Inquiring Minds Want to Know: JR Camp Boss, Taylor McKirdy (Q&A)
Do you have to know everything about cooking to be the Chief Cook?
You learn something new in catering everyday, nobody knows everything in this job, and it’s an ongoing process new challenges are thrown at you every day. I have been in the culinary field for 38 years now and still learning something new every single day. A great deal of experience is needed, more so on the JOIDES Resolution, as it is probably one of the most unique jobs in the world.
What training is required to be a Chef?
I never aspired to be a chef but in fact I wanted to do something similar to the scientists on the JR, and I wanted to study Marine Sciences or Biology. However due to the lack of science courses in Scotland (where I am from) at the time, I completed my science foundation year and frustrated at the lack of courses I decided on a gap year. My parents could not afford to send me to America or Australia where most of the science courses were on offer. Obviously I had to get a job, decide on my future, and take courses that were offered at my University. This is how I started my training as chef. Six days a week in the kitchen with the seventh day in class. The trainers, all great chefs were very tough but also very fair. You were allowed 1 mistake, trust me you never made the same mistake twice. It was soon realized that I had a natural aptitude for the job, given I had never cooked in my life; I had a Mom to do that stuff!
How did you become the Camp Boss on the JOIDES Resolution?
By the age of 21 I was fully trained by the best chefs in the United Kingdom and Paris France and got my first leadership job on an oil
platform. I was soon promoted to Camp Boss; basically this is the same as being a hotel manager. During the 1980s I took a 4-year break from offshore to manage a country house hotel and nightclub. The long work hours and literally no time off. After 4 years on land I a position on a diving support vessel, where I spent 8 years traveling the world. Then back to North Sea platforms and rigs, to present day on the JOIDES Resolution.
What are the unique challenges of cooking at sea?
We cook for a large number of nationalities on every expedition;I believe the record is 24 different nationalities on one expedition.
* The food is ordered 10 weeks in advance for each expedition. Most of the food comes from Houston Texas and is shipped by containers to meet the JR at its next port of call. We buy the fresh food locally before departure. We do not re-supply during an expedition. What we leave with has to last us for 2 months.
* Fresh fruits and vegetable are the first to run out, this is unavoidable as some fruit and vegetables only have a certain shelf life, though we do have tricks to extend that shelf life. We carry frozen fruits, which incidentally are excellent.
* We do not carry fresh milk instead it is all long life (preserved).
So there are a number of unique challenges we face each and every expedition. Food choices do vary greatly depending on the nationalities on board. What we use a lot of on one expedition may not be the same on the next!!!
How many meals do you serve on each expedition?
480 meals are severed a day breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight meals.
We cater for special occasions examples, July 4th, Canada Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year days, Easter, Chinese New Year, and any
other special day someone cares to throw in! We also celebrate individual birthdays for the scientific staff; everyone gets a birthday cake if they are celebrating their birthday on the ship. There is the hump day party, which celebrates the halfway point of the expedition.
Are Meals repeated?
We try not to repeat meals too many times, however there are certain favorite dishes we do repeat.
What is your favorite food?
I love Thai and Indian food, also partial to Spanish Tapas.
How Many Workers are there for Chief Cook (Camp Boss)?
The manager is referred to as the Camp Boss on the JR and he leads a staff of 15people. Assistant Camp Boss, Chief Night Cook, Assistant Chef Nights, Assistant Chef Days, Baker, Laundry Steward, Mess Room Steward, Galley Steward, Night Utility Steward, Accommodation Stewards X 4, Manager, Lead Steward, Chief Steward and Night Supervisor.
Steward duties include…
The daily cleaning of the rooms, restrooms, halls, dinning room, and laundry are all part of the duties. The team washes up to 2000 items of personal clothing each day plus 200 towels and 500 sets of bedding weekly.
How much does a Chief Cook earn yearly?
It varies from on average about $66-75K annually. Based on a 9 week on 9 week off ship rotation schedule.
What are your hobbies?
I am originally from Scotland but now live in the Canary Islands (Tenerife), which are part of Spain, small islands off the west Coast of Africa, I love the climate. I am a certified Scuba Diving Instructor so tend to spend a lot of time underwater when I am on my 9 weeks leave. I love meeting up with friends eat out at many of the excellent restaurants in Tenerife, or we just have Patio Parties, Spain is famous for extended meals in the evening on the patio way into the wee small hours.
Advice for future Chefs
This profession has been good to me. If I were to offer advice to aspiring students it would be this: To train as a chef, takes a lot of dedication and a lot of hard work, many trainees quit in the first 2 years, its hard, forget any social life you had planned for. To be successful like most careers out there, you get out what you put in. With the media focusing on cooking a lot these days on television and there is always some celebrity chef on the screen nowadays. Only a finite few make it to this position in the catering Industry. Salaries are low to begin with; lots of work-study and personal sacrifices must be made in order to be successful. However it is a buzz at the end of every expedition when I see 50 smiling scientists walking through the ship hallways complaining about how much weight they have gained!!!! All agreeing that time in the ship’s gym should be required. Now that’s job satisfaction!