Vincent Ross weighs in on the culinary life aboard the Pacific Sun during its South Pacific cruise via the Isle of Pines, Emerald Bay and the capital, Noumea, in New Caledonia, and the tiny island of Ouvea in the Loyalty Islands.
That was the catch-cry of the cruise.
Every lunch and dinner, the accented voice of the flamboyant Italian Maitre de Hotel crooned the words over the ship’s intercom following the announcement that lunch or dinner was being served.
Like some Pied Piper of pasta, his enticing meal call prompted many of the 143 children aboard the Pacific Sun to join in the sing-song salute to food.
After a few days, even some of the adults could be heard parroting the chant.
“Buon appetito,” they murmured back in reverential tones as they moved in groups, as if hypnotised, to their meal sittings.
Food is an integral part of the cruise experience, and lots of it.
A nine-night, 2,629 nautical mile cruise aboard the 47,000-tonne Pacific Sun taking in the Isle of Pines, Emerald Bay and the capital, Noumea, in New Caledonia, and the tiny island of Ouvea in the Loyalty Islands, is something akin to floating around the South Pacific in a giant metal lunchbox.
Whenever Pacific Sun berths in Sydney, in less than eight hours, it is topped up with 80 tonnes of fresh supplies.
Almost as soon as it is tied up at the dock at around 9 a.m. a fleet of forklifts, their roofs topped by flashing orange lights and driven by waterside workers in fluorescent yellow safety vests, begin busily loading an average of 110 pallets of food and drink, as the baggage of the 1900 disembarking passengers starts rolling off the conveyor belt.
By the time Pacific Sun is sailing towards The Heads of Sydney Harbour at around 5 p.m. that evening, another 1900 cruise passengers are already starting to drink and eat their way through the next consignment of ship’s stores.
Fortunately, there’s not enough food to sink a ship, but there’s enough to ensure there’s no mutiny over this bounty (apologies to Fletcher Christian).
Pacific Sun’s two main dining rooms, the Burgundy and Bordeaux Rooms, offer some 15 courses of international cuisine every day.
Then there’s the buffet restaurant for casual dining, the Outback Steakhouse for steaks and grills, a pizzeria, oyster, sushi and antipasto bar and a café.
The ship’s 70-odd chefs, cooks and bakers work in two galleys – metal mazes of scrubbed stainless steel benches, pots, pans, ovens and cooktops governed by rigidly maintained hygiene regimes – preparing more than 8,600 meals a day.
The six pastry chefs and four bakers work rotating shifts. No sooner have they made and freshly baked 6,400 bread rolls for the day’s meals plus all the fancy pastries for desserts, morning and afternoon teas, than they have to do it all over again.
From early morning breakfast preparation to late evening clean up, its a 24-hour operation to feed breakfast, lunch and dinner to 1900 passengers and 670 crew.
Menus for the crew are rotated between Filipino, Indonesian, Indian and Melanesian cuisine.
Passenger’s meals are served by 96 waiters on 13,000 plates, with 10,000 glasses and 15,000 pieces of cutlery, which are cleaned by a brigade of 29 dishwashers every day.
Passengers guzzle their way through 10,000 cocktails on a cruise, along with 6,000 bottles of champagne and 18,000 stubbies of beer.
On an average South Pacific cruise, the chefs, bakers and cooks will use 50,000 eggs (3,750 dozen), a tonne of lettuce, 1.5 tonnes of pineapple, a tonne of bacon, 2.5 tonnes of rice, 5000 litres of milk, 2.8 tonnes of chicken, 375kg of coffee and 7500 tea bags.
They also prepare 3,125 kg of assorted fish, 902 kg of pork, 937 kg of steak, 1.2 tonnes of tomatoes, 625 kg of ham, 662 kg of oranges, 1.2 tonnes of watermelon, 1.6 tonnes of beef, 437 kg of pasta, 875 kg of cucumber, 1.1 tonne of cheese, 625 kg of apples and 1.2 tonne of melons.
From these ingredients they create fine dining experiences including Seared Tuna Steak with Papaya Vinaigrette, Rack of Lamb Dijonnaise, Tahitian Chicken Lobster Roulade and Roasted Loin of Pork with Grappa Sauce.
Passengers also drink their way through 200 cartons of wine, 100 cartons of spirits and 750 cartons of soft drink.
One of the great attractions of cruising is that meals, on-board entertainment and activities are included in the fare price.
It is one of the few holiday experiences which offers fine fare for the common man – a chance for both the thong set and the well heeled to dine indulgently side-by-side.
The only problem is, it’s too easy to fall into the eating habits of Mr Creosote.
You remember him.
He was the larger-than-life Monty Python character in the film The Meaning of Life who, egged on by a helpful maitre d in the form of actor John Cleese, gave new meaning to the term “over indulgence” by eating until he exploded.
It’s an extreme weight loss program best avoided.
For those a bit peckish between main meals, there’s always the pizzeria or sushi bar, and the sweet tooths make their way to the Burgundy Room for afternoon tea at 3.30pm, where smiling Filipino waiters serve up scones with lashings of jam and cream, dainty cakes and pastries, washed down with tea and coffee.