Profile Spotlight: Chef Claude Cornet

Earth Observatory Blog

Profile Spotlight: Chef Claude Cornet


When the prospect of joining the MIRAGE team was dangled before me this spring, I was briefed on the nature of the survey we’d be conducting, the importance to the region of understanding why enormous earthquakes were occurring in the middle of a seafloor plate, and the impressive resumes of the scientists who would be on board. But in every conversation, there was always this promise — it’s a French ship, so the food is going to be amazing. 

In fact, it has been. I’m not saying that absolutely every appetiser, main course, and dessert has been precisely to my taste (I’m not really a cream-sauce sort of guy), but we’ve been treated to a different menu at every meal, with nary a repeat. Three weeks on, we are still eating fresh fruit and vegetables, albeit in a more limited selection than the first week. 

To find out how all this is possible, I headed down to “D” deck the other day to interview Mr Claude Cornet, who has been the Chief Cook of the R/V Marion Dufresne for a decade, outlasting seven or eight captains during his tenure. Thanks to Chef Cornet and his kitchen staff of four, the Marion Dufresne has earned a worldwide reputation for what comes out of its kitchen.

Chief Cook Claude Cornet in the wine cellar of the R/V Marion DufresneChef Cornet runs a tight ship, with a spotless kitchen, well-ordered walk-ins and freezers, and a liquor locker and wine cellar that would do most restaurants proud. Cabinets bulge with spices, freezers are amply stocked with meat, and in one section of a walk-in Chef Cornet has organised the produce to minimise the impact of the cooler’s powerful fans on fragile items such as lettuce.

According to Chef Cornet, it costs around 150,000 Euros to stock his kitchen with two months of food. As a shopper, Chef Cornet is an opportunist, picking up supplies wherever the Marion Dufresne docks. For example, before the ship left Colombo for the Wharton Basin, Chef Cornet purchased multiple cases of fresh, local tomatoes. We’re still eating them.

As for the menu, Chef Cornet plans, of course, but not inflexibly. The planning begins every morning, when he looks out his cabin window to check the height of the waves. If, for example, the seas are filled that day with large, rolling swells, he will tear up any menu plan that calls for fried food, not because he thinks it would be unpalatable to his passengers, but because he refuses to endanger his cooks by making them work around hot fry oil while the ship is pitching and rolling in rough seas. “I’ll make spaghetti instead,” he said with a shrug.

Chef Cornet’s crew calls itself The Jackson Five. (From left: Mr Olivier Rakotoniaina, Chef Claude Cornet, Mr Emillen Chow, Mr Jerry Andrianarijesy, and Mr Tantely Rakotobearson)

No doubt this loyalty to the well-being of his crew is why the four men who assist Chef Cornet appear to be equally loyal to him. When I asked the group to pose for a photo, they lined up like pros, jokingly referring to themselves as The Jackson Five, not so much, I imagine, because they have a particular fondness for 1960s Motown but because they treat each other like brothers. These guys have each other’s back.

Passengers only get fleeting glimpses of Chef Cornet because he rarely ventures beyond “D” deck, although I have spotted him surveying the dining room during meals or attending events in the bar. Chef Cornet explained that his work is hard, so when he has free time, he likes to relax and trade a few emails with his wife back home in Toulon, France. You suspect, though, that while he’s kicking back, a part of his brain is already turning over possibilities for the next day’s menu, depending, of course, on the height of the waves.

To continue to follow the progress of MIRAGE, please check the EOS blog throughout the month of July, and spread the word using #MIRAGEcruise.

All photographs are taken by Ben Marks, unless otherwise stated.


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