Inside the Kitchen of the Queen Mary 2

croissants

The phrase “runs a tight ship” isn’t applicable anywhere more than in the kitchens of an ocean liner. When you’ve got over two thousand guests to feed, plus a staff of around a thousand or so, a “tight ship” is essential. But also having the right temperament to deal with various needs that might arise is important, especially when you’re dealing with a multicultural staff, special events, nearly a dozen kitchens, and – well, you name it, it’s likely the kitchen staff on the Queen Mary 2 has seen it.

pancettachef klaus
kitchen equipmentbeef

Chef Klaus Kremer has been with the company for twenty-three years, and stands at the helm of the nine kitchens on board. And I’m sure if you sat down with him for a while, he could tell you stories of all he’s seen. I spent some time with him and I’d venture to say, for most of those twenty-three years, he likely hasn’t had much time to take a seat.

computer menumaking sauce
ribspuff pastry

Handling the needs of thousands of passengers and crew members is a major task and orders are sent into the kitchen by waiters, where each dish is displayed on a screen for the kitchen staff then promptly prepared in the gleaming stainless steel kitchens. Each morning the crew starts from scratch; I was surprised when Chef Kremer took me on an extensive tour of the kitchens during his hectic day and told me that no mixes or bases were used in any of the food served on the ship.

sweet potato chipsshaping bread
pain de mieice cream scoops

(Guests are welcome to tour the main kitchen during a certain period and because they can’t shut down the kitchen for the tour, Chef Kremer told me, “The guests form a single line that snakes through the kitchen…about six or seven hundred guests. It’s quite a sight!”)

pancetta circles

Each morning the bones from the previous evening are made into stock. And although they didn’t use my leftovers, we were served very good pork ribs for dinner one night with real corn on the cob. Just for that lunch alone, the kitchen marinated 220 racks for the various diners on board.

plate line upplating up food
fish dishice cream scoops

On a single week-long journey, the kitchen goes through 12 tons of beef, seafood, and chicken. And that’s 12 tons of each. All the beef is American because the chef likes the consistent quality (like quite a few chefs outside of the states, I’ve discovered, do) and there is a dedicated butchering room to handle all the steaks and beef that pass through the kitchen.

It’s almost incomprehensible how many meals they turn out each day, cooking a majority of the food to order. But what impressed me the most – even more than the butter and ice sculptors at work – were the bread and pastry stations.

butter sculpturesbakery rolls
weighing doughbutter sculptures1

All the rolls, breads, and pastries served on the ship are made from scratch – as well as the buttery scones, using the British flour they stockpile when in the port of Southampton. The kitchen rolls out eight hundred croissants per day and over a thousand scones. Which means that only half of the guests on the boat have a scone in the afternoon. (Which makes me wonder – what the heck is wrong with the other half of the guests who don’t have one?)

puff pastry sheets

Chef Kremer got his start in pastry, which is why he insists that everything be made from scratch and when I told him that I learned to make puff pastry by hand (without a rolling machine), he was a bit stunned. But then again, I wasn’t making thousands of pastries a day.

One interesting tidbit he shared was that he never drinks and has never smoked. And whenever the ship docks, he hops on his mountain bike and heads toward the nearest hill to climb. So I can see where he got his drive to overcome such odds of running such a massive organization with so many people and menus to keep track of.

flourquiche
unmolding quichebrownie

He said when he was eleven he tasted a sip of beer, didn’t like it, and never touched the stuff again. (Although he adds certain liquors to foods, like Cointreau in fruit salad, and so forth.) And he also told me that the staff knows he is German, which keeps everyone in line: even though he was completely calm and at ease, I could imagine if there is a problem he takes care of it swiftly and efficiently. He confided that although he doesn’t drink or smoke, like any chef, he does know how to yell ; )

After seeing a bit behind the scenes, it just made me realize how dedicated and focused one has to be to prepare and cook for a transatlantic journey such as this. The QM2 is the only passenger ship that crosses the Atlantic and most of the time, I just gaze off into the distance, unable to even see the horizon, and am awestruck at how vast the great ocean is. While teams of cooks are down below, waking up early to roll and bake brioche and croissants.

While they were all cooking, last night I saw what I thought was a glimmer of lights way, way off in the distance. There’s no birds or anything out here, and we haven’t passed another boat since we shoved off from the coast of Southampton last week.

