between cooking on land and on sea," says Jacquie Miller, a caterer with six years experience planning yacht parties. "I never take on a party on a boat unless I am familiar with the galley first. "
First, Miller checks out the power source for the galley stove.
Aboard boats, many stoves are electric, powered by an on-board generator. "I see the galley and find out what kind of generator they have so I know it won't blow all the fuses, which sometimes happens on boats," says Miller, who works at St. Ives Custom Caterers in Newport Beach.
Miller also measures the oven so she can bring pans small enough to fit inside. "You've got to make sure that what you are bringing on board is not too big and that it is not impossible to prepare it on the boat. Usually you have a very small galley. If it is a sailboat, the smaller sailboat--if it has a range at all--has three burners on top and only two work."
Checking out the galley is also first on the list for Tim McMillan of Stonecreek Caterers in Irvine. McMillan, who does all the catering for a Newport Beach charter boat company called Adventures at Sea, also warns that most normal catering pans will not fit aboard boats. "Generally, larger boats will have a normal-size oven, but smaller boats have ovens a lot smaller than what you have at home."
To solve the problem of overloading the boat's power supply, McMillan says, he brings all his coffee aboard in thermoses. "You don't want too many coffee pots you have to plug in. You have to remember to work around having limited power."
You also have to make sure that what you bring aboard--whether it be coffee in a thermos or chicken in a pot--stays where you put it when the boat gets under way.
Todd Mosher, food and beverage manager for Hornblower Dining Yachts, has seen complete table services go flying off tables. "We were going up to Long Beach and it was so rough that all the prepared shellfish and prawns spilled out on the floor," he recalls. "So we frantically began calling for replacements from other locations."
Another Hornblower yacht motored out with the replacement food and saved the day.
Although many caterers prepare most of their food ahead and then do the finishing work on the boat, at Hornblower Dining Yachts all the cooking is done on board. "The food is prepared directly on the vessel," says Mosher, who began as a prep cook aboard a Hornblower yacht in Berkeley. "We have our own commissary and cut up all our vegetables and meat ahead of time, but everything else is cooked right on the boat."
Galleys aboard the four yachts in the company's Newport Beach fleet were designed for restaurant-style cooking. The largest vessel, which measures 105 feet, has an industrial galley complete with four-burner stove, three ovens, an electric grill, walk-in refrigerator and freezer.
"But the galleys are designed much differently than on land," Mosher says. "You have sea rails everywhere (to hold pans in place). And because everything is electric, you have to allow for different cooking times. And your sauces have to be thicker because of the movement of the boat. Thin sauces would slide off the plate. Also, we shy away from soups because of the movement of the boat and the danger of spills."
Besides thin sauces and soups, Mosher says his Newport Beach culinary crew, which includes eight chefs, an executive chef and a sous chef, can prepare just about anything. "We've even done baked Alaska," he says.
The biggest challenge about cooking at sea, according to Mosher, is making sure you have brought everything aboard. Other sea-going cooks with less sophisticated galleys agree.
Greg Bishop, the 18-year-old Eagle Scout who served as cook last summer aboard the 68-foot Sea Scout boat Argus, spent a lot of time planning menus and shopping for food.
Bishop, who cooked 13 meals each week for 26 kids, knew that if he ran out of food during one of the Scouts' week-long cruises, he'd probably have a mutiny on his hands. "You get pretty hungry when you've out there," says Bishop, who spent six to eight hours cooking each day.
"These were not really gourmet meals," he says. "We had a budget. But generally the kids liked the food."
Typical meals included French toast, pancakes, or bacon and eggs for breakfast; grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, and spaghetti, tacos, hamburgers or barbecued chicken for dinner.