Home cookin’ on the high seas

Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael McCallum, a food service specialist aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, prepares sandwich meat for brunch in the Beaufort Sea Sept. 15, 2013. McCallum and other cooks on the 420-foot icebreaker provide four meals a day for as many as many as 150 crewmembers and passengers. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael McCallum, a food service specialist aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, prepares sandwich meat for brunch in the Beaufort Sea Sept. 15, 2013. McCallum and other cooks on the 420-foot icebreaker provide four meals a day for as many as many as 150 crewmembers and passengers. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Story and photos by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

It’s Sunday morning, and for the most part, the Coast Guard Cutter Healy sleeps. A few tired souls stand their watches up on the bridge or down in the engineroom, but the majority of the crew and passengers aboard the 420-foot icebreaker are busy catching up on shut-eye they missed during a week of simulated oil spill exercises.

Somewhere on the main deck, inside the thick skin of the cutter, two crewmembers stir and start their day’s work. At 5 a.m., as the Arctic sun only begins to hint at rising, they are pulling out spatulas, colanders, baking sheets, and enough breakfast ingredients to feed everyone aboard.

The quiet, carefully sanitized galley is suddenly a whirlwind of culinary action. Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael McCallum and Petty Officer 3rd Class Sione Pulotu, two of the Healy’s food service specialists, are scrambling eggs, frying hash browns and cooking up a variety of delicious options for the folks who will soon be rolling out of bed.

The Healy’s crew frequently leaves their homeport of Seattle for as many as four to six months at a time, and when you’re breaking ice a few thousand miles from home, a quality, homemade meal goes a long way. But how do you feed so many people at once, four times a day, without sacrificing quality?

“Cooking for 150 people is not all that different from cooking at home; we use a lot of the same equipment, we use a lot of the same processes,” said McCallum. “We even take a lot of home recipes and use them in the preparation of our meals.”

Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael McCallum, a food service specialist aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, cracks an egg while preparing breakfast for the icebreakerÕs crew and passengers on the Beaufort Sea Sept. 15, 2013. McCallum or his fellow cooks rise early every morning to provide a homemade breakfast for as many as 150 people. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael McCallum, a food service specialist aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, cracks an egg while preparing breakfast for the icebreaker’s crew and passengers in the Beaufort Sea Sept. 15, 2013. McCallum or his fellow cooks rise early every morning to provide a homemade breakfast for as many as 150 people. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

The thoughtful food preparation had an obvious effect. Throughout the meal, many crewmembers and passengers alike walk back by the serving line to sing their praise of the dishes.

“The reward is being able to produce a good product: to have it look good, to have it be appreciated and have someone say, ‘This is good,’” said McCallum. “It feels good to be able to do that for them.”

There’s no question that being involved from the start of a process allows for a certain amount more pride in the final product.

“The junior cooks developed the menus for this patrol,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Douglas Banker, the Healy’s food service officer. “We use recipes, but they’re allowed to expand with creativity.”

The result contrasts harshly with the military expectation of a sparse, potentially revolting, meal ready-to-eat.

“We prepare a significant amount of the food from scratch, by hand,” said McCallum. “There’s a better product that comes from that. It’s good, honest food.”

Tags: , , ,