If you have ever had the pleasure of dining in the Pinnacle Grill onboard a Holland America ship, you know just how good the food can be. It is a step above the food served in the dining room, and miles ahead of what can be had in the Lido. It also can give many land-based restaurants a run for their money. The steaks at the Pinnacle are all of prime quality, aged Angus beef. The way each cut is prepared, along with the mouth watering sides available, makes for a meal worth taking about long after disembarkation. I have done this Hawaii/South Pacific itinerary before, and we always plan on at least four Pinnacle dinners over the four week cruise. We will even add a lunch – a first for us – on this sailing.
Sheldon Prodanuk is the Pinnacle Grill’s head chef and he came to Holland America after a successful career at land-based restaurants. His cooking repertoire spans a range from French to Tigh cooking, with many other variations in between. While living and training in British Columbia, he worked at the well-known Bearfoot Bistro, an establishment of some renown in the ski resort area of Whistler.
It was only after the travel bug bit him that Sheldon sought a ship-based position. He’s been with Holland America now for five years, and has worked on a total of eight ships, most recently in his current position as the head Pinnacle Grill chef on the Statendam.
“Being a ship-based chef is much more difficult than a similar position on land mainly because the ordering of foodstuffs must be much more precise onboard. Unlike on land, you can’t just call your supplier and replenish supplies if you run out of something. Onboard you’re stuck. It could take several days to get additional supplies shipped in, especially on a voyage such as this one with large blocks of days when we are out to sea.” Sheldon must be almost clairvoyant, knowing just how much of this and that to have loaded onboard at the start of the voyage, as well as what to have shipped to successive ports in the voyage. “If we run out of something critical between ports, it could be a major disaster,” he added. “You also wouldn’t want to order too much, since certain items perish quickly.” So Sheldon must maintain a careful balance – ensuring adequate supplies are onboard – but not so much to result in waste – especially with the more expensive items .
Also, there are only certain ports where meat can be loaded onto the ship. This is because the meat served on the ship must be USDA-inspected and approved. So additional supplies of meat cannot be procured at ports outside of the USA without being inspected first. For example, if beef were to be procured from Argentina, for example, it would have to be shipped to the USA for inspection first, and then sent along to the ship, wherever that may be – even if it’s in Argentina at the time!
Some local provisions can be obtained in foreign ports, such as fruits and vegetables, and some other items of a more local flavor. However, these must be fully consumed before coming back to the USA. For example, on this voyage, perhaps some fresh local fruit will be brought onboard in Bora Bora. However, that fruit cannot be brought back into the United States, requiring HAL chefs to be able to pretty accurately guesstimate an ordering level that won’t leave too much waste.
“I don’t have to worry too much about ordering foodstuffs in local ports because our menus at the Pinnacle are pretty standardized by Corporate in Seattle. Holland America’s goal is that a meal at the Pinnacle Grill enjoyed on the Prisendam be identical to one enjoyed here on the Statendam. It doesn’t always quite work out that way, but we try.”
Sheldon does enjoy the chance to get creative though when he cooks for special events onboard ship, and when the ship visits certain exotic ports. “We adjust the menu somewhat to take advantage of certain seafood specialties in Alaska, or perhaps to offer a local specialty on the menu if we were visiting the Orient, for example.”
Since Sheldon has experience in many genres of cooking, such as preparing Tigh, Spanish and French dishes, among others, he particularly enjoys these opportunities to get creative in his kitchen.
Sheldon took most of his training in British Columbia, including a degree in Hotel/Restaurant Management from the Vancouver Community College. He also trained under other chefs in the area, and learned much of his skills under their patient tutoring. When he came to Holland America, he had already amassed many years of experienced at land-based venues and was looking for a new challenge. Holland America clearly offered that.
“A chef onboard ship must be so much more versatile than one in a similar position on land. On ship, we have a multicultural passenger mix, and we must keep that in mind when we prepare our cuisine. It can be a challenge sometimes preparing meals for people from side a diverse cross-section of nationalities, but we certainly try.”
I asked Sheldon if he found any aspects of being onboard ship particularly stressful. “Well, of course I miss my family during those long stretches at sea, particularly my girlfriend. But she understands this life since she’s worked on ships as well. In fact, we met on a ship as do most married officers in the fleet. But officers can have their families onboard for a time each year, and some even work together on the ships. Holland America will do everything they can to keep couples assigned to the same ship, so that makes things easier.”
I asked Sheldon what he likes best about working onboard the Statendam. “Having the chance to see the world. It’s always been my goal to see every continent of the world before I even considered giving up the shipboard life. So far, the only regions I haven’t been to are Australia, New Zealand and Asia. After I’ve seen those countries, then I’ll have to re-evaluate my plans for the future.”
Sheldon works hard some days, such as those spent at sea, but said he makes up for it on other days.
“We generally serve lunch in the Pinnacle on most sea days, and at other times when the main dining room is closed. We serve dinner just about every night. But with the right planning, there are certainly times when I can get out and enjoy myself. When in port, I love taking tours and sampling a bit of the local flavor of the area, especially when we are visiting a place I haven’t yet been. I enjoy wandering the local markets and shopping. A special treat, especially for me, is going to some of the restaurants onshore and sampling their local specialties. There is always something new to learn – a trademark technique for preparing a certain dish or a unique style of presentation – that makes these trips not only fun, but educational as well. For example, when we are in Oahu in a few days, I’ve been invited to dine at George Mavro’s top rated “Chef Mavro Restaurant.” George Mavro is currently onboard the Statendam as one of the celebrity chefs provided through Holland America’s relationship with Food & Wine Magazine.
As part of Holland America’s new onboard enrichment program, the onboard chefs are much more involved in presenting cooking demonstrations and classes in the Culinary Arts Center. Sheldon is a regular, presenting a full schedule of these special events. “I really enjoy these and the cooking demonstrations have become one of the highlights of my job. They let me get out and interact with the passengers more – something I can’t always do in the Pinnacle, especially if we are particularly busy in the kitchen that evening.”
When I told Sheldon that a group of us from Cruise Critics and Cruise Mates were planning on dining in the Pinnacle this very evening, his eyes lit up. “Good. You’ve chosen a night where we won’t be too busy. That means I’ll get to come to your table and ask how you enjoyed your meal.” Somehow I have a feeling there certainly won’t be any complaints.