Friday, November 26, 2010

A Chef's Lot

The chefs found on the Cunard Queens were masters of their craft. They were the ones responsible for creating the exciting dishes and desserts that passengers would crave for again and again on a regular transatlantic crossing. Their lives, as such, revolved around creating these culinary masterpieces. Arthur Townshend, former Head Chef on the Queen Mary, explains a regular day's routine:

Well as far as working hours were concerned we used, well all kitchen staff, started work at 6.30 in the morning and you more or less got a break of an hour during the forenoon. This was your morning break which was arranged by your leading cook according to work. The idea was to get below, have a wash and a shave and clean apron, straighten yourself up. You could call at the linen locker and get a clean apron, even in those days before the war the linen was available to us. You’d have a break, have a smoke if you so desired, then you’d go back to work again. You worked to half past two, quarter to three, having gone through the traumatic system of lunch. After having overcome lunch we, the kitchen staff, departed for our afternoon break which was sacrosanct. It was the witching hour to go and rest your weary head if you so desired, which most of us did. Not a sound would be heard in the cooks’ quarters, wasn’t allowed to be heard in the cooks’ quarters during the time between 3 and 4.30pm. 4.30 you came back to work again. Of course, the kitchens were left with an afternoon staff on, not a full staff, but those that were doing the afternoon work stayed there until the rest of the cooks came back at 4.30pm. Then you continued work, preparing for dinner, which was served at 7 o’clock, and you worked on until you got out of the kitchens, round half past ten in the evening. A long day and when you’d done the day you knew you’d done it. But it was a day that was occupied. You didn’t have a lot of time to feel sorry for yourself.

Such was their lot aboard the Mary, but one can bet that they felt a tremendous sense of pride in their work.

References: Chris Howard Bailey, comp., Down the Burma Road: Work and Leisure for the Below-Deck Crew of the Queen Mary (Southampton: Oral History Team Southampton Local Studies Section) 47-48.

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