With good organisation, clear procedures and thorough safety rounds, injuries among cooks in the galley on Viking Cinderella are relatively few, despite the high tempo. Being a ship’s cook is a heavy job, though, which over the years can lead to muscle pain and repetitive strain injury (RSI).
The sizzling of frying, the clatter of plates and music is all mixed with the dull hum of the ventilation system. At the station closest to à la carte, Kent Carlsson adds a sprig of herbs to the mushroom-batter halibut dishes before they are sent out to the guests in Seaview Dining.
”The first sitting is over. Now there will only be a few small orders before the next sitting starts at nine,” says Kent Carlsson.
During the passage between Stockholm and Mariehamn, the ship’s 14 cooks have five meals to serve the passengers, plus those in the personnel restaurant. The hot dishes are prepared in the same kitchen, which is divided into stations for the different restaurants they belong to. The pace is often high and stress increases the risk of conflicts. Niklas Stenberg is the sous-chef on board. As the supervisor, he is responsible for the food taken out to the guests being of high and consistent quality, as well as ensuring good cooperation in the galley.
”When it is stressful and perhaps a couple of the staff are off sick, it is not always easy to keep a relaxed atmosphere. It can quickly get a little hectic, and sometimes things explode. But even though people get angry with each other, it usually goes over fairly quickly,” he says.
One station that is almost always busy is the buffet. This evening it is Joakim Andersson who is there, frying meatballs.
”We fry 140 kilos of meatballs a day,” he says, while turning the sizzling balls on the griddle. When the meatballs have turned golden brown he scoops them into a deep tray and puts them on a steel trolley.
Huge quantities of food
”There is quite a lot of lifting at this station, but I have never had any problems with muscle pain during the eight years I have worked on board. Though I know that there are many other people who have aches and pains, even if we try to help each other when there are really heavy things to lift,” says Joakim Andersson.
The cooks on the Cinderella handle enormous quantities of food. To give some examples, last year they used 350,000 kg of potatoes, 208,000 kg of salmon and 62,000 kg of sausage. Heavy lifts are clearly difficult to avoid. The chef, Kim Birk, agrees that working as a cook is strenuous and many of them have problems with their shoulders and backs after a number of years.
”To be completely honest, this is really a job for younger people and nobody should work with it until retirement. If someone can no longer work in the kitchen we try to move them to another department, but it is difficult to find jobs on board that are not physically demanding,” he says.
To reduce the number of repetitive movements over long time periods, the 10½ hours that cooks work per day are arranged into shifts with both short and long breaks between them. Switches have also been introduced between workstations, which increases variation and reduces sick leave and turnover among kitchen staff.
”But the biggest advantage of rotating jobs is that you understand what other people are doing better,” says Kent Carlsson. ”I have worked on different ships for 16 years, but this is the first time I have been on one with this system and it works very well.”
In the middle of the hot kitchen is the station where food for the staff restaurant is made. Robin Ramberg is cutting courgettes and red peppers for tomorrow’s ratatouille. This is his first job on board. He started only two months ago and says that he enjoys the work very much.
”Compared with a restaurant kitchen ashore, there is plenty of space here and there are many ovens and utensils. It is also very clean and fresh. Every Monday we have a major clear-up and then we really clean everything, from floor to ceiling.”
The kitchen is manned around the clock, apart from one hour in the night. The breakfast cook arrives at about 4 a.m., then more and more cooks join him as the day progresses. This morning Victor Malmgren has the breakfast shift. It is almost half past eleven in the morning and he will soon finish his shift; he is getting quite tired.
”The risk of an accident is bigger when you are tired, but as it happens, accidents are very rare. Though on Wednesday I managed to burn myself,” he says, and holds up his right arm. There are red marks on the underside.
”The fat splattered while I was frying scrambled eggs, but it was no big deal. I put on some ointment and it was fine.”
Markus Grau is at the meat station, which is on deck one. All the meat is prepared here before it goes up to the hot food kitchen for cooking. Markus is stirring a marinade of oil, thyme and parsley. Then he cleans a flank steak and puts it into the marinade. He moves the knife around the meat with fast, familiar movements.
”Certainly, you cut yourself from time to time, but it was several shifts ago since I did that,” he says.
The cooks and the chef say that there are unusually few accidents here for a restaurant kitchen. Good structure and clear procedures help, and there are not often problems with heavy seas. Kim Birk believes that the relief system also makes things better.
”Mistakes happen when people are tired and stressed, but if you don’t work more than ten days in a row you don’t get that tired. Compared with those who work ashore, the cooks here don’t have the everyday stress others have at home. There are no children to be fetched or other things that you have to do,” he says.
Large work environment round
The assistant cook, Tenja Wirtanen, is safety officer for the galley. She agrees that the work environment is good here.
”Once a month we have a large work environment round that includes the master, the chef, the safety officer and several others. There are usually around 20 people who walk round and check if there is anything that needs to be fixed,” she says and continues,
”Thanks to the presence of the master on the rounds, any shortcomings are corrected almost immediately. A while ago it was noticed that the carpet in the buffet room was torn, and it was replaced almost immediately.”
After barely one day since leaving Stockholm, the ship is already back in the capital. While the guests are queuing by the exit, preparations are being made in the galley for the next trip.