Cruising in the Far East with HAL: Cooking for a Multitude

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Special by Dennis Cox

ABOARD the WESTERDAM – Jialin has a workout shirt from Oprah’s O Shop, available on all Holland America ships, that says
“Discover Life Exploring the World” which she now wears in fitness classes every morning on cruises. I also try to get my morning exercise with some daily stretching and walking on a treadmill while she is in her class.

BREAKFAST WAITERS IN WESTERDAM DINING ROOM

Following our workout sessions we head for the Dining Room were our friendly waiters from Indonesia serve us a light breakfast of fruit, yogurt or cottage cheese, one hardboiled egg, and an oat bran muffin or pastry. Don’t get the impression that we are fitness nuts. We do all of the former so we can enjoy that last item, as well as all the delicious food to come for lunch and dinner on HAL ships.

GALLEY WORKERS PRODUCING FRESH BAKED GOODS DAILY

To learn more about how quality cuisine is produced to feed several hundred passengers at a time, I am meeting with the friendly head chef on the Westerdam, Bitta Kuruvilla, for a tour of the ship’s galley. Chef Bitta is from Cochin in my favorite part of India, Kerala, known for its Backwaters cruises on rice boats that have been converted to floating hotels.

WESTERDAM’S HEAD CHEF BITTA KURUVILLA

A prize-winning chef who learned his skills working for the Taj Hotel Group in India, Chef Bitta is responsible for all the restaurants on board the Westerdam. 12,000 meals per day in all are served, 7,500 to passengers. The Chef supervises 102 cooks and chefs, 28 cleaning crew, and 6 to 8 who manage provisions.

ONE OF THE SHIP’S PROVISION STORAGE ROOMS

All food and other provisions — vegetables, meats, fish, fruits, baked goods, et al. — are tracked daily by computer. Most are shipped from the United States except fresh produce that is purchased in the cruise’s initial port, in this case Shanghai.

CHEF BITTA KURUVILLA WITH MEAL PLANS FOR CRUISE

Meals for passengers are plotted out for the entire cruise with such precision that each item served comes within ten portions under or over of the 2,000 needed. The estimates vary based on season and cruise itinerary, and demographics, nationalities, and ages of the passengers.
For example, more spicy foods would be required for Southeast Asia and sausages for Europe, according to Chef Bitta.

MEAT CUTTERS IN GALLEY PREPARING STEAKS

The main galley utilizes 16 Self Cooking Centers, versatile ovens that bake, roast, fry, steam, stew, grill, etc. They are programmed to do it all.

There are separate kitchens for The Pinnacle restaurant, room service, the crew, mid-management, and officers and senior management, with menus changing daily for all.

Of special interest to me is that there are five types of French fries served on the ship: steak fries, shoestring, sour cream, sweet potato, and coated. The coated ones are served at the Dive In and are so good I don’t understand the need for the others. Of course the food professionals with their computers know better.

Photos © Dennis Cox / WorldViews, All Rights Reserved


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