Atlantic Ocean

As I pondered before, it’s both eerie and exciting to be so far removed from anything. But we’re all eating well, thanks to a hard-working kitchen staff. (The Kaiserschmarrn, the classic Austrian dessert, composed of a broken up pancake with roasted red plums for dessert at today, was particularly delicious…as was the all-American Boston Cream “Cake”.) New York seems to far away, I can’t see anything but water and sky. Yet it’s reassuring to know that somewhere on this ocean liner, something like a batch of fresh scones is waiting to be baked off in the kitchen for our next meal. And if anyone doesn’t want theirs, well..I’ll take it.

scones



Related Posts and Links

Aboard the Queen Mary 2

Crossing the Atlantic

The Manic Job of Cooking for the Masses (New Zealand Herald)


(Note: This trip was hosted by the Cunard cruise line.)

84 comments

  • David, thank you very much for writing about your voyage and taking the time to keep us up to date even during such a trip! Great posts, very interesting! Wish I had the kind of money to go for a trip like this :)

    Mark

    P.s.: teach ‘em “the perfect scoop” :-P

  • Great article! Fun to talk a behind the scenes look at such a large, made-from-scratch production without having to do the work.

  • Fabulous!!! Thanks so much for posting — wow, everything looks so delicious.

  • F___ing unbelievable! I’m shocked that such quality exists on such a large scale.

  • So cool to get a behind the scenes look. I’m more than impressed by the fact that everything is made from scratch and cannot believe that half of the ship isn’t eating those scones!

  • You learned how to make puff completely by hand? My respect for you has skyrocketed. I can’t imagine making puff without a sheeter. I recognized the four-fold before I even got to the words!!

  • I don’t much like cruises, but I think I’d like this one. Thanks for a great post. It’s so much fun to “see” what goes on behind the scenes from someone who knows what they are looking at. What an impressive kitchen!

  • Lovely. It brings to mind when I worked in a banquet hall and watched the chefs churn out meals for 350 guests in one go.

    Although I must say, if I was on board, I wouldn’t have a scone in the afternoon. No gluten, you see. But I would enjoy snaking through the kitchen, sneaking glances at those sweet potato chips. Everything is made fresh, you say? Yum.

  • So.
    An American eats an Austrian dish from a German run kitchen on a British themed ship.
    That is why I love the Cruise industry. The United Nation of Foodies.

  • We went on a cruise for our honeymoon a few years back, and I’ll admit I was one of the passengers who lined up to see the tour of the kitchen. The amount of food a ship goes through is astounding, but what I found out to be most upsetting about the numbers is how much of it is thrown away. I actually read some frightening stats in a book called Wasted Food by Jonathan Bloom. Of course, I totally ordered four separate dinners one night on our cruise to sample the sides, so I am definitely not blameless in this one.

  • I’m in awe of the scale of things. . . .my SIL is a chef and I always wondered how do you cook for that many. Looks like a wonderful, wonderful trip.

  • Did you figure out how many kilos (or tons) of butter and sugar they go through each week?

    Thats a lot of meat. It works out to be about 1,5 kg/person/day (meat and bones included). If we exclude vegetarians and just count meat thats a lot per person.

  • You are so lucky to have gotten the personalized kitchen tour; I’ve taken a couple of the ones that have 700 people snaking through the galley, and it’s not nearly as interesting. BTW, several cruise lines cross the Atlantic at least twice a year – they are re-positioning cruises, from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean, and the crossing portion takes seven days also. I took one last year with Celebrity and it was great – never having to feel like you had to get off the ship and “tour” – because you couldn’t!

  • That kitchen there seems like the playground of the insane, both intensely fun and terrifying at the same time!

  • Tea and scones in the afternoon how fabulous! The kitchens look truly amazing, If only all hotels were run like this! I expect with all that noshing you’re making full use of the pool and gym!

  • Even the endless row of waiting empty plates was unbelievable.

  • Like Maryford, I know there are other one-way cruises available and I will will take one sometime, but I wonder if any of them can possibly measure up to the QEII. This sounds such an incredible adventure and that you are enjoying it as it should be enjoyed. Good for you.

  • Yum Yum! I wish I were there with you.

