by Chief Petty Officer Judy L Silverstein
Special to THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY
It has often been said that maintaining good morale aboard a ship requires a few essential ingredients. For many, that includes delicious food. Aboard Coast Guard Barque Eagle, crewmembers give high marks to the cooking and say it makes the hard work more enjoyable.
“I can honestly say the food is always good here,” says Chief Petty Officer Justin Pickler, mizzenmast captain. “On Eagle, we have a pretty intense schedule and sitting down to a good meal wraps up the day nicely.”
On many cutters, it’s relatively easy to gauge food preferences, making menu planning and ordering food a bit easier. By contrast, Eagle’s vigorous schedule means the trainees swap out frequently. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd class LaNola Stone.
While three daily meals sounds good to most civilians, challenging physical shift work while underway means a fourth meal is necessary. Known as “midrats” – or midnight rations, it helps fuel the crew working the midnight to 4 a.m. watch. It’s been said the provision of midrats dates back to the World War II era, and on Eagle, it is taken seriously.
In turn, the crew is appreciative. On this night, steak and eggs are on the midrats menu. “This is awesome and it really keeps you going,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Kyle Thomas. His sentiments were echoed throughout the mess deck. That is something Petty Officer 1st Class Randal Torske, a food service specialist, enjoys hearing.
The senior galley supervisor, Torske says his work is all about keeping the crew happy. The provision of four meals and snacks each day requires meticulous coordination, well-orchestrated cooking, and long hours of work. Food service specialists are often the first to report to work and the last to hit the rack. While the galley crew of five says cooking for 57 permanent crew members can be challenging while in port, the addition of 160 trainees raises the intensity while underway.
However, Torske’s recipe for success includes perfecting the basics, serving a variety of foods and having healthy snacks available throughout the day. It is obvious that his team shares a collaborative passion for their assignment and all love to cook.
Although their day started well before dawn, the food service crew is still busily working at 10 p.m. in preparation for midrats. Replenishing the fresh fruit, baking 16 loaves of bread and six sheets of fresh foccacia for the next day, the cooks remain attentive and cheerful, even at this late hour.
“Customer service is one of our top goals and we really strive to make everyone happy,” said Chief Petty Officer Tom Willard, the food service officer aboard Eagle.
As the crew began streaming in for midrats, a delicious smell wafted through the mess deck, eliciting smiles. Two mess cooks deliver some of the piping hot, caramelized cinnamon buns to those topside who are standing watch in the horizontal rain and 28-knot winds.
Naturally, they’re a big hit. On this stormy night, the cooks are extra careful as the ship heels while riding heavy seas. Torske is only too aware of the extra physical toll it takes on the crew. “It can be challenging to bake and to keep things stabilized when the seas are rolling, but we take every precaution,” he says, as he checks in on the duty cook hard at work in the galley.
He is known to lead the way for the cooks, both through his management skills and his technical prowess in the kitchen. The food service specialists are always balancing safety and food preparation, something Torske emphasizes.
As the ship rocks back and forth, they double-check the latches on cabinets and the freezer. In addition, the cooks are always trying to find extra ways to please the rest of the crew.
On many cutters, it’s relatively easy to gauge food preferences, making menu planning and ordering food a bit easier. By contrast, Eagle’s vigorous schedule means the trainees swap out frequently.
“You can’t easily get a bead on what folks will enjoy eating, since the group aboard with us changes often,” he says. Nonetheless, Torske says adaptability is the best route to a successful operation. His recipe for success is a laser-like focus on cooking the basics really well, an emphasis on variety, fresh ingredients and stellar customer service.
Although their day started well before dawn, the food service crew is still busily working at 10 p.m. in preparation for midrats. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd class LaNola Stone.
His work also involves ordering stores and menu planning six weeks in advance. Yet somehow, he and his crew make it all look easy. However, the numbers make it clear they are a busy crew. In a typical week, they eat 90 pounds of meat, drink 200 gallons of milk, consume 360 eggs, 280 pounds of bananas and use 700 pounds of flour.
As the health promotion coordinator aboard ship, Torske also takes great pains to crafts menus that include a variety of dietary preferences. For example, a recent menu included garden burgers, turkey burgers and hamburgers.
All vegetables are steamed and a wide variety of fresh fruit and salad items are available at every meal. On another day, the menu included a hearty chicken vegetable soup, which received rave reviews from Eagle’s permanent crew and trainees.
It was especially welcome after a particularly blustery and wet morning. Yet for Torske and his team, the support of their shipmates is a great motivator as they ensure all meals, including midrats, are tasty. No matter what the weather is on deck, Torske and his crew can be found cooking up a storm. For more, follow the adventures of Eagle on Facebook!