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    This is How You Feed the Navy

  • QSR gets exclusive access aboard the USS Jefferson City, where efficiency and culinary innovation rule.

    Submarines are often under way, or at sea, for weeks if not months at a time, which calls for creative overtime in the kitchen. The ship is bursting with provisions when it’s first deployed, but they dwindle quickly, especially the fresh fare that lasts an all-too-brief 10 days. This is when the fun begins as the men dig deep for any and every new take and twist they can to give their crew variety and different flavors.

    “Flavor and morale are the issue,” Thomas says. “If they’re happy, we’re happy.” They follow Navy guidelines for a three-week menu cycle so ingredients like fresh meat and poultry, starches, and vegetables rotate, but they add further variety by, say, breading the chicken one night and grilling it another. They also like to surprise the crew with something that’s not on the menu, like their oatmeal cookie pie and taco bowls.

    “They love it,” Ramos says. “We do several very creative tactics to maintain happiness.” They crafted the mold for the taco bowls, made with flour tortillas, using a round cylinder plate with a handle they submerge in the fryer.

    They are serious about getting the food right and their efforts don’t go unnoticed. The comment board, which hangs prominently just within the entry to the crew mess hall, displays comment cards where crew members and galley visitors post praises for the galley’s culinary excellence. The multitude of cards vying for space is how word gets outside the sub to attract the frequent attention this galley has come to expect.

    It has been nominated as one of the best submarine galleys in the Navy and has competed against and placed in the top four among more than 100 subs. It also won a Blue E (for excellence) award in its squadron of six submarines. This recognition is hugely significant for the USS Jefferson City, for its galley team, and for each team member. It’s a big accomplishment that builds camaraderie and stokes motivation.

    Foodservice professionals of all sorts understand that food does more than satisfy hunger, and they strive to maximize those pulse points for their customers. A pleasant and comfortable atmosphere and good company, as well as flavorful food, enhance the experience of a meal. This is even more pronounced for a submarine crew whose work, which is among the most difficult in the Navy, takes them away from home and family for long periods of time.

    Meals represent a break, a time to socialize and laugh, and a time to treat the senses to a meal made from scratch that reminds them of home. It’s no surprise that their meals are often the highlight of the day. Crew members stop Ramos all the time to tell him how much they look forward to what’s on the menu.

    The galley team strives to make the experience live up to expectations on all levels. The crew mess is close quarters but lively and pleasant with bright orange picnic-style tables and padded benches to seat 24 (meals are served in shifts), wall décor, a food line, salad bar, coffee station, and ice cream station. Tables are spruced up with cheery vinyl cloths and caddies stocked with sauces and condiments. It’s pleasant, it’s clean, and it’s perhaps the place they most look forward to in their day.

    Precise planning and organization are critical before the Jefferson City goes to sea. A six-month deployment demands an initial food load out of about $150,000, plus five replenishments from ports along the way at about $110,000. That first load-out process when the food is stowed securely or tied down for sea takes three weeks of full-time efforts.

    “We want to maximize that time and space. We depend on it,” Thomas says.

    The ship’s walk-in freezer and adjacent walk-in chill box, which can be converted to a freezer at the beginning of a deployment, are packed with no inch to spare. Dry storage with rows of packaged goods stacked tightly from floor to ceiling is heavily utilized as well.

    The food on the table is always center stage and this team doesn’t disappoint. Ramos works by the mantra he rattles off militaristically: “Food is about appearance, taste, texture, and color. You eat with your eyes.”

    “We’ve never run short, we’ve never had to portion control.”

    He makes sure every dish is garnished and presents well. This team even pays attention to color in the planning stage of each menu with the end result in mind.

    “We go beyond the norm,” Ramos says. The orange chicken, for example, is made from scratch, which they’re not supposed to do, so the glaze has that appealing shimmer. It’s then garnished with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and fresh green onions.

    Attention to this kind of detail is an especially tall order when cooking for a crew of 130 who eat “double of everything,” Ramos says. “That’s 200 portions for 100 people.”

    It simply cannot be done without astute attention to planning and organization. “We pride ourselves on being clean and organized,” Ramos says.

    “We keep it up on a day-to-day basis. These guys are accountable. They know if they don’t make the effort, the others suffer. We’ve never run short, we’ve never had to portion control. We don’t waste either. They do a phenomenal job.”

    Operating consistently at such high efficiency and productivity comes down to this galley team’s attention to every detail involved in fueling the USS Jefferson City.

    This group of six takes foodservice to its fundamentals and proves it can be successful in conditions other kitchens would deem inadequate. Their collective drive to look ahead and always improve shatters basic expectations.