Nicholas and Mark Oldroyd are twins and, as is often the case with identical siblings, they share many interests and idiosyncrasies. More exceptional, perhaps, is that both have had near-identical career trajectories. Both brothers work as executive chefs on two of the world’s most prestigious cruise liners: Nicholas on Queen Mary 2 (QM2) and Mark on Queen Victoria.

The Oldroyd twins grew up in Yorkshire and attended Yorkshire Coast College, where both earned diplomas in catering and hospitality. A stint catering exclusive events followed before they took to the oceans and the burgeoning cruise business.

Initially, the brothers joined the crew of Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2), working up through the ranks of the Cunard Queens’ galleys to earn their stripes as executive chefs.

Our small party is greeted by QM2’s executive chef Nicholas Oldroyd at the galley entrance of Britannia Restaurant, the liner’s handsome two-tiered dining room.

“Britannia serves 1,200 meals twice
a night, for first and second sittings – from starters to mains and dessert in one hour,” he says, with justified pride, as he guides us through a crucial part of QM2’s galley operations: the sanitation and waste management areas, maintained to a near-surgical level of cleanliness.

With 2,600 passengers and a crew of 1,200, representing 55-odd nationalities, QM2 serves around 15,000 meals a day in her various dining outlets – Britannia Restaurant, two 5-star Grill dining rooms, Todd English Restaurant, Italian eatery La Piazza, the Chef’s Galley, Lotus, the Carvery, Boardwalk Café and the ship’s room service – and in three crew messes, which have their own galley.

Food preparation and storage takes place on Decks 1, A and B; the latter consists of 21 refrigerated and freezer rooms, used to chill items for every food and beverage outlet on board, from room service  to the Boardwalk Café.

In the galley

We proceed through the cold larder, where a chef is plating up cold appetisers. Further along QM2’s food chain, others are preparing canapés.

“We make up to 3,000 a day, not counting hot canapés,” says Nicholas. “We bake all our own bread and pastries, and even have a dedicated team to prepare potato chips – pommes neuf.

Chef Oldroyd’s galley brigade is huge – 240 staff in all, including 165 chefs, executive sous-chef Roger Barerra, a chief baker, a butcher, and several chefs de cuisine, sous-chefs and chefs de partie. Eighty dishwashers work around the clock, with QM2’s executive chef overseeing schedules to ensure the galley is adequately manned at peak times. He’s also responsible for making sure the kitchen crew stay motivated and energetic throughout their eight-month contracts.

The production galley is momentarily quiet except for the huge stock pots simmering in the background. Soon, though, it will be action stations, with steam ovens, hot plates, grills, tilting braising pans and more employed at
full capacity.

At the hot press, orders are entered into a computerised bar-code system, showing the chef on two large monitors how many items are on order.

The ship’s provisions, centralised by the company’s land-based teams, are calculated on the basis of feedback from the ships’ executive chefs, who can also order one-off requests directly when visiting certain countries.

“In New Zealand, there was a substantial order for lamb; in Australia, it was Tasmanian salmon. In Sydney, we took on $55,000 of barramundi, and Margaret River wine was loaded in Fremantle,” says Olroyd. “Milk, dairy products, fruit, vegetables and seafood are loaded every week; dry and frozen product every 12 to 14 days.”

Menu plans are overseen by the ship’s executive chef and change regularly according to season, region, and passenger mix, with cuisine tailored to guests’ ages and nationalities. “This could mean ordering a higher quantity of seafood for Australians guests, more turkey for Americans,” explains Olroyd. “And we up the salt if there is a high volume of German guests.”

Sweet indulgences

We’re entering the executive pastry chef’s domain, where every dessert, petit fours and pastry that’s consumed on board is concocted. Do the twins have any sweet indulgences?

“Manjari chocolate from France,” says Nicholas, “for its unforgettable flavour, which explodes in any product you make with it. My brother finds Häagen-Dazs ice-cream the perfect pick-me-up.”

And pick-me-ups are no doubt called for: the role of executive chef on a large liner is not for the fainthearted. “You have to have the passion and the time to invest in such a career,” notes Nicholas. “It has many different obstacles from a shoreside point of view. You will know after a couple of weeks at sea if it is in your veins.”

Cruising certainly seems to be in the blood of the Oldroyd brothers. “Every port has qualities – maybe sheer exclusivity, or beauty,” says Nicholas. “Sydney is an obvious example: How can you forget the flotilla of boats that meets and greets us, the breathtaking backdrop of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House while we’re docked at Circular Quay?”

Multiple world voyages have exposed them to a wealth of ingredients and culinary influences; the Oldroyds get to shop and eat out at dozens of ports around the globe.

Both are especially keen on Asian cuisine. “We like Asian food’s aromatic flavours and textures; it’s like the London Philharmonic playing a melody in the mouth,” says Nicholas. “I love the vibrant and naturally soothing ingredients Thailand is all about – from Kaffir lime leaves to lemongrass, which makes any dish come alive.”

Sibling rivalry

Worldly Jean-Marie Zimmermann, Cunard’s global culinary ambassador, is an inspiration, as are the Roux brothers of Waterside Inn, UK fame, he says.

“I also admire my team, who deliver a high standard 365 days a year, 15,000 meals a day.”

Mark concurs, praising his own team of 138 chefs, “who deliver high standards 365 days a year, 13,000 meals a day!”

Not surprisingly, days off are few and far between for the hardworking Cunard chefs. “We don’t have any until we go on vacation,” admits Nicholas. Any downtime they get is likely to be spent at a home they share in sunny Kissimmee, Florida.

Sibling rivalry’s inevitable, given their parallel lives – the twins “always” compete, says Nicholas.

Unable to resist a bit of illustrative one-upmanship, he jokes, “But I have
600 more guests than Mark does on Queen Victoria.”