10,000 Meals a Day

It takes 114 chefs, working in shifts around the clock, to prepare those 10,000 meals. What is this, the looniest TV culinary competition yet? No, it's a cruise ship, a luxury one at that.

Chef German Rijo Rijo of Celebrity Cruise Line
Executive chef German Rijo Rijo of the Celebrity Cruise Line ship Celebrity Summit.
Photo: David Verdini

I recently sailed from Port Liberty in Bayonne to the pink sand beaches of Bermuda aboard the Celebrity Summit. As we crossed the gangway, boarding the ship in Bayonne, we were handed a welcoming glass of champagne.

Once underway, the ship’s executive chef–whose memorable name is German Rijo Rijo–and his staff sought to satisfy every culinary craving of all 2,000 passengers, and do so 24/7.

Also on board were more than 19,000 pounds of vegetables, 16,000 pounds of fresh fruit, 3600 pounds of chicken, 48,000 liters of milk, 3600 fresh eggs and 175 gallons of ice cream, to name a few of the items in the well-stocked larder.

In an industry plagued by outbreaks of gastro-intestinal illnesses, one wonders how it is possible to safely feed so many people in such a constrained environment. In a move aimed at putting passengers at ease, Chef Rijo, as he’s called, and his five brigade managers, led a tour of the galley and food storage areas and answered all questions.

So many people signed up for the tour that they had to be escorted through the facilities in at least a dozen groups. After taking a freight-sized elevator many flights down, we emerged into a huge, stainless-steel wonderland that literally sparkled under its lighting and was filled with crisply uniformed kitchen staff working at many stations, preparing the next meal.

Rijo explained that the ship must comply with the rigorous standards of the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC not only inspects and oversees the kitchen, it also offers passengers a list of tips to stay healthy.

Hand-washing is the top priority for workers and passengers alike. Wherever you turn on the ship you see big antimicrobial gel dispensers, so many that you practically trip over them.

At the buffet, where guests may graze breakfast and lunch throughout the day, I noticed cute little one-serving casserole dishes filled with everything from eggs and French toast to delicious curries and stir-frys. 

"The individual portions reduce the use of tongs and the spread of hand contamination,” explained Rijo.

The masses of meat served at formal dinners in the main dining room and four specialty restaurants are thawed on a schedule that gives the chefs only what they need for each meal or day. Thawed meat does not sit around attracting germs..

The Celebrity cruise line cycles through 14 different dinner menus. Our one-week cruise presented seven of them. Appetizer highlights included white gazpacho with red grapes and twice-baked blue cheese soufflé. An enormous veal chop was our favorite entrée, and a dulce de leche-flavored ‘Catalina’ crème brulee was the best I’ve ever had.

Travelers can pay extra to eat in the smaller, specialty restaurants. The one evening we did this, we found the fare less enticing than the dishes we had been enjoying in the main dining room. The soup was not hot, the salad did not have enough greens, the lobster tail was tough and the soufflé was eggy.

Which brings me to this question: What becomes of all the leftovers?

“All food is discarded within four hours of preparation,” explained Rijo.

The staff clean the buffet, placing paper and other matter into one set of receptacles and uneaten food and food scraps into another set of receptacles. The inorganic matter heads to the incinerator. The organic matter is pulped and dehydrated into what the chef calls “fish food.”

When we sailed into New York harbor and tied up at the ship’s berth in Bayonne, refrigerated eighteen-wheelers were lined up at the dock, waiting to restock the ship for the next group of travelers.



SUZANNE ZIMMER LOWERY is a food writer, pastry chef and culinary instructor at a number of New Jersey cooking schools. Find out more about her at suzannelowery.com.

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