Rough grub, rougher wa­ters

The Pilot - - Focus - Terry Bursey The Food Dude

It was De­cem­ber of 2016 and I was en­gaged to a won­der­ful wo­man, soon to be a step­fa­ther to an amaz­ing lit­tle boy, and in need of money to start our life.

I was a fresh, would-be ap­pren­tice un­der a rep­utable chef, but I was told far too late that Jan­uary would be a month with­out work.

I was forced to find tem­po­rary work as a cook on a small fish­ing ves­sel that would pay me more than enough to fill the Jan­uary void.

I kissed my then-fi­ancée and lit­tle boy good­bye on a very cold and snowy day shortly af­ter Christmas and (teary-eyed) boarded the ves­sel, in­vig­o­rated with hope and thoughts of ad­ven­ture at sea.

The cap­tain was a friendly man and I im­me­di­ately liked him. I met the rest of the crew and found that while most seemed un­friendly, the younger crewmem­bers wel­comed me.

The first day, I took the pre­vi­ous cook’s ad­vice and tried to stick to the ba­sics to win over the more tra­di­tional and prag­matic older men. It was some­thing the old cook had quaintly re­ferred to as “rough grub.”

I made the fol­low­ing recipe for my beef stew, which I’ve scaled down to house­hold pro­por­tions and have since al­ways re­ferred to as...


Pre­pare all cut in­gre­di­ents and set aside.

In a medium to large pot, bring stock and tomato paste to a boil and re­duce to a sim­mer.

Add each cut in­gre­di­ent aside from the pota­toes and onions in­di­vid­u­ally and let sim­mer for about eight min­utes, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally. Add pota­toes, onions, salt, savoury and pep­per and wait an ad­di­tional 10 min­utes, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally. In a large bowl, whisk flour and wa­ter, adding the flour grad­u­ally to cre­ate a thick­en­ing agent and be­ing sure to whisk out any lumps. Add to stew along with brown­ing. Rest on low heat for an­other five min­utes to set and it’s done. More salt may be added for taste but it tends to cut the other flavours.

This meal went over very well with the crew, both young and old, and I was con­fi­dent I had made a great first im­pres­sion. I re­ceived a few warm com­pli­ments and felt good go­ing to my cabin to have a well-de­served rest on calm wa­ters.

The wa­ters would not re­main calm for long.

As we reached the fer­tile fish­ing ground, the wa­ters grew more tur­bu­lent. I had to use twine to tie lids down onto pots and deep fry­ers, which made cook­ing any­thing dan­ger­ous and time-con­sum­ing.

At times the G-Forces were so ex­treme, I would find my­self stand­ing on the walls of the gal­ley as of­ten as I was on the floor. I was ex­pected to catch sleep in small naps as I was to cook and pre­pare two break­fasts, two lunches and two sup­pers for each shift of the crew of over 20 men.

Over time I ac­cu­mu­lated sev­eral burns, scalds and knife wounds as I strug­gled to han­dle tools prop­erly.

Sea sick­ness was fre­quent, which slowed me down even more.

Sup­plies were lim­ited and so the “rough grub” was be­com­ing in­fre­quent, but more var­ied food items were in high sup­ply, or­dered by the cook I was fill­ing in for.

I made Chi­nese food, mac­a­roni and cheese, and less-tra­di­tional meals. This did not go over well with some older crew mem­bers.

Some spit at my feet as they raged and ranted about how their stom­achs couldn’t han­dle the food.

As the bread ran shy from the 30 sand­wiches I had to make daily, as well as the toast for break­fast, I was ex­pected to bake more re­gard­less of my yeast al­lergy. Many of the crew de­manded I make bread, claim­ing a per­son could not be al­ler­gic to ac­ti­vat­ing yeast.

I’m sad to say a small phys­i­cal scuf­fle oc­curred over this.

On New Year’s night I made a large cho­co­late cake to gain some re­spect from the eas­ily of­fended and abu­sive crew, but this didn’t work at all.

One of the crew mem­bers took the left­over cake and threw it on the floor in a rage, caus­ing a huge mess in the gal­ley.

When I ex­pressed my out­rage, I was told by a com­pany of­fi­cial that (loosely quoted) my abuses were as a re­sult of my own short­com­ings, and that more “rough grub” would en­sure the crew would be less abu­sive.

I was un­der­stand­ably livid and in dis­be­lief. When I took these con­cerns to the boat’s cap­tain, he sighed and hung his head. He told me the same is­sues had oc­curred with the pre­vi­ous cook and he would ad­dress the prob­lem with the crew im­me­di­ately.

Things did not im­prove, though, and when the first mate needed to seek im­me­di­ate med­i­cal at­ten­tion on shore, the cap­tain — know­ing my strug­gle with the crew — asked me if I would like to go ashore as well.

It was per­haps the most dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion of my life. I thought of my new fam­ily back home and their ex­pec­ta­tions of me. I thought about my ca­reer and how much of a blow it would be if I went home a lit­tle more than half­way through the voy­age.

In the end I in­formed the cap­tain it was best if I go home as well ... but not be­fore leav­ing a hand-writ­ten note for the re­place­ment cook warn­ing him or her about what might be ex­pected from them as well.

I write this now be­cause what I went through was un­ac­cept­able for any cook and, ap­pallingly, my ac­count is not wholly unique.

I write this be­cause a great wo­man once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thought­ful, com­mit­ted ci­ti­zens can change the world; in­deed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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