Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Submarine Cuisine


Jason Perlow
 Share

Recommended Posts

On the Bush Family Cookbook thread, where we discussed its author, a Navy cook, I mentioned that the best food in the entire military is cooked about US Navy subs and that it would be great if we could get one of its chefs on eG Forums to answer some questions -- and what would you know, one just popped up to do just that!

BubbleheadChef serves as head cook and Chief Culinary Specialist aboard the U.S.S Virginia, the first of its class and the most advanced attack submarine in the entire world. Please feel free to ask him questions about submarine cooking and food.

Wikipedia: USS Virginia, SSN-774

Wikipedia: Virginia Class Submarine

I'm going to start -- how extensive are the cooking facilities aboard the Virginia?

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'll go, too.

How prevalent is it that sailors ask for "Food just like <insert fast-food chain restaurant name here"?

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Many years ago I was involved in that area, but as a civilian contractor. We were doing research and comissioning equipment that involved lengthly sea trials.

I have nothing but admiration for those chefs. Food (and drink - the UK navy is not dry) is extremely important for morale, and a key element on a long tour of duty. They turn out amazing food in from very cramped conditions, day after day.

Edited by jackal10 (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Do the tour lengths vary quite a bit and does the food you serve depend on the tour length? If you can comment, what was the longest tour without any type of re-stocking?

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My husband served on a ballistic sub, and has mentioned many times that the food is the best in the services. Sub duty is tough, and the small things count big. Like a good meal. It's a measure of how they take care of the men while on long missions.

He said the tought part is when the fresh stuff is used up, so he missed salads and such towards the end of a tour. Also, many guys brought onboard one thing they really, really enjoyed. You can't bring much. His "treat' was diet coke. He allowed himself one can per week, usually on movie night. His CO always brought Catalina French dressing.

He loved the "sliders". Do they still serve them up?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A friend of mine was stationed in Iraq last summer and reported that the military offered a lot of really great desserts. He said that everybody there is expected to be on duty 24/7, so there are no chances to take a break and kick back with a beer like there might be for soldiers based in the US with a short weekend leave. So they offered lots of desserts as a sort of something special under the circumstances. I imagine being stationed on a sub would be similar, plus the fish-bowl atmosphere probably leads to a lot of stress after a few weeks at sea. How do you address this via the kitchen? Do you pile on the sweets as well?

I'm also really interested in the supplying questions. What kind of storage space do you have on board? How do you assess your supply needs when you're docked before taking off on a mission? Can you resupply at various international ports, or only on US grounds? Do you just order a bunch of raw ingredients and then figure out while at sea how to use them, or are you setting all your menus before you place your orders?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I worked on submarines for years as a defense contactor employee and a consultant. I remember helping to load on food before a deployment, standing in a line and passing crates of stuff across the brow and down the hatch.

I also remember they used to get some real good fresh stuff for the first few days of a deployment (crates of live lobsters, nice steaks, fresh veggies, etc.) because they knew that after a while it's down to the cans and freezer.

Does it still go like that?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Welcome.

While we home cooks do not face anything like the challenge of being at sea, many of us do have difficulty getting out to markets for fresh produce on a timely basis. What can you teach us about stocking the pantry and freezer to make tasty and nourishing meals when the crisper drawers are empty? Further, do you have any special tricks to extend the life of fresh food? Thank you for agreeing to join us for a chat.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just thinking of the number of times I set off our smoke alarm when roasting meat (from browning rather than burning the meat, I should point out), are there certain dishes that you simply can't cook in a sub due to alarm systems etc that are integral to the security of the vessel?

PS

Edinburgh

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I guess there must be specific requirements regarding service people who can serve on subs, but what about diet restrictions due to allergies or relgious beliefs? It would seem difficult to accomodate many different diet requirements given the relatively limited storage space of the submarine.

