Planes, trains and ships: The chef secrets to creating meals on the move

I have enough trouble in my own kitchen to heartily appreciate the cooks and chefs who toil in the background of my travels. At home I've spilled sauce, broken plates and wielded knives too near my fingers, and so I always spare a thought for staff in a rocking train galley or on a cruise ship, where chefs have barely enough space to plate up, and seas heave beyond the portholes.

Moving kitchens create abundant problems. You can't scramble to replace a forgotten ingredient at the corner store. Open flames are restricted. Working with dough or chocolate has to be adapted to changing climatic conditions. And how do you boil pasta on a shifting cooktop, or produce it at all in an plane?

Not easily, is how. There's a reason that for centuries sailors ate nothing but ship's biscuit and salted pork, or why early rail passengers alighted for lunch at stations while their train waited. Today we complain about airline meals, but maybe we should rejoice that the beef managed to get from paddock to plate at 10,000 metres instead.

Then there are the kitchens which, while they don't literally move, are makeshift. Expedition-style tours, treks in remote locations and safaris see guests fed from camp kitchens with limited equipment and no electricity. Everything is carried on site, and detailed planning and culinary ingenuity are required. Yet the food that comes out of smoke-blackened pots – omelettes and bread, curries and puddings – is often delicious.

Without the chefs of moving kitchens, travel would be a less pleasurable and certainly far hungrier experience. These unsung workers keep us fed under difficult circumstances. Here's how.

THE LONG-DISTANCE TRAIN CHEF

sunjul31shoot food on the move cover story ; text by Brian Johnston
cr: Tony Lewis(Photographer not on contract, commission for Traveller, one time print & online, fees apply,  no syndication)Photographer: Tony Lewis <tony@tonylewis.com.au> Chef Russell Seymour on the Indian Pacific

Photo: Tony Lewis Photography

Russell Seymour has worked for Journey Beyond for 13 years and is a chef on The Indian Pacific luxury train that runs between Sydney, Adelaide and Perth. See journeybeyondrail.com.au

MY JOB INVOLVES preparing delectable dishes from our regionally inspired menus for guests travelling on the Indian Pacific, and adapting to various dietary specific requirements. I'm based in Adelaide, where our trains are provisioned and staffed.

COOKING ON A TRAIN CAN BE CHALLENGING BECAUSE the train is constantly rocking around, which takes getting used to. Space is tight in each carriage kitchen, which fits two chefs in a reasonable degree of comfort. Our cooking equipment is all electric for safety reasons, which was a change for me as I'd used gas appliances my whole career. Another challenge is the need to manage water usage and food supplies with a far greater degree of care and accuracy.

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MY KITCHEN IS long and narrow, but has a surprisingly large amount of storage space and refrigeration, and is well-equipped. I make things work for me. What I do to ensure the job gets done doesn't always work for others but, as a brigade, we've all found our own way to make things happen and work alongside each other.

I LOVE COOKING ON THE MOVE BECAUSE the view from my "office window" is one that is picturesque, constantly changing and filled with wildlife and amazing landscapes. I also have the opportunity to play a part in shaping lasting memories for our guests, who are often on the journey of a lifetime, which is something that resonates. Playing a small part in the enjoyment of other people is a big part of why chefs do what they do.

ONE DISH THAT WORKS WELL IS our camel curry, for me a standout dish. The flavours and the aesthetic of the dish are amazing, as is the reaction of guests when they try it – and then see a caravan of camels out the window, which adds a different dynamic.

THE SAFARI CHEF

Sanctuary Retreats - Kichakani Camp, Serengeti, Tanzania. Photographer: Mark Williams. Stylist: Nathalie Williams. sunjul31cover food on the move cover story ; text by Brian Johnston
cr: Sanctuary Retreats (handout image supplied via journalist for use in Traveller, no syndication)
Abercrombie & Kent : Sanctuary Retreats
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Photo: Mark Williams

Juma Mbwana Kilo has been a chef at Sanctuary Retreats for 24 years and works at the mobile Sanctuary Kichakani Serengeti Camp in Tanzania, which is a base for Abercrombie & Kent's luxury safaris in East Africa. See abercrombiekent.com.au

MY JOB INVOLVES working with two other chefs in a mobile kitchen that moves around Serengeti National Park to follow wildlife migrations. We bake, create and present three-course meals and fresh bread for up to 20 guests. Logistics is key. I place my fresh orders weekly and it takes the delivery truck two days to arrive.

