Special Guests Get A Taste Of Submarine Cuisine
By Julia Bergman
New London Day
June 15, 2016
GROTON – Five-hundred-forty meals a day.
Such is the undertaking for culinary specialists assigned to Virginia-class attack submarines.
Virginia submarines have about 135 crew members, who are usually served four meals a day. About 30 people eat at one time. Oftentimes, extra riders will be onboard.
Ten select guests got a taste of what that's like Wednesday during a lecture-with-lunch event called "Dining in the Deep," part of Connecticut's Submarine Century celebrations.
The event was held at the Naval Submarine Base's Cross Hall Galley.
On average, Virginia submarines have 90 to 120 days' worth of food stored onboard.
Or, put this way: One Virginia-class submarine will have 1,500 pounds of rib-eye rolled beef, 1,000 pounds of ground beef, 900 pounds of chicken breast, 300 pounds of bacon, 5,500 pounds of flour, 2,500 pounds of sugar and more than 1,000 pounds of coffee, which perpetually brews.
And that's just the staples, which are the basis for the meals made onboard a submarine.
Six to eight people cook on a submarine, and they rotate through a standard Navy menu that repeats every 21 days.
Now that underway submarine crews have shifted to an 8-hour watch schedule, culinary specialists have to be ready to serve a meal "at any given time," said Lt. Cmdr. Chris Shutt, waterfront supply officer at the base.
Previously, crews were on an 18-hour schedule while underway, which meant they were on watch for six hours a day and off for 12 hours.
Under the new schedule, they are on watch for 8 hours and have 16 hours between watches.
Meals served underway are presented after each eight-hour rotation, Shutt explained, and some submarines have started to serve a 30-minute mid-watch meal.
Storage capacity on submarines is limited, so food "goes everywhere," and its weight is distributed as evenly as possible inside the submarine, Shutt said.
Crew members will walk on top of canned goods until they eat their way down to the deck plates, for example.
Fresh food, such as fruit and vegetables, usually is eaten first.
Bacon, coffee, coffee creamer, "all the nice froufrou stuff," usually goes pretty quick, said Petty Officer First Class Seth Chiado, a culinary specialist assigned to the base's galley.
Previously, he was a cook on the USS New Hampshire, a Virginia-class submarine, for five years.
"On submarines, we generally eat pretty well," Chiado said, at least in the beginning.
He recalled a trip on the New Hampshire, "where we served steak and lobster on the North Pole."
Usually the combination is a sign of bad things to come.
"Steak and lobster usually means you're about to be extended or something bad is going to happen," Chiado said. "So that's how they break the bad news."
The biggest challenge to cooking on a submarine while underway isn't the limited space but anticipating the submarine's movements.
"When the boat makes an unexpected movement, then all of sudden your hard work is on the deck," he said.
Culinary specialists go through a three-week school, according to Chiado, who worked in the food industry for four years and received an associate degree in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales University in Providence before joining the Navy.
But Navy cooks also can get additional training at local restaurants, for example, where they can work with a professional chef.
One of the submarines stationed in Groton is trying to get a professional chef to come on board and teach a cooking class inside the galley, Shutt said.
Several years ago, the state funded a full-size replica of a Virginia-class galley to train culinary specialists at the base.
The project was paid for as part of the $40 million authorized by the Connecticut General Assembly in 2007 for investments that provide "military value" to the base.
Base officials expect to host another "Dining in the Deep" event in August. More information can be found at www.ctsubmarinecentury.com.