Also can you discuss the latitude you have in planning meals? Are there 'standard' submarine menus or does it vary quite a bit from sub to sub? I guess there must be minimum (and also maximum?) caloric requirements. Are there other special considerations due to considerations such as lack of exposure to sunlight and restricted physical activity? If there are requirements, do they extend beyond caloric requirements and include percentages of protein and/or other nutrients and vitamins?

Thanks in advance for considering our questions, BubbleheadChef. This is a fascinating topic! I grew up in CT but have unfortunately never yet taken the opportunity to visit a sub at the bases there. (My dad always raved about his food in the Navy; this was back in the 50's).

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wow! Who knew there would be so much interest? I'll do my best to answer all of your questions, but with my hectic schedule it may take a couple days to respond to everybody. Also, please remember that all of my responses are MY point of view and DO NOT IN ANY WAY reflect the Navy's. (Had to add the disclaimer, LOL)

First, Jason.

The facility provided us onboard Virginia are absolutely first rate. On previous classes of submarines, it seemed as if the galley (kitchen), crew's mess (the dining area), and storage space were all afterthoughts. On Virginia, the galley is spacious, well lit, well appointed with 2 convection ovens, a 2 basket deep fat fryer, 5 gallon stand mixer, two 20 gallon steam jacketed kettles, and a great work triangle. I have enough room to carry approximately 110 days of dry and frozen food. I am only able to carry about 2 weeks of fresh fruits and vegetables and about 1 week of fresh milk. I do have the ability to carry shelf stable milk, not so lovingly referred to as "plastic cow". It doesn't require refrigeration and will stay "fresh" for up to 6 months in my storerooms. I have storerooms scattered throughout the boat to keep my cans of food stowed and out of the way. I am looking to see if I have any pictures of the galley, but cameras aren't real prevalent, so I'll see what I have to give you a better idea.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'll go, too.

How prevalent is it that sailors ask for "Food just like <insert fast-food chain restaurant name here"?

You don't hear them ask for food just like __________, but you do get a lot of "on my last boat, the cooks did _______. Can you add that to the menu?". That being said, it never fails to amaze me that the first thing a lot of the guys do when arriving to port, no matter WHERE it is, is to find a McDonalds or whatever fast food there is. Think "Cheeseburger in Paradise". My menus which are written for 4 meals a day for 35 days generally include 2 entrees, 1 or 2 starches, 2 Vegetables, a home made soup, and a home made dessert. You will hear a lot of guys say they eat better on the boat than they did growing up. That would lead me into a conversation on how sorry the state of "family dinner's" has gotten but I will reserve that for another time.

Sorry about starting to ramble, its been a long day, I hope I answered your question.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Many years ago I was involved in that area, but as a civilian contractor. We were doing research and comissioning equipment that involved lengthly sea trials.

I have nothing but admiration for those chefs. Food (and drink - the UK navy is not dry)  is extremely important for morale, and a key element on a long tour of duty. They turn out amazing food in from very cramped conditions, day after day.

Thanks a lot for the kind words. We try.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Do the tour lengths vary quite a bit and does the food you serve depend on the tour length?  If you can comment, what was the longest tour without any type of re-stocking?

Our mission is always different, so the amount of time we are deployed always varies as well. It can be as short as a few days or as long as 9 months. We are required to keep between 45 and 90 days of food on board at all times. I have gone as long as 40 days without getting any food drops but I know of guys that have gone as long as 50 to 60 days. It makes for some very "interesting" menu changing to support what you have.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Bubbleheadchef, could you post a sample week's menu? Also, how many sailors can eat at a time in Virginia's mess? And how many "seatings" do you have daily?

I assume also you don't have to boil water or keep water, since the Virginia has a desalination system and instant-hot water as a byproduct of the turbine and nuclear reactor heat exchange, right?

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My husband served on a ballistic sub, and has mentioned many times that the food is the best in the services. Sub duty is tough, and the small things count big. Like a good meal. It's a measure of how they take care of the men while on long missions.

