Holland America Galley Tour

| November 5, 2007

A galley tour on Holland America's Westerdam shows how meals for 1,800 are conceived, cooked and served.

Since culinary indulgence is a big part of the cruise experience, it's only natural to wonder how a cruise ship manages to serve three meals a day to thousands of people. Add in tea service, room service and late night buffets, and it's more like four and a half meals a day -- every day.

Cruise ship sizes, restaurant configurations and passenger loads vary, but we wanted to take a look at a good operation on a medium-sized vessel. So we present our tour of the Holland America Westerdam's galley. Holland America's food service, especially in the dining rooms, and the Pinnacle Grill, have taken tremendous advances in the last few years. The food on their ships is now as good as it has ever been, and the efficiency with which they serve it, hot and fresh, is a testament to their preparation and service system which we will show you below.

Holland America's cuisine is overseen by a renowned culinary artist, chef Rudi Sodamin of Coral Gables, Florida. Sodamin creates the menu and each of the recipes. It is then the responsibility of the executive chef on each Holland America ship to become intimately familiar with each dish and to oversee its preparation on board. On the Westerdam, the executive chef, Andreas Noemayr, not only oversees all the food preparation, he also gives cooking classes in the working demonstration kitchen.

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Asst & Executive Chef   Cooking Demonstration

The Westerdam carries 1,800 passengers, which puts it in the medium-size category. As experienced cruisers know, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has jurisdiction over all cruise ships visiting U.S. ports and inspects their food service and other facilities rigorously on a regular basis. You can find the CDC scores for almost every cruise ship at its web site, along with other information about health issues on cruise ships. Westerdam's most recent CDC score can be read in detail here: Westerdam CDC . The ship scored a very respectable 97 out of 100 -- great, but not perfect.

Our tour was guided by Bart Groeneveld, director of culinary operations on the Westerdam. We started with the storage area on the lower A-deck. This area has three refrigerators, five freezers, three thawing rooms, and three dry stores. This was on day five of our seven-day cruise, so most of these lockers were almost empty. The ship is provisioned for a full cruise every Sunday in its home port of Ft. Lauderdale. To keep the onboard food as fresh as possible, and minimize the need for storage space, the goal is to carry only enough food for the current cruise. The exceptions are sealed containers of condiments and dry goods, and the beer and wine selections, which they keep well stocked.

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Bart Groeneveld   Cold Storage
Butcher Block   Frozen Meat

The ship has an onboard butcher shop. Most meat is delivered to the ship in large pieces that need to be cut into personal portions. Much of the meat, especially the beef, is fresh. Some of it arrives frozen, such as lamb from New Zealand.

Cold Storage Though this next room is oddly close to the butcher shop, I wouldn't read much into it since all the cold storage is in one place: We saw a door marked "Coffin Store," and since the sign on the door says it must be kept at 39 degrees, I don't think it means they have coffins for sale inside. We were assured the room was empty, though we were not invited to look. There are separate rooms for condiment storage, beer and soda, and wine, champagne and various spirits. Some rooms for specific kinds of food that can be prepared in advance are near these lockers. These include the bakery, which runs nearly 24 hours a day; the vegetable preparation; the butcher shop; and the poissonier (fresh fish preparation). The butcher and fish areas cut the meat into individual portions, but they do not cook it. Also on this deck is the waste management operation, since it is best kept away from the food preparation.

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Coffin Store   Beer and Soda Storage

The baker and his staff prepare daily more than 20 kinds of bread products, including 120 loaves of sandwich-type bread, 100 loaves of French bread, 4,000 dinner rolls, 800 croissants, and 800 Danish and sweet rolls. The only things they do not make themselves are hamburger and hot dog buns, just because it is easier to buy them.

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Scoring the Dough   Racks of Bread   Immaculate Vegetable Prep

The Galley Assembly Line The A-deck storerooms and waste management area are connected to the galley area one deck above by two dedicated elevators, The galley, where all the food is cooked, is an amazing operation: It resembles a Ford assembly line, but with tasty gourmet sauces being added to fine cuts of meat instead of fenders going on to model-Ts.

The galley is laid out for maximum efficiency, based on years of experience. The key here is coordinating all the elements of a great meal. Fresh food and clean plates both must arrive at the preparation areas with precise timing. Once a dish is prepared, it must be quickly available to the waiters who glide by to pick it up -- and ideally have a minimum number of steps to deliver it to diners in the restaurant.

At one end of the galley is the dishwashing area. All items are cleaned immediately after they return from the dining room. Dinnertime requires two people just to wash the glassware and seven to wash the dishes. Add the foreman and a helper for room service and other dining venues, and dishwashing alone requires 11 people on duty. Every day -- which typically lasts 10 to 11 hours -- they wash approximately 3,000 dinner plates, 7,000 dessert plates, 2,000 side plates, 5,000 glasses and any possible number of ramekins, dish covers, cutlery and trays.