  • yum! I’ve never done a cruise because I always pictured it being the same as an all inclusive resort, hoards of families and sub par food, but due to the low costs of cruising, I’ve been reconsidering. After seeing these photos and learning that everything is made from scratch, Cunard is certainly at the top of my consideration list

    • Yes, they’re all different. I’ve done one other one, plus a large sailboat, and I think that one needs to choose an option that works best for you, and your budget. Obviously there’s not going to be hoards of families on a transatlantic crossing (although there are some kids) – but the vibe is definitely more relaxed.

  • Fun reading as usual; I wish your site had an “atta boy” button or something else of the sort, so I could compliment you without words, because each entry is so complete in itself. Thanks, David.

    • Thanks Naomi~ It’s a bit challenging writing and connecting online here due to satellite communications. So uploading things (including lots of images) is a bit tricky. Glad you’re enjoying the posts : )

  • Savor every moment! What a glorious trip! And thank you for sharing it with us!

  • Oh Cunard, Cunard — over here. I’m the one with the green face — not from sea sickness but envy. If you want to send me across the Atlantic let me know and I’ll send you my address. David, you lucky you. Just wish I could be with you! *Sigh. Cry.*

  • I never knew and never imagined that while crossing the seas one would wake to a breakfast of croissants made from scratch.

    Regarding Kaiserschmarrn, I always feel that “broken up pancake” does not quite justice to what is almost as fluffy as a soufflé when it is done right. Should you ever come to Vienna, I am ready to cook some for you.

  • Sensational! I love Simon Bryant in Oz and his kitchen is/was similar. Huge respect for quality and quantity as it really puts home cooking into perspective. Enjoy!

  • How do you handle the time zone issue as it would constantly change. Do you have to regularly adjust your watch? On the trans Siberian railway they work with Moscow time throughout. It solves one problem but also creates confusion

  • Thanks for putting all the work and amount of product into perspective. How fortunate you are to get a real behind-the-scenes look at it all.
    LL

  • I feel like such a mother hen here, I just want to say take some real time off and enjoy yourself, we’re all still gonna be here…but I guess like most every other self-employed person I know there’s no such thing as a total disconnect.

    I’ve been on a couple of cruises…The very first thing I did was order a bourbon, I highly recommend it to anyone who’s never been. I was also the only one actually taking notes during the crash course on how to find the lifeboats in case of emergency class they gave us. I did spend a lot of time talking with the crew too. Any guy with 6 kids who hails from Ethiopia and finds himself on a cruise ship as the entertainment guy has an interesting story to tell. And, he was quite a dancer.

    Enjoy yourselves, work will come soon enough.

  • Great article; the butter sculptures are amazing! You called it the QEII, shouldn’t it be the QMII?

  • When I was a kid I got to cross the Atlantic 4 times on the USS Constitution, USS Independence and the QE2. Even then I knew the food was special – had snails for the first (and only) time aboard ship. There were 2 seatings for the 3 main meals of the day, and then more for any excuse that needed it -brunch,tea time in the afternoon, consume, and snacks via room service any time. Sad to hear there’s only one ship making the crossing these days. Thanks David.

  • This is like a fairy tale! Especially the long conga line of people dancing through the kitchens. Do they serve “Popeye the Sailor Man Spinach”?

    Several years ago I named a database that I created to hold all the info for our “Survivor Mitzvah Project” QUEEN MARY. We are always saying things like “look in the QM” or “fix it in the QM”, so it is a mindbender to be vicariously traveling on the r-e-a-l QM, thanks to your wonderful blog and all the great comments thereon.

  • Travel by ship is so incredibly relaxed. No rush-rush, just plenty of time to arrive ready at your destination.

    In college I went around the world by ship on Semester at Sea for 100 days and actually came to America at 3 years old on an Italian immigrant ship from New Zealand via Australia, South Africa & London. It is a wonderful experience not easily replicated.

    Thanks for your wonderful kitchen observations. Don’t forget to watch for the green flash!

  • The choreography of such massive service staggers my imagination. I even find it difficult to imagine how restaurants manage to get all the food out on time and hot. I would relish that kitchen tour. Glad you managed to take such good photos. Take some time out to breathe in that sea air.

  • I don’t think there’s any place more relaxing than being on a boat. How lucky to get a peek at the kitchen and a chat with the chef. Lucky you!

