SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer
December 18, 2018
The Unspoken Language
Forming a community at sea aboard a ship like the Corwith Cramer is a magical thing that seems to take on a life of its own. Strangers become friends and shipmates, and now having been a month at sea with each other, and with the end date of our trip drawing to a close, these bonds between us seem to morph ever faster into something deeper. There's nowhere I see this more than in the galley, where as the steward, I make 3 meals and 3 snacks a day for all 36 people aboard this vessel.
I'm assigned a student assistant steward for every day of the trip, which is a rewarding experience as I teach students about knife skills, recipe scaling, bread making, and culinary history. At the beginning of the trip, my students are always hesitant. "How do you know what to cook?" they ask me. "How do you plan meals for so many people?" When I ask them what they want to make for their galley day, as I do, for each student the night before, the earlier students admit that they haven't quite thought about it. We start from scratch, exploring their familiarity with cooking at home, their favorite foods, and what ingredients we have on board. The first suggestions are general, safe. Maybe something with chocolate chips, they offer hesitantly. What about something with chicken?
As the trip goes on, they start to relax. Conversations become less about what they want for breakfast and more about what they miss about their mom's home cooking, or their favorite holiday cookie recipe. We start exploring recipes from our mothers and fathers and grandmothers - recipes like Three Sisters Soup and fry bread from Linny's Native American heritage, or Keinan's mother's Caribbean curry chicken stew. In the mix are familiar comfort foods too: we celebrate Christian's birthday with a plate of all-American chocolate chip cookies. And the joy in the faces of the crew as they sit down to a bowl of mac and cheese or pizza night sends an energy around the ship that is almost tangible.
Food is a vehicle for memories, for emotion. We sit around the gimbaled tables in the main salon as they rock back and forth, cookbooks open, talking about gluten development and how to cream butter and sugar by hand. Assistant stewards come to me with ideas about hoisin sauce and vegan cornbread. Students crowd into the galley, volunteering to chop peppers and fold dumplings. But between the lines, we are all saying the same thing: our time together is short, and we want to take care of each other. We cook because we love the people for whom we cook. We cook because it makes us feel loved, too. The language of food is the unspoken language that speaks louder and clearer than any words.
- Ger Tysk, Steward
P.S. Sean, have a safe flight to Antarctica! We miss you very much.