USS PHILIPPINE SEA, At Sea (NNS) -- Here's a riddle from the culinary specialists (CS) aboard guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58):
What day falls between hamburger day and taco day?
The answer is just a Sailor away, because anyone who has ever served aboard a ship in the Navy will know right away.
Pizza Saturdays have become such an out to sea Navy institution that some Sailors will tally their time at sea, not by weeks or months, but by the number of pizza nights. The CSs of the Philippine Sea have taken this crusty tradition and turned the oven knob to 11.
In November 2013, Philippine Sea started serving pizzas on fresh made French bread crusts.
"Pizzas have traditionally been served on Saturdays to give the crew something to look forward to during the week," said Chief Culinary Specialist Michael Vira, the ship's leading CS. "We just wanted to break the monotony of the same standard premade, circle-looking pizza."
The Navy uses a standard core menu that works on a rotation, said Vira. This helps the Navy keep hundreds of thousands of Sailors all over the world fed. It's a way of handling the logistics of shipping and storing food at sea and ensuring Sailors are getting the nutritional variety they need and want.
Making pizza on French bread is a win-win, said Vira. Since it's a twice-baked crust, the texture is a lot better. From the crew, they love it because it's a great quality product, and from the cooks, it's a lot easier for them to prepare. It gives the night bakers an opportunity to be a part of the pizza night meal, and the supply officer likes it because it takes up less storage space.
Only eight servings of traditional round pizza can fit on a baking sheet, but the same size sheet can fit 16 to 18 servings of French bread pizza, said Culinary Specialist 1st Class Prince Benton. Fewer trays mean less time and faster service.
The French bread is made the night before - from scratch. There is no mistaking the rich aroma of yeast, flour and shortening rising in the oven. That sweet smell of sugar being broken down into carbon dioxide that seems to make Sailors want to be nicer to others. Sailors would be clever to submit special requests to their chiefs while the aroma of baking bread is hanging in the air.
"We have a hard job; you've got to have the love for what you do," said Benton. "The best part about being a CS is being able to be creative and knowing that what we make is the foundation for our shipmates' day."
The next afternoon the loaves are cut in half, cut down the middle, topped with sauce, cheese and a variety of other toppings, then placed in the oven. Shortly thereafter, the hot, crunchy, cheesy slice of heaven is slid out of the oven and directly onto the plate of a tired and hungry (and sometimes grumpy) Sailor.
"Nothing out here is more important than good chow," said Seaman Jessica Moffit, who has been watchstanding and working since the wee hours of the morning. "When you've had a bad day and you're coming through the chow line and you see French bread pizza, your day instantly gets 10 times better."
While there are no hints to what the Philippine Sea galley will come up with next, it's always looking for ways to give the crew something a little different while still staying within the Navy guidelines, said Vira.
Currently Philippine Sea is six pizza nights into its deployment as part of the George H. W. Bush Strike Group supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.