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Emile Bennington prepares dinner for the crew in the galley.

Find out more about Emile and meet the rest of the Odyssey crew.
Photo: Chris Johnson

December 24, 2001
Perspectives - Cooking on the High Seas
  Real Audio

Log Transcript

This is Emile Bennington speaking to you from the Odyssey, off the coast of Fremantle.

Two months ago I was working as a chef in a fashionable restaurant in Melbourne, when I heard that a whale research vessel called the Odyssey was in need of a cook. The job sounded interesting and a week later I met with two of the Odyssey crew who happened to be in Melbourne. We arranged to meet in a wine bar and over a glass of wine I gathered the courage to confide in them that despite having a wealth of experience in professional cooking, I knew next to nothing about boats, sailing and cooking on the high seas. To my surprise they didn't seem perturbed by this and two week's later I flew to join the boat in Darwin.

Upon boarding the vessel I was given a rundown of what my position entailed and shown around the galley. Essentially the cook is responsible for provisioning the boat with all food items for trips that can vary in length from one to four weeks, the preparation of lunch and dinner for the crew and the general organization and cleanliness of the galley (that's kitchen in 'land speak').

It was at this juncture that I was told that I also needed to cater for the varying dietery needs of the crew. This included out of a crew of 10, 2 vegetarians , a part time vegetarian, a man who will only eat pasta when it's seperate from the sauce and 2 crew members with serious allergies. Allowing for these needs makes every meal a bit like one of those brain teaser puzzle's, finding the right combination of ingredient's to make a palateable meal for everybody whilst endeavouring to keep people out of hospital with a severe reaction to nuts. Apparently allergic reactions can be a bit of a hassle, 1500 hundred mile's out to sea!

For my first five weeks on board we were anchored in Darwin Harbor so the sourcing of fresh meat, fruit and vegetables was done twice weekly. In order to feed 10 people 3 meals a day that would mean loading a taxi with 20 to 25 bags of groceries to get fom the supermarket to the pier then transferring to a dinghy in order to get to the ship. All this was done in 100 degree heat so it was important not to take too long and let the food spoil. As soon as a date was set to leave Darwin , the captain and I calculated exactly how much food was needed to sustain us for a minimum of two weeks at sea, and after three seperate trips to the market I felt I was ready for my maiden voyage.

Dinner is looking good!
Photo: Chris Johnson

Although I had been cooking on the boat for five weeks without too many problems, I soon realised after leaving the relative calm of Darwin harbor that cooking at sea is a entirely different proposition. Utensils that previously stayed stationary now had a mind of thier own. Boiling pots had to be constantly watched and fastened on to the stove to prevent causing a nasty and messy accident. One lapse of concentration can turn a simple meal into a complete farce in a matter of seconds. However the situation is helped a little by the provision of one crew member or 'galley slave' to help me each day. Generally, the 'galley slave' is entrusted with such challenging tasks as peeling the vegetables and doing the dishes. Which is immensely helpful when my entire kitchen is leaning on a 20 degree angle and out of the corner of my eye I can see my pot o lamb stew just about to go onto the floor.

I have now been at sea for two weeks and have certainly come to grips with the rigors of offshore cooking. Whilst underway I also participate in helm and observation watches. This keeps almost every hour of the day accounted for which is tiring but also very rewarding. Yesterday on my observation watch I spotted 25 bottlenose dolphin swimming near the ship and we are keeping a keen eye open for sperm whales. I don't care how classy the resturant - you dont get to take swim breaks in water half a mile deep, eat dinner on the aft deck while under sail and on a daily bais add your skill set to a project that is undeniably worthwhile. This is not just another cooking job and thats why I'm glad I joined the Odyssey .

Log by Emile Bennington

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