“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Many a cook……...

The ships cook is a wondrous creature, able to conjure up food in the foulest of weather and in circumstances that would try a saint, I have always respected them even if I didn't necessarily show it at the time. During my years at sea I came across all kinds of extraordinary characters who ended up, for better or worse, as ships cooks. In the old days of the British Merchant Navy many cooks were former deck seamen who had grown too old and unfit for their trade and had graduated to the galley. At one time the cook was also expected to act as ships surgeon and hence the nickname "Doc" traditionally given to the cook. The cook/surgeon had mercifully passed into history long before I trod a deck but the hard drinking ex-deckhand was still a respected inhabitant of the galley on many ships when I first worked on coasters. When a new cook arrived you just never knew what to expect. One claimed to have been in the chorus of Ivor Novello's Dancing Years, another had fought in the International Brigade. All had a story to tell and, if you played your cards right, would let you warm your hands on the galley range.
Later on, when I prostituted myself to work on millionaire's yachts, I found the cooks to be no less interesting; but not necessarily any more skilled in the culinary arts. One incident may serve to illustrate this. We were tied alongside one of the Italian ports favoured by the idle rich, I can't remember which one. One evening a very drunk guest appeared in the galley and failed to notice as a diamond bracelet slid from her wrist and fell to the floor. A quick sideways flick of the foot propelled  the piece of tom under a stove to be recovered later. In the morning the loss of the bracelet was noticed - as was the disappearance of the cook. After the port carabinieri had departed with much shrugging of shoulders and wringing of hands attention was focused on the important matter of replacing the cook. The replacement was to prove to be the very embodiment of the myth that all Italians are great chefs. All kinds of gastrocide were committed during his stay on board but perhaps the worst was the time when the evening meal was very late because the meat was "very tough" and was taking an inordinate time to cook. Further investigation revealed a vat of boiling water into which the "cook" had tossed a dozen or so prime T-bone steaks!
I did think about writing a book of favourite recipes with anecdotes of cooks various. I might still do so one day.

1 comment:

mike said...

.Great post Ray,got me laughing.