COOKING ON SAFARI CAN BE CHALLENGING BECAUSE we don't have nearby shops should we need specific ingredients. We have to be adaptable so that when the unavoidable occasionally happens, like the food truck breaking down, we're still able to provide exceptional fresh food. Also, we have to ensure food is kept safe, because hyenas love finding something to snack on – a disaster if we leave the kitchen open. And the monkeys always have their eye on our breakfast buffets.

MY KITCHEN IS a mobile tent in the middle of nowhere. Twice a year, every year, we pack up the camp and move it to where the migration is happening. It takes 30 trucks to move the camp, but we make sure the whole kitchen is packed into one truck so we don't lose equipment.

I LOVE COOKING ON THE MOVE BECAUSE no two days are the same and the bush provides me with such a sense of peace. The stress of the day melts away when I hear the lions roaring or bush babies calling. Also, there's nothing more satisfying than when you get an empty plate back to the kitchen.

ONE DISH THAT WORKS WELL IS the lunch picnic, not for a single dish but the whole spread enjoyed on the savannah, the most amazing space in the world. The menu changes but might include freshly baked rosemary focaccia, tender beef fillet strips and salads. My favourite is avocado citrus salad. Mango mousse, caramel-custard cake and brandy snaps with coffee cream might finish it off.

THE AIRLINE CHEF

sunjul31cover food on the move cover story ; text by Brian Johnston
cr: Qantas (handout image supplied via journalist for use in Traveller, no syndication)
Qantas
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Photo: Qantas

Paige Morse is a Sydney-based, international business-class flight attendant who has worked for Qantas for five years. See qantas.com

MY JOB INVOLVES presenting the menu, taking orders, and talking to customers about the dishes and wine pairing. One team member, allocated as the galley operator, tallies up food orders and prepares and cooks the meals. Given we have 70 business-class customers and limited space and time, some dishes are prepped in advance and we put the final touches on them.

COOKING ON A PLANE CAN BE CHALLENGING BECAUSE we have very limited bench space, small ovens and no open flames. We have to be creative with cooking techniques. We blanch, poach, scramble and steam, and do it with limited equipment as most galley storage is taken up with the meals.

MY KITCHEN IS different between aircrafts but, on the 787, is right up the front of the plane behind the flight deck. It's about 1.5 metres long and a metre or so wide. The bench space is a tiny 25 centimetres wide. We have four small ovens, an espresso machine, plate warmer unit, sandwich press and four-slice toasters. We have to be super-organised and have a specific service flow routine.

I LOVE COOKING ON THE MOVE BECAUSE as you would in a restaurant, I meet lots of people and help create and serve beautiful food, but I also get to travel the world and eat my way around different cuisines. Every time I go to Singapore I eat chilli crab, and in Bangkok I love the street food, especially pad thai.

ONE DISH THAT WORKS WELL IS caramelised potato gratin with roast fennel, mushrooms and white-onion puree. It's really popular, not too heavy and smells so good it makes me hungry when I'm preparing it. The plating is relatively simple: the gratin is pre-prepared and we drizzle the fennel wedges with extra-virgin olive oil. The onion puree is warmed up and then we blanch the green peas. The plate always comes back empty.

THE CRUISE CHEF

sunjul31cover food on the move cover story ; text by Brian Johnston
cr: Cunard (handout image supplied via journalist for use in Traveller, no syndication)
Cunard See filename. 

Photo: Cunard

Mark Oldroyd has 22 years of service with Cunard and is executive chef on Queen Elizabeth, which will be homeported in Sydney and Melbourne this summer for 24 cruises in Australia and New Zealand. See cunard.com

MY JOB INVOLVES responsibility for all culinary operations on the luxury ship, including in the galleys, butchery, bakery and all restaurants, as well as crew and officer messes. I manage a team of 200 and also work with the inventory manager on ordering and stock control.

COOKING ON A CRUISE SHIP CAN BE CHALLENGING BECAUSE we operate 24/7. When seas are rough it becomes about securing everything and working with extra care and attention. Cunard's standard is always to source the best produce possible and our international menus change daily, which keeps us on our toes. When loading provisions in more remote places we must pay extra attention to ensure quality is up to scratch.

