Dining at sea

Karl Wells
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Coast Guard cooks aboard ice breaker Terry Fox prepare for Arctic tour

When most people decide to make a career in the Canadian Coast Guard, they choose jobs like engineer, navigator, technician or communications officer.

Then there are those who go in a completely different direction. All they want to do is get on the high seas and cook.

That’s what 35-year-old St. John’s native Laurie Goodyear wanted. Nine years ago, after finishing the Marine Cooking Program at the College of the North Atlantic, she joined the Canadian Coast Guard and shipped out on its heavy ice breaker, Henry Larsen.

Now she’s well-versed in the ways of the Coast Guard, including cooking for more than 20 crew members in every kind of sea weather.

Goodyear is the chief cook on the Coast Guard’s heavy icebreaker, Terry Fox. She fed me lunch aboard the Terry Fox recently, just before the ship left St. John’s (July 7) to operate in the Canadian Arctic for four months.

The Terry Fox’s mission is to provide ice escorts for commercial ships and to deliver cargo to northern communities such as Kugluktuk and Nanisivik.

 

Six vessels

Every year six Canadian Coast Guard vessels perform duties in the Arctic. The ships are from different regions, but three come from ours: CCGS Terry Fox, CCGS Henry Larsen, and CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent.

The Canadian Coast Guard employs 48 cooks in its Newfoundland and Labrador operations in a layday system. That means cooks work for six weeks, followed by six weeks of leave.

At any given time there are 24 cooks on duty on Coast Guard vessels assigned to this province. On large vessels like the Terry Fox, galley workers include a chief cook, second cook and steward. The steward helps with prepping food and washing dishes.

Delores Rumboldt is the second cook aboard the Terry Fox. Rumboldt hails from Port aux Choix on the Northern Peninsula. She learned her trade through the commercial cooking program at the College of the North Atlantic in Stephenville. She celebrates her third year with the Coast Guard on July 27.

 

Lots of planning

Preparing the Terry Fox’s galley for four months in the Arctic requires detailed planning on the part of the chief cook, logistics officer and storekeeper.

A general list is kept of standard provisions — the foodstuffs and galley supplies normally carried by the Terry Fox on a tour of duty. That list forms the bulk of what will be ordered and loaded on board the ship through a hatch adjacent the galley and stores area.

Laurie Goodyear told me the list is augmented, depending on the length of the tour of duty, and on the likes and wishes of the crew working that particular trip.

For example, heading into the Arctic she requested eight cases of French’s tinned fried onions. Apparently, she made a recipe for crunchy coated baked chicken (using the French’s product) on a previous trip and it went down very well with the crew.

I wondered how much chicken would be needed for the voyage. Here’s what Goodyear said.

“Well, with chicken breasts alone we have about 50 or 60 cases. Then we’ve got whole chickens, chicken legs, chicken thighs, chicken drums and it’s all got to be ordered in bulk because we prepare three meals a day and they’ve got a first and second choice every day. So we go through a lot of chicken.”  

 

Perishables

Although a quantity of fresh fruit and other perishables is taken aboard in St. John’s, for much of the trip the crew will be without fresh produce. Second cook Delores Rumboldt told me they can only take on a small amount of fresh fruit, and some vegetables because such items will spoil quickly.

“Berries and bananas don’t hold up well,” she said. “And we have to be careful with broccoli and lettuce.”

Fresh produce may be in limited supply, but galley hands do have other ways of creating the occasional culinary bright spot. In addition to Rumboldt’s lemon meringue pies and chocolate chip cheesecakes, there are her famous “themed” birthday cakes.

Living in close quarters with others gives galley staff an opportunity to get to know each member of the ship’s crew.

Rumboldt makes it a point to bake a cake for each crew member who celebrates a birthday during a tour of duty. She finds out something about them (hobbies, job, etc.) and then creates a cake with that theme.

Last trip she made a birthday cake for one of the ship’s electricians. It was a vanilla cake decorated with several (brand new) electrical connectors.

 

Stormy weather

As I watched Rumboldt make a spinach omelette, the second meal choice when I visited, I wondered what it would be like trying to accomplish the task, or any cooking, while the Terry Fox was caught in the teeth of a vicious North Atlantic storm.

Goodyear offered this.

“We have to be prepared for it. We can’t have the deep fryer on. We have bars that go across the stove that secure the pots so that they don’t move back and forth. We really have to be careful about ourselves more than anything.”

Because many of the Terry Fox crew do watches, some were literally waking up or about to go to bed when I was aboard. That’s why a lighter meal choice (spinach omelette) was available that could either be breakfast, or a snack before bedtime. For me it was dinner time so I went with the duck breast in orange sauce option.

Arranged around a couple of nicely plump duck breasts were carrots, a mixture of wild and long grain rice, cauliflower and broccoli. It was a heavy meal but I enjoyed it.

The duck, with its rich, sweet sauce reminded me of what Rumboldt said when I asked if anyone ever complained about the food.

“No,” she said. But then added, “Only sometimes they complain that our food is making them fat.”

A small price to pay, I think, for daily meals of well-prepared comfort food. Especially when you’re thousands of miles from home, for weeks on end.

 

Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef, author of “Cooking with One Chef One Critic” and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. Contact him through his website, www.karlwells.com Follow him on Twitter: @karl_wells

Organizations: College of the North Atlantic, Canadian Coast Guard, Canadian Arctic Canadian Culinary Federation Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador

Geographic location: Arctic, Kugluktuk, Newfoundland and Labrador Port aux Choix Stephenville

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