  • WOW David! I am jealous. You had so much fun there. And those croissant are asking to take a bite. How did you manage to accomplish this?

  • GREAT PICTURES, DAVID – WE WENT ON THIS CRUISE AND YES, THE FOOD WAS EXCEPTIONAL AND SO WAS THE SHIP. SUZANNE AND ED

  • Great once again David! Who in their right mind would not want a freshly baked scone! Especially if one is on vacation! The food looks fantastic!

    Does the menu for dinner change everyday? or does it stay the same and you can just choose different meal every day?

  • Absolute bliss to read about. The quality of that kitchen!
    In rough weather one imagines horrible situations with hot liquids wetting floors and burning cooks.
    DID YOU HAVE A MILLEFEUILLE?? A taste of heaven?

  • A long time ago I worked under a chef who’d spent years afloat on ocean liners. He kept me enthralled with all his tales. Life under decks was pretty hard. The brigade had to wash their own uniforms daily and starch them in water previously used for boiling rice.Where did they keep all that rice water and where did they hang the jackets & toques, I wonder.

  • Thanks for sharing!!!this article is so great!!!

  • When the link didn’t work, I thought, Oh my, the QE2 has sunk!

  • Very interesting, and nice photos! Thanks!

  • For the celiacs, they do a wonderful job with gluten-free food. I traveled on the QM2 a couple of years ago. They would have my lunch and dinner menus for the next day for me for dinner, so I could choose what I wanted, and they figured out how to make it gluten-free! They even made a special gluten-free tea for me!

    (My tablemates also liked getting sneak peeks of the next night’s offerings)

  • Nice article, good to see the real life on board the QM2. A real lesson of organization! :)

  • Thanks for today’s blog. I always enjoy all your writings, but as I am in love with Cuanrd and the QM2, these current blogs and photos, are expecially delightful!! A year ago today I was disembarking in Southampton, making my way up to London for a wonderul week there.

  • I have so enjoyed reading all that you write David. Whether it be about food, people and places or travel, you have a very special way of making one feel that they are an important part of your life. Do you take all the photos yourself? They are beautiful! I feel like I have had scones and croissants for breakfast this morning, and the smell of the ocean air as I feel the boat move through the water is heavenly. Thanks for taking us on your journey.

  • So enjoying your posts from the QE2 – thank you!

  • No pre-mixed stuff? I just found my cruise & my favorite chef on earth.

  • Wow, what a great post! It certainly gives a new appreciation for the behind-the-scenes work and consideration that goes into making a cruise pleasurable.

  • This is something I had never thought about doing before, but after seeing your pictures and reading your descriptions it is definitely going on my “must do” travel list.

  • Thank you for writing about your trip. I have really enjoyed these posts.

  • Fascinating tales shipboard.
    A couple joined our painting workshop in Maine and whined about having to wear a Tux four times onboard the QM2.
    I immediately asked them if they were in ‘Princess’?
    They were.
    I felt very au courrant thanks to you David :)

  • you had me at the prep notes on that station. then i scrolled down to the actual food photos and immediately clicked over to the cunard site.

    you are the only one who could make a cruise sound appealing to me. here’s to the feeling of being trapped. thanks!

  • Such a civilized way to travel…

  • Wow! What a kitchen. I’m glad you are showing us how nice it is. I’d written off taking a cruz because of all the news in the past several years about foodborn illness on so many of the cruise ships. It’s nice they let people take a stroll through the kitchen to see for themselves how clean it is.

  • This post was totally fascinating! I really love your blog….maybe I’ll see you when I’m in Paris this fall! I should be so lucky! Safe travels!!!

  • Wow David! What an amazing experience!

  • Wow! You have some beautiful Pictures!

  • Your writing seems more relaxed, peaceful even. The sea air is doing you good.

  • What an amazing post, David. I would so love to walk a mile in your footsteps on this occasion. Thank you for always taking us along for the ride through your posts and pictures. What a treat you are.

  • Did he say how many people were on the kitchen staff? Or did I miss that in this lovely story? (and do they need any interns?!!)

    I also make my puff pastry completely by hand!

  • Great read David.
    But what of cheese? did they have an impressive selection of cheese on board?

