Darren David Lewis is having a lavish dinner party the evening that I met him. The menu sounded phenomenal and included Seared Ahi Tuna Carpaccio, Mediterranean Seafood Chowder, Three-Peppercorn Crusted NY Strip Loin Steak with sage and garlic roasted potatoes, french green beans and sauteed onions and peppers and Sacher Torte (a classic Austrian chocolate cake filled with apricot preserves). As he showed me around his kitchen, I was impressed with just how calm he was – considering he had to serve that to over 2,000 people in a few hours time.
As the Culinary Operations Manager on Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam, serving thousands of meals to 2,100 passengers and 930 crew is a regular workday for Darren and his team. As he showed me around the sprawling kitchens, and the cavernous storerooms, he explained that each take up half the length of the ship and that over 150 people work on preparing the meals and over 200 on serving it.
As Darren whisked me around the galley facility it is clear that he is driven by two things: reducing waste and passenger satisfaction. They are themes that he keeps coming back to throughout the tour. Finding the right combination of both is key to successfully running the culinary service on the Nieuw Amsterdam he explains. Darren takes as much delight in explaining how carefully his team forecast and constantly work to eliminate waste as he does in how they strive to ensure a wonderful food experience.
He proudly explains how a computerised ordering system in the kitchen introduced about four years ago helped to reduce food waste by 45% which meant about $6 million more could be spent on the food consumed. But he also beamed as he showed the vast wall of photographs of every possible dish they can serve on board and how every recipe has been crafted and fine tuned to ensure perfect combinations of taste and on plate appearance every time.
As we sweep past the section dedicated to room service, he told me that his team serve over 350 in-room breakfasts everyday in the space of an hour and a half. With a trip to every corner of the ship taking around seven minutes that is quite a feat for around 20 staff. “More than any land based hotel does”, he proudly announced.
Drawn by the aroma of fresh baking bread and pastries we we charged off to the bakery to meet the jovial Danish head baker. Just three bakers per 12 hour shift make every roll, loaf and pastry on board. The statistics are mind blowing: 300 loaves and 3,000 rolls for every evening meal and 1,000 Danish, 400 croissants and 200 chocolate croissants for every breakfast. All are baked in one oven which seems too small to be able to cope.
We then clattered down a level into the stores. Three forklift trucks and a few motorised trolleys were chained to the wall. On embarkation days they haul on board over $400,000 of supplies from 4 containers that have brought meat and fish from the United States and 6 large truck loads of fresh produce from around Europe. Darren introduced me to Pavel Petrov who is the Stores Manager.
Pavel clearly is delighted to have people visiting his empire. He carefully explained the frantic logistics of embarkation day when he has to get all the stores for the next 7 or 12 night cruise on board – and into the right storeroom before the ship sets sail promptly at 5pm. His life is complicated by the fact that he has to take all the supplies off the wooden pallets they arrive on and put them onto metal ones before storing them as there is a risk that insects could be in the wood. A risk the ship cannot take. He says that Barcelona where we boarded is one of his favourite ports to load supplies in as the team there is so efficient. When pushed he reluctantly admits that Italian ports are lower on his list of ports as they take more time.
He led us off on a whirlwind tour of storerooms – each dedicated to a specific category. We enter rooms filled with alcohol and wines, freezing rooms stocked with meat and fish and another piled high with boxes of fruit from South Africa with a delicious smell of strawberries. He apologies that as we are on a seven day cruise the rooms are not rammed as full as they are on the more usual 12 night cruises, and tells us that on the last day of the cruise the rooms will be empty except for possible the odd box or two. Planning and precision of ordering and the drive to reduce waste ensuring that there is exactly the amount of stores needed for every cruise.
As we head back up to the kitchen, Darren talks about the myriad of rules and regulations they have to work to. Such as customs teams coming on board and checking alcohol once a ship in within 12 miles of land when the ship falls under the local regulations, and how when the ship sails from Europe to the United States they use the European produce on the first four days until the Azores and then make sure they only use American sourced produce after that as the ship cannot bring any European produce into the country.
Sitting down that evening to enjoy my tuna, soup, steak and torte with 2,000 other people in the glamorous dining room made me appreciate my meal even more than on any previous night. The scale, logistics and planning that goes into every item on the plate is almost hard to comprehend. Impressive!
Declaration: I travelled as a guest of Holland America on the Nieuw Amsterdam on a 7-night “Mediterranean Adventure”. All opinions expressed are my own. For more on my experiences visit Tips for Travellers on Holland America.