Food Aboard the Carnival Valor

March 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

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“First name is blank and he goes on a cruise. He goes on a Caribbean cruise…”

– Michael Scott from The Office in “Dinner Party”

Tom Cruise probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when we think about cruises. We think of old people playing shuffleboard, sunburned sunbathers and, of course, the ridiculous amount of food available 24/7 on a cruise.

Essentially, every meal becomes buffet on the cruise. Pizza ovens are fired up to serve up fresh slices all day and all night. Room service is an added option for cruisers exhausted from port excursions or just plain lazy. Diners can order three appetizers and two entrees at once without hesitation from the server (however, don’t count out dirty looks from nearby Asian families). That means not only guaranteed extra pounds packed on while cruising, but it must be hell in the kitchen. For Carnival Valor maitre d’hotel Ryan Pretorius, hell looks like dishing out 1,800 courses in just 25 minutes for a single meal aboard.

On the Carnival Valor, food and drink is the largest department with a fleet of 550 workers and a kitchen crafted from 2 million dollars of stainless steel (it weighs more than the engine room), Pretorius told a dining room full of eaters – some old, some young nutritionists and some young NYU students on spring break.

Late Sunday night, I returned from a weeklong cruise (spring break senior trip!) where we sailed from port to port, Roatan, Honduras to Cozumel off Mexico. Aside from cave tubing, zip-lining and attempting to tan, I stopped by to chat with Pretorius for an informal talk and tour of the cruise’s kitchen.

To throw out 1,800 dishes requires careful planning and a system. Before cruisers even board the ship, Carnival researches the ages and demographics of its guests to glean food habits and, ultimately, determine the menu. Three weeks before setting sail, Carnival orders its food in bulk from all over the country, but only U.S. food items. They never buy local fruits and vegetables from the destinations they hit – Carnival only serves USDA-approved foods.

In terms of preparation, Carnival turns to the tried and true assembly line. The kitchen is separated into three assembly lines – appetizer, dessert and hot food. Dinner service is organized electronically, so servers can scan a barcode to put their handwritten orders into the dinner line-up. Yet, all this preparation and organization is for naught if it is too expensive to maintain. It boils down to money. This is where the system wins – it only costs the cruise $15 to $16 a day to feed one cruiser. This makes even Costco look expensive.

In any case, the Carnival Valor seems to function like a well-oiled machine – perhaps that’s why it was ranked number one for “Overall Dining Experience” among the rest of Carnival’s cruises. However, where Carnival rounds up its ingredients to make such decadent and bottomless meals, I don’t know. I do know that this slice of kitchen life aboard a cruise made my internal conflict to hold back or gorge myself on the ship a little more interesting.

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