By Ed Friedrich Kitsap Sun
BREMERTON — The USS John C. Stennis, when out to sea with its air wing, serves 18,000 meals a day.
Its culinary staff strives to make the 18,000th one as enjoyable as the first. That attitude led to the Bremerton-based ship capturing the Capt. Edward F. Ney Memorial Award for the best food service among U.S. Navy aircraft carriers.
So what sets the Stennis apart from the Navys other 10 flattops?
Three things: good-quality food, a clean galley and a safe galley, said Senior Chief Culinary Specialist Todd Mears, who supervises 57 culinary specialists and 80 food service attendants. If you can do those three things and do them well, youre a Ney Award winner.
The Stennis also won the award in 2000 and 2004. The USS Harry S. Truman was second this year among aircraft carriers and the Bangor-based USS Ohio Blue Crew received honorable mention for submarines.
Its the people, first and foremost, said Chief Warrant Officer Nestor Frando, the ships food service officer. We do it better than (the other carriers) the attitude, the service, the garnish in the line.
On Wednesday, sailors lined up for lunch featuring two main courses, two starches, two vegetables, two soups, a fruit and salad bar, and desserts. Most chose the chicken-fried steak with gravy.
When the ship is tied up in Bremerton, only a few hundred sailors eat onboard each day. But when it is at sea with a crew of 3,200 and an air wing of 1,800, hungry sailors never stop coming. Meals are served 22 hours a day.
Officers and chiefs have their own fancier wardrooms onboard. They get china plates instead of plastic trays and cloth napkins instead of paper, but the same food.
For sailors at sea, meals are more than sustenance.
One of the morale-boosters sailors will have is sitting down with a hot meal, Frando said. Its the little things that encourage morale and the people who work here to have a good attitude.
The sailors favorite meal is surf-and-turf, which they get once or twice a month, Mears and Frando said. The Stennis traditional specialty is deep-fried lobster in a tempura batter.
Sailors look forward to other special meals, such as monthly birthday dinners, monthly ethnic dinners, Sunday brunches, Taco Tuesdays and ice cream socials. Freshly baked cookies are boxed up and sent around the ship every morning.
Food inspectors visited during the Christmas season and graded the Stennis on food qualify and taste, proper storage, inventory and preparation. Winners were announced Feb. 19.
Theyll pick up their trophies April 17 during the Joint Military and International Food Service Executives Association conference in Reno, Nev. Several of the Stennis culinary specialists are also are invited to a 21-day culinary school in St. Augustine, Fla.