Robert Lampe bakes a wicked chocolate bread. He also helps load cannons.
He is the cook on the Pride of Baltimore II, a reproduction of the privateers that were built in the Chesapeake Bay and used during the War of 1812. The tall ship sails to ports around the world, representing the Port of Baltimore and the state of Maryland. This week it is scheduled to be in Jacksonville, Fla., en route to Bermuda.
I met Lampe, a strapping 29-year-old, a few weeks ago, when the Pride was escorting the Carnival Pride cruise ship in its maiden voyage out of Baltimore's harbor. As part of the send-off, the Pride fired off a couple of rounds from its cannons, a salute to the departing cruise ship. Lampe, who was temporarily freed from kitchen duties, helped load the charge in one of the cannons.
Being a ship's cook, I learned, presents some distinct challenges.
There is, for instance, coping with the problem of heeling. One minute the ship's kitchen is level, then the wind shifts, and suddenly everything is sideways. That happened when the Pride was sailing near Fort McHenry. Lampe was right in front of me as we spoke in the galley. But then the Pride came about, and before I could say "the rockets' red glare," I was three feet to Lampe's starboard.
A ship's cook learns to make adjustments to the will of sea, he said. For instance, the dinner plates on the Pride have a band of rubber attached to their bottoms. The rubber prevents the plates and supper from skidding to the floor when the boat pitches. Moreover, all the plates, kitchen utensils and pots are quickly cleaned and secured in closed cupboards after each meal. To cut down on dishes, each crew member gets only one drinking vessel, a mug. With space at a premium, the cook has to be clever about storage. Lampe stows the large bags of flour and sugar in the bilge, a compartment below the kitchen floor that he opens with a trap door. He stores the canned goods and the paper towels under the bench seats that ring the dining table.
He feeds a crew of 12, plus as many as six additional guests, passengers who pay to travel and work on the tall ship, for stints lasting anywhere from two days to 10 days. Breakfast is from 7:30 to 8 each morning; lunch lasts from noon to 12:45 p.m. Dinner is from 6 to 7. Lampe also fixes two snacks daily.
"Once we are at sea we sort of melt into the ship," Lampe said. "We become our own community."
When the Pride is in port, Lampe goes grocery shopping. He buys in bulk, securing two weeks of provisions. This both keeps the larder full and keeps him on budget. "I always try to hit Sam's Club," Lampe said, "especially before we go the Azores." Groceries are pricey on the remote Atlantic islands, he said.
Mostly, Lampe cooks comforts foods like macaroni and cheese and meatloaf. Laura Cavender, a prior Pride cook, taught him the ropes, he said. "Laura taught me it all works out, and that if you plan too much it can bite you," Lampe said.
For instance , Lampe said, on a sail to Oxford, Md., he was planning to serve the crew gazpacho for lunch. But the weather changed from a warm 80 degrees to a chilly 60 degrees. So he quickly shifted his menu form gazpacho to warm tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches. "It turned out to be a great meal, but that morning I had no idea I was going to make it," he said.
When I asked members of the crew to name their favorite fare that Lampe makes, most mentioned his chocolate bread. This is a sourdough boule that features the addition of a large dose of Ghiradelli chocolate. He also bakes birthday cakes for crew members. He uses the ship's small wood-fired oven and its larger diesel fuel oven. The diesel oven is the hotter of the two, able to reach temperatures of 500 degrees, which gives bread a crisp crust, he said.
A native of Minnesota, Lampe went to baking school in Madison, Wis., and baked bread at the Atlantic Baking Co. in Rockland, Maine.
He came to the Pride on the heels of his mother and sister. His mother, Katherine Strand, served as a member of the Pride crew in 2004. His sister, Jennifer, married Dave Bradley, a former Pride captain.
"Being on the Pride kind of sung to me," Lampe said. So he signed up as a relief cook in 2007, and took over as chief cook last March.
As cook he doesn't have to wash the pots. That duty is rotated among crew members. "Some are better pot scrubbers than others," he observed.
Lampe has other duties as well. He helps hoist sails. He loads the cannon. And when the crew surprises him with a fish, as they did one day when they caught a tuna while sailing off Gloucester, Mass., he fixes it for supper.
Boarding the Pride II
* Guest crew members can sail overnight aboard the Pride of Baltimore II. Guests become working crew members for the voyage. This year's remaining trips range from two-night trips from ports in Nova Scotia at $300 per person to a 10-night voyage with other tall ships from Bermuda to Charleston, S.C., for $1,650.
* When the Pride returns to Baltimore in September and October, it can be rented for dockside parties and day sails.
* Details at www.marylandspride.org