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Gathering Dishes   Storage for Clean Dishes

Close by is the coffee brewing area, where staff can also fill espresso and cappuccino orders. Next door is the room service preparation center, open 24 hours a day. (This makes tremendous sense to me, since the one thing I require from room service more than anything else is coffee, and lots of it.) The room service area has everything it needs, from food to cutlery, delivery trays and condiments, all in one spot. There is a telephone next to a computer to record incoming orders.

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Room Service - Order Taking   Filling Room Service Orders   Prep Pictures

For room service and throughout the galley, pictures are attached to the walls showing the preparers exactly what each completed dish should look like. Obviously, they are well trained in the preparation of each dish, but to help them remember how big each portion should be, where the sauces go, and how each sprig of parsley must be placed, a picture is worth a thousand words.

The Waiters' Walk The heart of the galley is laid out for efficient food transfer. All waiters enter the galley from the restaurant through one door, walk in one direction down the middle of the galley, and re-enter the restaurant through a different door. Along the way, they can pick up trays and individual servings of all kinds of food as needed.

The first items they see are salads and breads, which can be previously prepared downstairs and then brought up in bulk at dinnertime. Workers in these stations place the items into individual portion dishes and set them on counters for the waiters. Further along, the waiters come to glass-doored refrigerator units on the left, full of salads, cold soups and appetizers. On the right side are several nearly identical food stations, one for each entrée on the menu that night. The cooking areas for these hot food stations are along the perimeter walls of the galley and look almost like separate kitchens for each entree item. As each dish is prepared, it is placed in the "give-out counters" holding vessels for freshly-cooked entrees along the waiters' walkway.

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Waiter's Walk: Salads Left, Entrees Right   Food Stations Cooking area   Food Stations (from exit view)

Typically, primary ingredients like fish, poultry, beef and shellfish are prepared in the same station every night, even though the actual recipe varies. One station might have an oven while another has grills, a rotisserie, or a large cauldron.

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Crab Legs - Pinnacle Grill   T-bone Steak
Baked Alaska - Still Blazing!   Creme Brulé Sampler - Pinnacle Grill

Also inside the galley area on the Westerdam is a separate cooking area for the alternative dining restaurant, Pinnacle Grill. This area has special grills that can cook beef at 1,500 degrees to seal in the juices, cooking them as tenderly as possible. While a lot of food preparation for breakfast and lunch buffets is done on the Lido deck, that which is done in the galley (baked goods, pastries, soups and salads) is taken up to the Lido deck on service elevators.

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Pinnacle Grill 1500-degree Grill   Executive Chef Andreas Noemayr   Prep Pictures

The head chef's office is in the middle of the action, so he can coordinate his administrative duties with his on-site managerial duties. If he sees the need for more beef, for example, he can send a message to the butcher shop downstairs to prepare it right away.

Dirty Water Finally, a word about sanitation and waste management. All cruise ships are subject to regular surprise inspections by the CDC, which looks not only at food management and preparation, but at all kinds of other health matters as well, including waste management. On the Westerdam, biodegradable foods are minced into mulch, which goes down to the garbage room, where it is dried and incinerated. Unfortunately, there is a lot of wasted food on cruise ships -- and no, it isn't given to the crew unless it never made it to the galley in the first place.

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Loading Area A-deck   Sanitation Control A-deck

As for water, the ship makes all of its own drinking water through reverse osmosis from seawater. No, it is not collected or recovered from the ship's "black water" (sewage) or even "gray water" (soapy water from sinks and dishwashers). But they do treat both black and gray water, so that by the time they are through with it, one could drink safely it. (Rumor has it that a prominent Holland America executive has actually demonstrated this fact.) But in the case of the Westerdam, after it is treated they release it back into the ocean.

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Untouched Black Water   Same Water After Treatment

There is a separate galley for crew members, who tend to like much different cuisine than the passengers. There are two Indonesian chefs and one Filipino chef on board for this purpose.

Overview of Westerdam's Food Services Staff and Stores...

Westerdam's galley facilities are state of the art, manned by 153 service staff, as follows:
maître d' hotel 1
Pinnacle Grill manager 1
second maîtres d' hotel 5
head stewards 8
pinnacle grill stewards 10
room service stewards 10
dining room stewards 68
assistant dining room stewards 34
doormen 2
wine stewards 14

Within the galley itself, under the supervision of the executive chef, is a staff of 135 as follows:
executive chef 1
second heat, executive chef 1
sous chefs 4
Pinnacle Grill chef 1
chef de partie 15
bakers 6
pastry chefs 8
butchers 3
assistant cooks 31
apprentice cooks 4
pantry staff 23
kitchen crew 4
chief steward 1
service area foremen 3
general-purpose attendance 29

Here's a general estimate of how much food is consumed weekly:
meat and meat products, 11,830 pounds
Poultry 3,814 pounds
fish 1,875 pounds
seafood 2,575 pounds
butter and margarine 1,675 pounds
fresh vegetables 137,500 pounds
potatoes 7,750 pounds
watermelon 2,300 pounds
eggs 23,040
dairy 5,500 quarts
sugar 950 pounds
individual sugar packets 24,000
rice for crew 3,500 pounds
caviar 20 pounds
flour 3,150 pounds
ice cream 300 gallons

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