MY KITCHEN IS comprised of various galleys, which are large, well-equipped and maintained by a team of engineers who fix and replace equipment. Each galley is dedicated to its specific restaurant. Currently, we produce 12,000 meals per day and serve breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, bar snacks, dinner and 24-hour room service.

I LOVE COOKING ON THE MOVE BECAUSE I'm proud to work for such an iconic brand, and I enjoy the vibe on board. Working with people of many different cultures isn't just enriching for me personally, but for the dishes I create. I can also sample dishes first-hand when calling into ports worldwide. Being able to visit different countries and cities each day really is a privilege and a priceless life experience.

ONE DISH THAT WORKS WELL IS beef Wellington, which although challenging, is one of my favourites. For me, the classics are most appealing, especially when executed correctly like our 28-day aged beef Wellington with Perigourdine sauce. It's a skill to execute this dish, and for our guests having it carved tableside is an ultimate culinary experience.

THE TREKKERS' CHEF

sunjul31cover food on the move cover story ; text by Brian Johnston
cr: World Expeditions (handout image supplied via journalist for use in Traveller, no syndication)
World Expeditions : Larrapinta Trail 
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Anna Dakin is a tour guide and cook on the Larapinta Trail with Australian Walking Holidays, which runs remote walking tours in the Red Centre and across Australia. See australianwalkingholidays.com.au

MY JOB INVOLVES leading hikers through the arid landscapes of Tjoritja (aka the West MacDonnell Ranges) outside Alice Springs, and cooking for them with my co-guides back at camp. I've been guiding for four years, as I can't get enough of the breathtaking ancient landscapes.

COOKING ON A TREK CAN BE CHALLENGING BECAUSE although our camps are well-designed, they're exposed to the elements. We use gas burners and campfires, so things like high wind or hot dusty days make things difficult. From time to time, we get rain too, and water can freeze overnight. I've had to experiment with maintaining hot coals for camp ovens in different weather conditions, which is especially challenging because different dishes require different kinds of cooking coals.

MY KITCHEN IS pared back to basics but surprisingly well kitted-out with everything we need to cook, plus a few good heat sources, running water and a big sink. We carry all our food fresh from Alice Springs in a trailer. We have to consider local fauna. Recently I noticed a bee attracted to a dripping tap and had to quickly shut it off and dry the sink to avoid a swarm appearing in the camp kitchen.

I LOVE COOKING ON THE MOVE BECAUSE I'm in awe of the natural world and feel connected to it. Hiking is a great way to absorb the environment at an intimate pace and, as I cook, I notice details in the landscape, such as a small flock of red-tailed black cockatoos that flies overhead, west in the morning and east in the evening.

ONE DISH THAT WORKS WELL IS barramundi, which cooks perfectly on an even bed of hot coals. Guests love the fresh fish and its accompanying green-bean salad and rustic sweet potatoes after a day of hiking.

 FIVE MORE FOOD-ON-THE-MOVE EXPERIENCES

SCHOONER

The 1922 Sherman Zwicker sails New York harbour in considerable Great Gatsby style. It's primarily a cocktail and oyster bar called Grand Banks, but also serves up delectable dishes such as lobster roll and cured trout that garner rave reviews. See crewny.com

TRAM

Admire downtown Christchurch in New Zealand from a natty blue heritage tramcar as you enjoy your pinot gris and a four-course fine-dining menu that might include the likes of scallop-and-clam chowder and Canterbury lamb shank. See christchurchattractions.nz

CABLEWAY

In summer the mountain gondola between Weggis on Lake Lucerne and Rigi, one of Switzerland's most scenic mountaintop outlooks, becomes an aerial restaurant. The slow-moving gondola pauses after the starter so you can admire the sunset scenery. See weggis-vitznau.ch

RIVER BOAT

Hop aboard Spirit of Melbourne and enjoy the Yarra River by night as you tuck into the likes of lamb kofta, Moroccan salmon fillet or a ratatouille filo parcel with matching wines, served up by very friendly staff. See melbcruises.com.au

REVOLVING RESTAURANT

The Sky atop Hotel New Otani Tokyo sees you afloat above a bedazzlement of lights. It offers an upmarket buffet of Japanese, Chinese and Western dishes, some prepared to order so you can watch chefs at work. See www.newotani.co.jp