    Looking forward to seeing what stories you cover on your Sydney trip for the CRAVE festival.
    Iggy’s bread in Bronte
    BOON Chocolates in Darlinghurst
    and McIntosh & Bowman Cheesemongers for Australian Cheese

  • Funny, much as I love to travel, I have never been remotely interested in taking a cruise………until I read your posts. Now I would love to sail the QE back and forth across the Atlantic just to be able enjoy the meals.

  • Have only gone a one cruise, however, somewhere I still have the pink sheet of paper containing a list of the amount of eggs, etc….food products they go through on a sail. It was so unbelievable that you really could not process it. Just delivering it onboard is a feat in itself. Enjoyed your article so much.

  • Love the posting, I am so jealous. I went on a cruise with some friends before but nothing on this scale. Is there anyway you could find out about the librarian on board? I think that would be so interesting. I am a librarian at an elementary school and looked at their website to try and find more information, what they do daily, their background etc. I understand that is not the topic of your website but just thought I would ask.

    Love the pictures as well. They are making me so hungry.

  • I LOVE Kaiserschmarrn. It has got to be the best dessert EVER. Enjoy your time aboard.

  • I loved your article and such beautiful photographs.
    I have sailed on the Queen Mary and found it to be the only way to cross.
    This is truly representative of an ocean liner.
    I was indeed taken aback that you referred to her as a “boat”.
    This is a ship.
    Thank you.

  • My apologies Mr. Lebovitz, I see that you also refer to her as an
    ocean liner..well done….

  • So much work!!
    And everything looks so amazing…
    I made chocolate honey avocado pudding but these dishes…amazing.

  • As usual, wonderful post!

    Did you by any chance meet a knitting blogger named Franklin on the trip? (http://the-panopticon.blogspot.com/)

  • This is my favorite post from your website!

    Thanks so much,
    Hannah

  • Thank you for sharing your glorious journey. I love the international flavor and romance of cruise ships. One of the few thing we still have of bygone eras.

    Only once we took this type of trip, 20 years ago, but unfortunately my husband, who loves the sea, fishing etc., didn’t know he would get really sea sick. I was the only one enjoying the food.

    Ever since then we have not dared take another ship. We are waiting for a miracle drug that might help him so we can try again. We now travel a great deal, but by plane.

    Meanwhile I will keep enjoying your magnificent tales.

  • Been enjoying very much the journal of your travels on the ship and the photos on twitter. As others have been saying, thanks for sharing your good fortune with us. I am really pleased to see how the kitchen looks, and to find out the bakers make fresh bread products everyday. Having high tea seems so civilized. Makes me want to go to the local tea house and partake!

    How is learning the no knead bread technique coming along? I’ve made a few loaves, and am looking for the next one to try. So many good books out there to have fun with.

    Have a wonderful trip!

  • I am just stunned to see they still strive to serve high quality food and serve it well with so many thousands on board. Good job Chef!!

  • Sensational! I love Simon Bryant in Oz and his kitchen is/was similar. Huge respect for quality and quantity as it really puts home cooking into perspective. Enjoy!

  • This sounds like such an amazing opportunity to witness! It blows my mind how much food they go through every week!

  • google garbage disposal into ocean from cruise ships, the down side unfortunately…

    • I was actually quite surprised (and pleased) when I was in the kitchen and saw how much recycling they were doing. All the jam jars were being washed out, which were to be ground down for recycling. I think that with some of the attention the issue has been getting, the ships are being more conscious about what they dispose of and how they do it. I saw that they went through the trash cans and separated out the paper from the rooms as well. But I didn’t see the disposal area, which is likely way down below the ship.

  • This is fantastic! I cannot even begin to imagine preparing food for that many people, but it looks delicious. Those butter sculptures put the Iowa state fair’s annual “butter cow” that I grew up with to shame… :)

  • Wow, great reading. Thanks so much.

  • nothing but water, sky, and pastry. I could deal with that!

  • I wondered when you would get down to the kitchen and I’m so glad you did! I think in my mind’s eye it’s the inventory (and storage) for a transatlantic voyage that sort of boggles my mind. How much butter are we talking here? ha Thanks for the peek, David.

  • Hi David I was surfing the internal and watch your blog, I am in the city of Oaxoca in Mexico, I am not in the kitchen but EXPERNA I like ice cream , and hopefully one day you can visit Mexico City and write and you can taste the gastronomic delights of my country.

    Greetings from Mexico!