Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Behind the scenes of Azura... (Part One)

Matt Sparks
P&O Cruises Digital Team

To introduce myself... my name's Matt and I work for P&O Cruises as part of the Digital Team. Recently I was lucky enough to spend a few days on board Azura during her cruise to the Canary Islands (A230). I joined in Gran Canaria and sailed back home to Southampton. Whilst on board, I met with a number of key members of ship-side staff to discover what goes on behind the scenes of a cruise and find out just how much hard work and planning goes into providing the holiday of a lifetime. Over the course of the 4 days I spent at sea, it became extremely apparent that the crew are the heartbeat of the ship, working together like a well-oiled machine. They treat each other like family and many of the crew become friends for life. The result is world-class service, top quality food and fantastic entertainment; which is everything passengers have come to expect from a holiday with P&O Cruises.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be bringing my experiences to life in a series of blog posts highlighting different members of staff and areas of the ship. You’ll get a peek behind the “Crew Only” door and hopefully get an idea of the hard work our excellent crew put into your holiday to make it fantastic.

The first person I had the pleasure of meeting was Joseph; Executive Head Chef. He oversees the entire kitchen operation on Azura – from supplies, to menus as well as looking after the galley staff. Feeding 3000 or so passengers is a mammoth task that comes with huge responsibility, so it’s no surprise to learn that Joseph has been with P&O Cruises for over 20 years. Having worked previously on other members of our fleet as well as 5 star hotels in India, he is an incredibly experienced individual and knows exactly how to deliver the high quality of service and food expected on board.

A look down the spacious galley

One of the first things that struck me was the size of the galley. It’s huge, bigger than any restaurant kitchen I’ve ever seen. The place is run like a military operation, a massive production line with each section of the kitchen having its own, specialized responsibility. I’ll come back to this later. Joseph told me that one of the most important things is planning. Menus are planned 21 days in advance with careful thought as to what goes on them. It’s important that the menu doesn't become repetitive or boring, but at the same time there needs to be a certain level of consistency so passengers know what to expect. As such, Joseph has a fair few menus that he rotates, throwing in regional dishes when the ship is at port. For example in Portugal, he might add piri-piri chicken and in Spain, you could find paella turning up on the menu. Ingredients for these kinds of dishes are often sourced locally. Joseph also tells me that passenger feedback is important to him. He constantly checks in with passengers, looks at customer satisfaction questionnaires as well as keeping an eye on what’s being chosen the most before feeding his findings back into the menu planning.

Waiting staff at work

When he has his plan laid out, Joseph sets about calculating the supplies and ingredients needed to create these wonderful menus. He works closely with the Stores Manager, who in turn works with head office in Southampton to ensure the correct supplies are ready when the ship returns home. The shore team also arrange for fresh supplies to be picked up from certain ports of call, such as Barcelona and Civitavecchia. This helps ensure the ship is well stocked with fresh fruit and veg for the duration of a cruise. The supplies are kept in the ship’s temperature-regulated stores, which again, cover a vast area. There are different stores for different supplies, and each store’s temperature is regulated at the optimal one for that type of produce. Typically, Joseph will create a spreadsheet detailing what he needs to create his menus. The Stores Team then pick those supplies and get them ready for the kitchen staff, so they are ready to collect when the kitchen staff need them. It’s another one of those small touches that just helps things run so much more smoothly. Joseph has many of these little tips that ensure efficiency.

A look inside the fruit and veg store

For a 14 day cruise, Azura needs 15,000 sachets of ketchup

Some of the numbers at play here are mind-boggling. For a 14 day cruise they can use upwards of 1000 kg of tomatoes – that’s a decent amount of Bolognese! For one dinner the ship could use 300 portions of fish, 600 portions of steak, 400 of pork and 300 of chicken. This is why planning is so important. Joseph has to ensure that there is minimal waste but at the same time ensure he has enough of everything to fuel the entire ship. Similar processes are in place for the crew gallery, where the chef there creates a range of tasty menus for the crew to eat. In total there are 165 waiters and 80 assistance waiters servicing the main dining room and buffet areas on top of the galley staff.

