There’s a well-known saying that an army marches on its stomach, and it’s probably fair to say the same applies for those in the navy.
As we mark Veterans’ Health Week with this year’s theme ‘Eat Well’, Navy Chef (known in the Navy as Maritime Logistics Chef) Petty Officer Cameron Moore gives us an insight into the importance of the job.
“Chefs at sea are sort of like a barometer for the ships morale,” PO Moore says.
“If we aren’t doing a good job, the rest of the ship won’t be happy they aren’t getting meals that are satisfying, exciting or fulfilling them.”
The stakes are high onboard a naval vessel, the pressure is on.
From a few days to weeks or months at sea at a time, a ship is the world to its crew.
“They can’t just pop off after work and go to a restaurant or get takeaways, or a supermarket to get their own food.”
Life on board can be intense and laborious.
“When we’re working on a ship you’re always going to be on the go. Everywhere on a ship there’s a heavy door to move or a ladder to go up and down to get somewhere else on the ship. So, your rate of energy expenditure on a ship is going to be far greater than when you’re on land.”
PO Moore says catering in the ADF has evolved over the years, with an increasing emphasis on the importance of healthy and nutritious food.
As a qualified nutritional advisor, PO Moore is passionate about incorporating that into his kitchen.
“We are really looking to be more conscious of nutrition in our meals so that we can better cater for our people. It’s important that our food is healthy and has the right balance of nutrients so that we can keep our people fed, keep them moving and energised to do their role.”
The concept of healthy eating also extends to accommodating individual needs, like food intolerances, religious or cultural requirements.
“If we have members of the ships company that can’t have lactose, nut allergies, can’t have shellfish or can’t have pork or need Halal meat for example, if there are vegetarians or vegans, we cater for them. We are trained in every way of catering, making sure we don’t prepare or cook foods on the same surfaces so there’s no cross contamination. Everyone can rest assured they’re getting the right food they need.”
Working within the constraints of being out at sea certainly has its limitations.
“When we sail, what we plan to have on board to feed our sailors is what we take.”
PO Moore has become accustomed to working with what he has, or sourcing ingredients from various ports, often facing some unique challenges.
“When you go overseas, it’s not always what you order is what you’re going to get.”
He remembers times when he’s ordered steak from an overseas port and was sent a whole side of meat that he had to butcher. Similarly, he’s received whole fish rather than individual fillets, or unusual substitutes for items.
In his 17 years in the navy, PO Moore has been posted to numerous RAN shore establishments, including HMAS Cerberus, where he is currently based working as an instructor at the Australian Defence Force School of Catering.
He has also had the opportunity to deploy overseas, including on board HMAS Kanimbla, HMAS Tobruk, HMAS Toowoomba, HMAS Darwin and most recently HMAS Adelaide.
He says going overseas is one of the best parts of the job, with his culinary skills on display for a different audience.
“When we get to overseas ports there are a lot of opportunities especially with regional engagement. We do have the opportunities to do luncheons and VIP meals with foreign dignitaries. We also do cocktail parties where people come to the ship and they can experience what we have to offer.”
A 2017 deployment to Indonesia saw HMAS Adelaide host a reception in Jakarta. The deployment was part of ongoing efforts to enhance and develop strong positive relations with regional militaries through both dialogue and practical activities.
“In that case, we were cooking our native Australian fare, such as kangaroo, emu and some crocodile. We had barbeques set up in the function venue so we could cook in front of the guests dressed up in our chef uniforms and really showcasing what we had to offer.”
It’s a far cry from where his love for all things culinary began.
“I used to come home from school and make myself a toasted sandwich or fry up some bacon and eggs on a weekend or cook dinner for the family. I just thought that it would be something I would enjoy more than some of the other roles I could have done.”
A life in service must be in PO Moore’s blood thanks to his parents who both served in the Air Force and his grandfather, who was in the Navy during the Korean War.
Now the 34-year-old and his wife, who is also a current serving member of the Navy, proudly pass on their stories and experiences to their two children.
“We take it in turns to go to sea and our children have been born into - [our] careers, so they know all about it.”
He also takes much joy in training up the next generation of up-and-coming chefs in the Navy, Army and Air Force in his current role and says the joy of serving up good food never gets old.
“It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to know that we’ve done a good job.”