This Chef Feeds the Crew on Greenpeace Ships
Mexican chef Daniel Bravo Garibi regularly finds himself at sea, crossing the Bermuda Triangle, dodging ice floes in the Arctic, or watching the sunrise over the Sargasso Sea.
Bravo Garibi’s early food imprinting was established in his grandmother’s Mexico City kitchen, and his motivation to become a chef was inspired by cooking scenes in the movie “Goodfellas,” where the characters prepare meals in prison, zealously slicing garlic with razor blades and arguing over the correct amount of onions in the meatball sauce. But it was witnessing the waste in restaurant kitchens that led him to a job as a chef and environmental activist on the Greenpeace fleet.
“I’d been working in the culinary world since I was very young, in restaurants and bars, and got a little fed up with wasteful practices,” he says.
So, he gave it up and set off traveling around his home country, where he says he was “completely astounded by the beauty of the ocean, the sky, and nature,” but equally devastated by the destruction.
“I saw how humankind could so easily destroy without conscience the most fragile ecosystems and beauty of the planet,” he says.
On his return to Mexico City, Bravo Garibi volunteered with Greenpeace, which asked whether he’d care to work as a chef aboard its fleet.
That was 15 years ago, and since then, Bravo Garibi has sailed on all of the Greenpeace ships — the Rainbow Warrior, the Arctic Sunrise, and the Esperanza — engaging in activism designed to highlight environmental issues, as well as providing sustenance for the crew.
Currently, he’s aboard the Esperanza, the largest of the Greenpeace fleet, just off the coast of French Guyana, halfway through a pole-to pole-trip.
There is a crew of 36 people of about 15 different nationalities on this trip, and it’s his job to feed them, which is not as straightforward as it might sound.
First, he has to provision for possibly long stretches at sea (up to two months). To do this, he works out quantities based on grams per person per day, with a little extra for diversions or disruptions. Staples include around 250 kg of potatoes, 180 kg of onions, 15 kg of garlic, 120 kg of oranges, as well as beans and legumes, grains, flours, rice, seeds, and nuts, but, he says, it can depend on where the crew members are from.
“I need to know who the people aboard are and their dietary needs, which may not be the same for someone from Korea as someone from Holland, for example,” he says.
Depending on where they’re going, he’ll connect with the network of smallholders and boutique producers he’s built to restock with fresh produce, cheese from the Azores or Holland, kale from California, or tempeh from Indonesia.
The food served onboard is vegetarian and largely plant-based, with any animal products used coming from sustainable, trackable sources with a low environmental footprint.
“It’s really important that the food is in the purest form. That it has been produced in a way that it can give back to nature — unlike industrialized production. We can really make an impact by consuming food that is coming from small-scale farming and biological production with a low, if not positive, impact on the environment,” Bravo Garibi says.
Bravo Garibi is also creating a documentary featuring the small producers in the ports the ships visit, particularly those who grow highly nutritious, low-impact foods.
Another consideration is the budget. Greenpeace is entirely funded by public and foundation donations, so there’s high accountability for spending.
“We were in Jamaica, let’s say, where you can buy beautiful coffee, but it’s way too expensive for Greenpeace. But in Mexico, we have great organic coffee that’s cheap and supports small-scale farmers. In Cyprus last year we got the most amazing organic extra virgin olive oil that was very cheap.”
Bravo Garibi also has to adapt his menu to the ship’s location.
“The thing with cooking in the Arctic is that as soon as you go out of the ship in the cold, you are immediately using energy and rapidly burning calories to stay warm; therefore, your intake needs to be much higher.”
The menu on trips to the poles has a lot of starchy foods such as bread, pasta, beans, and potatoes, as well as food high in “good” fats, he says. Meals might include vegetarian lasagna, gnocchi, curries, and hearty stews, as well as lots of desserts.
Cooking in the tropics is another menu altogether, with lighter meals based on fruit and vegetables.
“We make our own water on the ship and the mineral content is not as high, so I try to provide more fruit and vegetables rich in minerals and vitamins to compensate. Also, I use more salt when cooking in the tropics, as we lose more through sweating,” Bravo Garibi says.
As for his workspace, the kitchen is more spacious than you might imagine. At 5-by-6 meters (about 16-by-20 feet), it has a massive fridge and freezer designed for long-distance voyages, with stowage and cooking equipment specially adapted for the vagaries of the weather.
“It can be rough at some times,” Bravo Garibi concedes. “I once ended up with a massive amount of pasta doing a triple somersault in the air before landing on the floor.”
The crew members — who are engaged in all kinds of environmental activism (most recently, raising awareness with a campaign against deep-sea mining) — sit down together for lunch from 12 to 1 p.m. and dinner from 6 to 7 p.m., a communion of a family connected by cause rather than blood.
“It is my responsibility as a chef to be a channel between the producers and crew,” Bravo Garibi says. “Between Mother Earth’s healing products and the ones that are fighting each day to protect it. That in itself is activism.”
Australia-based writer Natascha Mirosch has been a writer for over 20 years, with bylines in Time Out (UK), The Courier Mail, The Sunday Mail, Brisbane News, The Herald Sun, Brisbane Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian, Spirit Magazine, and more.