He said the tought part is when the fresh stuff is used up, so he missed salads and such towards the end of a tour. Also, many guys brought onboard one thing they really, really enjoyed. You can't bring much. His "treat' was diet coke. He allowed himself one can per week, usually on movie night. His CO always brought Catalina French dressing.

He loved the "sliders". Do they still serve them up?

THE SUBMARINE FORCE WILL NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER QUIT SERVING SLIDERS !!!! For everybody else, sliders is the Sailor's name for Hamburgers. Back in the bad old days, the burgers had so much grease in them, they would just slide down your throat. We get a much better product now, but the name stuck.

We still have a problem with keeping fresh on board fast attack submarines, the boomers shouldn't have a problem if they load properly, but that may cause more than a few arguments depending on who reads this! After 60 days straight underway, you really start to miss things like lettuce or fresh carrots or fresh broccoli or cucumbers. A lot of guys bring thier "treat" but for the most part if they ask me for it, I bring it for them. No use them spending thier money on stuff I can order.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you so much for answering these questions! THis is a fascinating topic.

I was wondering about air quality in the kitchen. What kind of filtration system does a sub kitchen use? With 4 meals a day it must get quite a workout.

If only Jack Nicholson could have narrated my dinner, it would have been perfect.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

the boomers shouldn't have a problem if they load properly

For those who don't understand the terminology: "Boomer" is slang for SSBN, or nuclear ballistic missile sub, whereas the USS Virginia is an SSN, an attack sub, or a submarine designed to kill enemy Boomers, enemy SSNs or other ships. A "Boomer" is much larger than an attack sub, therefore having more storage capability.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A friend of mine was stationed in Iraq last summer and reported that the military offered a lot of really great desserts. He said that everybody there is expected to be on duty 24/7, so there are no chances to take a break and kick back with a beer like there might be for soldiers based in the US with a short weekend leave. So they offered lots of desserts as a sort of something special under the circumstances. I imagine being stationed on a sub would be similar, plus the fish-bowl atmosphere probably leads to a lot of stress after a few weeks at sea. How do you address this via the kitchen? Do you pile on the sweets as well?

I'm also really interested in the supplying questions. What kind of storage space do you have on board? How do you assess your supply needs when you're docked before taking off on a mission? Can you resupply at various international ports, or only on US grounds? Do you just order a bunch of raw ingredients and then figure out while at sea how to use them, or are you setting all your menus before you place your orders?

We don't necessarily pile on the desserts, with limited space to excercise, that wouldn't exactly be condusive to looking professional with our bellies hanging out over our belts! We do however try to vary things up by doing special occasion meals or puttiong out snacks for the guys that are not on watch. I like to use the leftover bread, some tomatoes, garlic, etc and make a bruschetta for instance. Or I will specially order some comfort foods like corndogs or something to just cook off and put out for the guys. We have a soft serve ice cream machine that runs for 23 hours a day and on the shorter runs I have the ability to load bulk ice cream from Breyers or Ben and Jerry's to put out for the guys. Every sunday we do a surf and turf meal with roast prime rib and lobster, crab legs, shrimp scampi, or a blackened fish (usually tuna or salmon, its much easier to store for long periods of time and the freezing doesn't kill the flavor).

As for how I decide how much to load out. I have a set 5 week menu that repeats. Once a quarter, I do a menu review board to try to change the menu a bit, but it pretty much stays the same as far as what type of meats, veggies, and starches I use, so I do simple math for each line item and figure out an "average daily usage" of the product and order that amount. For instance, if I am going to serve 300 lb or prime rib in thirty days, I divide 300 by 30 days and come up with 3.0 lbs/day. If I am ordering for 45 days and don't have any prime rib on board, I multiply 45 days by 3.0 and come up with 135 lbs needed for 45 days. I do that will all of my food and just keep an inventory on hand and when I get to 30 days of food left, I drop my order to keep my stock levels up where I want them.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I worked on submarines for years as a defense contactor employee and a consultant.  I remember helping to load on food before a deployment, standing in a line and passing crates of stuff across the brow and down the hatch.