Chefs hard at work

Meals being prepared for hungry dinner guests

The galley itself covers an extremely large area and spans 2 decks, providing food for the main dining room, buffets and room service. It’s massive, and contains state-of-the-art equipment worth millions of pounds. When I was there, they were busy preparing The Peninsular Club lunch and it was fascinating to watch the team in action.

Azura's Galley is a busy place!

The galley features a number of different ‘sections’, much like a production line but on a very large scale. Each section has its own function, and when required many of these sections link together seamlessly to create different dishes. For example, the kitchen has its own bakery and pastry area. These guys work around the clock 24/7 to create all of the ship's bread. They also supply pastry bases (amongst other things) to the dessert preparation area who then create delicious tarts that feature in the lunch menu.


The bakery section

Pastry shells in preparation for dessert

The finished article. Yum!

There’s a section for salad preparation, which contains huge drums that turn and toss the salad and dressing in huge quantities. Another interesting feature were these huge steaming machines, the size of washing machines. These things are used to cook a range of foods, from steamed vegetables to rice, pasta and more. It’s testament to the sheer volume required to feed an entire ship in a timely manner. Sauces and minced meats are prepared in large tanks, again in massive volumes. Once cooked, they are then moved onto the next section to be plated up or used as part of a dish. There is even a bar section, where all the drinks ordered at dinner are made. This area is under lock and key, which is no surprise (hic!).


The good stuff - kept for safe keeping!

The machine that ensures perfect cuts of meat

It doesn’t stop there. Downstairs and round the corner, you can find the meat preparation area. These are also temperature controlled for hygiene and safety reasons. It’s important to note that hygiene everywhere on board is paramount. Anyone entering any galley area is required to wash their hands and wear hygienic headwear. Everything is labeled, dated and temperature regulated. The raw meat section is separated from the other areas. It’s like a production line within a production line, with the meat having its own process from store, to preparation, to cooking and finally creating a dish. Again, the sheer volumes at play are incredible. I came across a rack containing an evening's worth of chickens. Bacon is stored and cooked by the pallet load, which is not surprising when you consider that there are 3100 passengers and 1226 crew to feed every single day.

Enough chickens to feed an entire ship!

Bacon by the pallet-load

A member of galley staff preparing chips

Overall, it was fascinating to see how a kitchen of this size works and it’s something I will never forget. Joseph and his staff do an amazing job, and I can personally attest to the high standards of food on offer here. Eating a dinner on board will never be the same for me, and with every bite I’ll think of the number of staff involved in creating and providing me with what can only be described as a world-class meal.

A shot that demonstrates the sheer volume required to feed a ship

The man behind the desserts

I hope you enjoyed reading about my experience of meeting Joseph and seeing Azura’s main galley. Keep an eye on the blog over the next few weeks, as I’ll be bringing you similar accounts of meeting other members of staff such as the Executive Purser, the Chief Engineer and manager of Olly Smith's award winning wine bar "The Glasshouse".

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5 comments:

Alan Gebbie said...

Nice too see some "behind the scenes stuff"shame you still not do the Behind The Scenes Videos etc.But please stop referring to Passengers as "Guests"this is another Americanism we can do without.P&O ships have always had passengers not guests.

Deborah Barton said...

Oh that looks nice , hope we get on one of these soon .may my 50th in 4 years time

deanparkr said...

Interesting to see the behind the scenes - more please!

Lynn Ash said...

Looking forward to a cruise in April on Azura. Also my son's wedding onboard. It's interesting to see behind the scenes, quite amazing how it all runs so smoothly.Looking forward to hearing more.

Belinda Davis said...

Wow! I'm so thrilled with how does the overall trip feels like! I'll make sure to spend our next summer vacation travelling in a cruise ship. I can't wait to admire how the overall design and furniture inside the ship looks like!

See you soon,
Belinda Davis

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