Being a chef is no cake walk; they work in hot conditions, often there is little room for mobility, they manage a staff of line cooks, must communicate and coordinate with the service staff and floor manager, and make sure every dish is prepared on time, without a single flaw. Now imagine all of these responsibilities amplified in even tighter conditions, with higher demand, and a setting where even more things can go wrong. When people talk about stressful jobs they may say “police officer” or “air traffic controller”, but being a chef is right up there, especially for these three types of chefs.
Navy Submarine Chefs
Cooking 800 feet below the ocean’s surface is enough to make even the strongest nerved chef break a sweat. Add minuscule, claustrophobic kitchens, limited supplies, and knowing that they are living and working inside a nuclear weapon capable of launching surface-to-air missiles (even in hurricane conditions) into the mix, and the pressure is on. Then there is the burden of having to feed 150-200 sailors, 3 times a day, for months at a time, and keep the food interesting and nutritious.
Today’s Navy chefs are more than grilled cheese sandwiches and chicken nuggets; they are learning to prepare diverse, gourmet-quality meals, and at a mass volume. An article by The Denver Post reveals how Navy chefs are cooking gourmet food, and taking lessons from industry pros. Two culinary specialists trained the chefs of the USS Colorado to cook Texas tortilla soup, wild boar green chili, and pimento cheese Southern bacon chili. They were also taught to prepare Rocky Mountain trout with Olathe corn cappelletti and green chili smoked bacon crème. Navy submarine chefs are producing meals you would expect to enjoy in high-end restaurants, and they generally prepare 600 plates a day, in micro kitchens that shake with turbulence.
Forget about going to the concession stands for a hot dog or a box of Cracker Jacks; most stadiums home to professional sports teams also have gourmet food reserved for VIP ticket holders. These chefs prepare hundreds of meals within a typical time-frame of three hours, meaning that the time on the clock doesn’t just help determine the outcome of a football game, but the quality of dinner service for special guests who pay the big bucks to enjoy fine cuisine from the Sky Box and other premium seating locations. These chefs may not be wearing a team jersey, but their heat resistant chef uniforms still make them a part of the team, and with that comes a massive responsibility to make each dish a touchdown with no thrown flags. For example, Chef Michael Kornick is the culinary master at Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears, where he pairs craft beer with grass-fed beef gourmet burgers. He is also known for his parmesan and truffle cream potatoes, and Kansas City style BBQ.
Cruise Ship Chefs
Being a chef on a cruise ship may seem like a luxurious position, but the sad reality is that it’s often a lot of hard work with little frills. But wait; don’t cruise ship chefs get to see the world? Well, sort of. First, you have to go through a recruiter just to get hired. The major cruise lines typically make you sign a three-month contract in which you work your tail off seven days a week and usually 12 hours a day. When a cruise ship chef does get to go out and explore the area it is normally only for a four-hour period and rotates with “on duty” personnel.
As for the work itself, it is very grueling. First, the chef is generally responsible for logistics and ordering the food for the duration of the cruise, and most host between 3,500 and 5,000 passengers who eat three meals a day, including snacks and drinks. Usually, the chef has to personally inspect all food items that come into the ship. Imagine going through 10, 000 pounds of chicken, 72,000 eggs, 10,000 lobsters, and hundreds of crates containing vegetables and produce. The kitchen may be large, but that means you have a huge staff of 20+ line cooks to manage, and thousands of meals to ensure are prepared and plated up to standards. The rest of the job is no picnic; chefs often share claustrophobic bunks with up to four people, and the constant movement of the ship will test your stomach. Only select cruise lines treat their chef like a celebrity, but these are often celebrity chefs to begin with. If a cruise line makes a deal with Geoffrey Zakarian, you won’t find him sleeping in a top bunk above the guy who washes produce. So if you aren’t a celebrity chef, be prepared to face a harsh reality of tough conditions at sea.