Writer Ben Gibson was given the chance to head below decks to see Saga Pearl II’s kitchens and storerooms – guided by Saga’s affable Executive Chef, George Streeter.
Take a dip in Saga Pearl II’s pool, and you'll actually be in the heart of the kitchen! How? Well, to make sure every nook and cranny of the ship is used, the ship’s square-shaped ‘galley’ is actually built around the pool area, but one deck below, hidden from public view.
As someone who has enjoyed cruises as a paying customer and working journalist, I’ve realised this happens a lot – most people only see half the ship. Quite literally, below decks there’s a whole different world, a world where delicious food is being expertly prepared, day and night.
Never was this more evident than on Saga’s little ship. Behind the dining room doors lay a dizzying array of storerooms, walk-in fridges and freezers, dotted among a labyrinth of mini kitchens. And it’s in this diminutive area where the culinary magic happens, with George Streeter as the master magician.
A culinary magician
Saga’s long-serving chef clearly knows the kitchens like the back of his hand. As he opens each door, he reveals a treasure trove of amazing food, fresh meats, fish, cheeses, vegetables and fine wines. “Start with the best ingredients, and the job is already half done!” he says with a smile.
During my visit everything is absolutely spotless. Even the fish kitchen has no odour whatsoever! Did they tidy up because they knew I was coming to look around?
“Absolutely not!” laughs George. “You can come any time, day or night, and it’s always like this. It simply has to be. In every port the local agents could ask to inspect, which they often do. Our areas are kept strictly clean at all times, and I couldn’t work any other way. When you're catering for almost a thousand guests and crew three times a day, it just has to be this well organised. There’s no alternative.”
I walk past the pastry section, probably the busiest part of the kitchen that’s in operation 24/7. The yeasty aroma is nothing short of divine. As I watch, the pâtissière kneads and shapes every imaginable form of loaf, roll and baguette – even gluten-free varieties that look delicious. And don’t even get me started on those flaky croissants!
Every taste matters
As we move into the next kitchen area, George is asked by a sous chef to check a giant tureen of goulash – the soup course for the evening. As I watch, George picks up a spoon and leans in for a taste, before giving the chef his approval with a smile and soft pat on the back.
“How much soup is that?” I ask. “Oh, about enough for 350 people.” he says humbly. I'm amazed, I've just never seen quantities of food like it. Deep red and slightly spicy, it smells delicious, and I can’t help but check my watch to see how long I have to wait before I get to try it for myself.
In his ‘office’ – actually more of a store cupboard within the kitchen – George tells me a little about his career. Based in Cornwall, he’s worked all over the world, winning awards too. And he’s clearly passionate about his job. “I’ve been a Saga chef for 15 years, but have actually been cooking professionally for 35 years.” I can't believe it, he doesn't even look 35!
Soon, the kitchen starts to get busier. There’s a hubbub as the staff prepare for an impromptu barbecue out on deck – to make the most of the unprecedented good weather. George opens one of the freezers and shows me a huge ice sculpture of a swan, made just for the event. It's incredible. Where did it come from?
“We have a talented ice carver on board” he tells me. It’s a job I've never heard of before! “Of course he does other things, he’s one of my chefs. That’s why I taught myself to ice carve too. So there’s always someone here who can make the sculptures when they’re needed.” I’m more than impressed.
Sadly, George had to leave at that moment; I think I may have been stopping him from getting the barbecue underway. But I left feeling he was certainly a man with many hidden talents, not just the incredible cooking!
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