Wednesday, May 3

Never turn your back on an otter

A certain friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, has posted a comment after yesterday's entry that is so BRILLIANT and HILARIOUS that I feel the need to post the comment as another post. Perhaps this will convince this friend to go into writing as a profession? Hmmm, perhaps? (For the record, I know exactly who she is and to prove it....I will say to her: "Don't forget the terrible tragedy in 1889 when a barrister in London, while preparing her favorite dish of prawns and lard, was run down and trampled by her own pack of 4 hunting dogs-one just a wee lil' one- chasing a small orange cat named "miss sweet potato.")

Her comment, in it's entirety:


I am enjoying your blog, and am eager to read more of your exploits.

I especially admire your courage – particularly in light of the wretched, often tragic ends that befell so many other cooks, chefs and galley stewards who have made the same journey by sea. I’m sure you must know already (for who would tempt fate so recklessly?), but perhaps your readers would like to hear the story as well. If nothing else, the element of risk adds another dimension (dare one say spice?) to your tagine-and-couscous adventure.

Many of the more recent “events” – deaths, dismemberments and disappearances of galley staff aboard cruise lines and megayachts – are well known, of course. I won’t waste space repeating those here. What many don’t realize is that they are merely modern echoes of what some have called the Culinary Curse of the Inside Passage (sort of a “Who’s Killing the Great Chefs…?” of the Alaskan Frontier).

It was Hillary Danforth Merryweather who, riding aboard Captain James’ Cooks’ “Resolution” (dispatched by His Majesty, King George III, in 1776), was the first chef to suffer a brutal end to what was until then a glorious career in the culinary arts. Bitten by a trapped otter while attempting to prepare a celebratory “otter surprise” (apparently Cook’s favorite dish), he quickly bled to death before his shipmates could remove his layered clothes and attend to the injury at his groin. (Footnote: many believe this episode accounts for the origin of the saying, “never turn your back on an otter.” Wise words, indeed…)

At that time, George Vancouver was aboard the Discovery, Resolution’s sister ship. Coincidentally, when Vancouver set sail as Captain himself on another (different) ship named Discovery in 1791, Merryweather’s garde-manger, Robspierre Valentin, accompanied him – this time as chef.

Unfortunately for Valentin, the outcome was not much different. Smothered under more than two hundred pounds of whale blubber that his own garde-manger had carelessly laid into stores, it was two full days before the crew found him suffocated under all the oily fat. (Valentin, while heralded as a culinary artiste in his day, was not known for his physical strength.)

More disturbing calamities followed, in grim succession. Mobily Juckers, chef for Captain Dixon’s first voyage up the Inside Passage, was set upon by bald eagles while on the poop deck preparing an “al fresco” seafood buffet. Several of the crew saw the incident, but none could reach the poor fellow before he was carried aloft and away. A single rowboat was lowered for pursuit until the men saw Juckers disappear over a stand of tall Douglas fir; the rescue was called off.

Captain Billings’ chef, the young Michel de la Pouline Villepangnole, met his end at the hand of his own shipmates (Billings was known for carrying a notoriously salty crew), who failed to find the humor in M de la PV’s amouse bouche of hardtack and salmon roe. Portlock lost his entire galley staff to a sablefish smoking accident. Henderschott saw both his chef and sous-chef devoured by a sea cow of singular size and, as he would later write, “a determined, feisty disposition.”

This list goes on, but this is your forum, not mine; I’ve taken too much space already. Suffice to say, I admire your pluck, young chef. Good luck on your journeys – I and many others will be following along to learn of your fate!


Post a Comment

<< Home