By Lauren Frisch
Mark Teckenbrock thrives in the flexibility of the R/V Sikuliaq’s work environment.
As the ship’s cook, Teckenbrock can be responsible for feeding anywhere between 20 and 50 people, depending on the science mission. Sikuliaq research cruises can be up to a month long, meaning Teckenbrock and his team are often responsible for planning and executing a month’s worth of meals with one shipment of food.
Teckenbrock has been a cook since 1992, although this is his first cooking position on a ship. He previously worked as a deckhand for the summer, but all of his other jobs have been land-based.
Teckenbrock and the rest of the mess team have a system for ordering and planning meals that enhances their ability to be flexible, and work with the available resources. In order to get food onboard, Teckenbrock explains, the crew typically does a multi-day inventory of what is remaining at the end of a science mission.
“We start our inventory maybe 10 days before a cruise is over, because it takes a few days to complete and we need to place orders a week in advance. But even as we start to input this inventory, we are still going through more and more of our resources. So you start inputting numbers based on what you think you’re going to go through by the end of the cruise, and what you think you’re going to want and need based on who will be onboard next.”
He says it helps that the Sikuliaq doesn’t have a set meal schedule. This allows the cooks to be flexible, and use food as needed, rather than committing to a specific schedule.
“If we head down to the refrigerator and realize the asparagus is starting to look a bit gnarly, we tackle it right away,” Teckenbrock said. “The flexibility to cook things as needed helps us use our food efficiently, and reduce product waste.”
To Teckenbrock, working on a ship that is always moving, with a crew that is constantly rotating, adds another source of variety that keeps him motivated and excited about what he is doing.
“One day you may be assisting a science mission in the ice up in the Arctic Ocean, and then the next day you might begin a transit down to San Diego,” Teckenbrock said. “There is lots of potential for adventure and sightseeing.”
Always on the lookout for new recipe ideas, Teckenbrock finds that traveling to new places and experiencing different cultures inspires new combinations. He especially likes the opportunity to work off the coast of California, where the nearby communities have a diverse culture and year-round farmer’s markets.
Teckenbrock says part of the reason working on a ship like the Sikuliaq is so rewarding is because he is part of a supportive, hard-working team. “I am thankful that we have a really good team onboard,” he said. “We have good chemistry in the kitchen, and on the ship overall. Being away from family can be a bit of a hardship, but it makes it easier to have a strong community onboard.”