I also remember they used to get some real good fresh stuff for the first few days of a deployment (crates of live lobsters, nice steaks, fresh veggies, etc.) because they knew that after a while it's down to the cans and freezer. 

Does it still go like that?

We still pass all our food hand over hand down to the storerooms and freezer and chill box. It takes awhile but the entire crew is there helping so with all the banter going on, it isn't too bad. We still load out as much fresh as we can, and our freezers have gotten bigger, but it is still a lot of canned vegetables and dehydrated things. Towards the end of the run, you start craving ANYTHING FRESH, but we all understand it is the nature of the beast. However, if I don't have fresh milk and veggies on the pier upon arrival, I better run off because they are going to lynch me.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Welcome.

While we home cooks do not face anything like the challenge of being at sea, many of us do have difficulty getting out to markets for fresh produce on a timely basis.  What can you teach us about stocking the pantry and freezer to make  tasty and nourishing meals when the crisper drawers are empty?  Further, do you have any special tricks to extend the life of fresh food?  Thank you for agreeing to join us for a chat.

The best trick is use is to use menu's that dont require a specific cut of meat or something. For instance, I load out on rib eye roll and use it for stew, grilled steaks, stir fry, philly cheesesteak sandwiches, etc. As far as keeping fresh vegetables fresher, longer there really isn't much I can do. I try to use those "food saver" (I think that is what they are called) bags, but when you have 120 lbs of lettece, it is difficult to keep them fresh. One other thing I use a lot is a vacuum sealer. Things like bell peppers and things like that I'll julienne and then vacuum seal them.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just thinking of the number of times I set off our smoke alarm when roasting meat (from browning rather than burning the meat, I should point out), are there certain dishes that you simply can't cook in a sub due to alarm systems etc that are integral to the security of the vessel?

We don't have anything we aren't allowed to do except use open flame, and the exhaust system we use is intense to say the least. However, if we are cooking something that may have some sort of sharp odor, we call up to the control room and let them know so they don't call away a fire.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Will you please describe your training as a navy cook, and explain if you receive any specialized training for the submarine force in addition?

He who distinguishes the true savor of his food can never be a glutton; he who does not cannot be otherwise. --- Henry David Thoreau
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I guess there must be specific requirements regarding service people who can serve on subs, but what about diet restrictions due to allergies or relgious beliefs?  It would seem difficult to accomodate many different diet requirements given the relatively limited storage space of the submarine.

Also can you discuss the latitude you have in planning meals?  Are there 'standard' submarine menus or does it vary quite a bit from sub to sub?  I guess there must be minimum (and also maximum?) caloric requirements.  Are there other special considerations due to considerations such as lack of exposure to sunlight and restricted physical activity?  If there are requirements, do they extend beyond caloric requirements and include percentages of protein and/or other nutrients and vitamins?

Thanks in advance for considering our questions, BubbleheadChef.  This is a fascinating topic!  I grew up in CT but have unfortunately never yet taken the opportunity to visit a sub at the bases there.  (My dad always raved about his food in the Navy; this was back in the 50's).

We make every effort to comply with religious and allergy restrictions, but it isn't always feasable. On my last boat, we did a guy that was jewish and wouldn't eat the restricted foods and when we knew he was up if we couldn't offer him something on the regular menu, we would just make him a grilled cheese sandwich or something to hold him so he didn't go hungry. One of the things that I like to do for my crew is have an idea of what religious holidays will be coming up and have something special for them to commemerate. Make a challah or get a kosher cook book and make something appropriate.

As far as the menu goes, once a year we submit our menu's to a dietician for review to get an idea of where we should tweak the menu in in regards to health concerns.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...