Jholius Corotan - Pilot in the galley

While growing up near an airport, Jholius Corotan dreamed of flying around the world in a plane – until he discovered his passion for cooking

Jholius Corotan is not a man of many words. He humbly enters the galley of the “Santos Express”, quickly stirs the minced meat in a large pot for this evening’s chilli con carne, adds a bit of paprika and chilli powder, and gives it a taste. Perfect. “Most seafarers like to eat meat in all its variations,” says the 36-year-old Filipino. Yesterday, they had spaghetti Bolognese, even though Corotan had his hands full dealing with the provisions during the day. Vegetables and fruit, refrigerated products, frozen food – everything he needs for cooking in the weeks ahead during the crossing to South America had to be stowed in the storerooms and cold stores of the 11,519 TEU container ship. The amounts of goods are precisely calculated, and any missing items will be loaded as needed in subsequent ports. “When I come on board, I make up a list of goods that goes directly to the captain, who then sends it on to the catering company. And while I’m doing that, I first set up the kitchen in the way I can work in it best,” the chief cook says, adding that all cooks naturally prefer their own way of arranging things.

Jholius Corotan was born in Davao City, one of the largest cities in the Philippines. He has been cooking, baking and frying on Hapag-Lloyd ships since 2015. At present, he is feeding 34 people on the “Santos Express” in staggered time slots. Each day, he prepares breakfast, lunch and dinner – almost always two courses with all the trimmings – one for the European palate and one for the Asian one – a logistical tour de force, especially since Corotan is basically alone in the kitchen. “You need to have a clear plan of when to do what, as good time management is everything,” Corotan explains. Although he dreamt of flying as a child, he says he has no regrets now, noting: “Now I’m a pilot in the galley. And I have a steward who takes care of side dishes and desserts, which is great.”

Jholius Corotan alone is responsible for everything in the galley. Everything there has to be in its place and easily accessible

As experienced as Corotan is in the galley these days, he still also remembers his early days on board. “In Davao City, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management, I first worked in an Asian restaurant and then in the Grand Regal Hotel before I applied for a job as a steward at Marlow Navigation, a big recruiting agency, and signed on with the ‘Maersk Nagoya’,” he recounts. “I was curious, as I had never been on a ship this big before, and the pay was better than on land. But I had only half a day of training – setting and clearing tables, cleaning and serving. I had to repeatedly ask how to do everything and what my duties were. As a steward, you’re responsible for everything from brewing coffee to making beds. A lot of it was learning by doing, and the cook and seafarers taught me the rest. Over time, I grew more confident and was finally allowed to cook.”

His culinary talent was noticed, so the captain of the “Maersk Nagoya”, an Ukrainian, encouraged the then 26-year-old to train to become a cook. “I then completed a six-month training course at the Culinary Marine School in Manila to learn how to cook European food,” Corotan says. In the capital of the Philippines, a good 10,000 kilometres away from Germany as the crow flies, he learned how to prepare classic German dishes like roulades, sauerbraten and goulash. “It was really unfamiliar to me because the taste is very different from Asian cuisine,” he adds. “Fortunately, we were taught by a German chef who not only explained the recipes in very precise detail, but also gave us a feel for how the dishes should taste.”

Two main dishes are the standard: one for the Asian colleagues and one for the European ones – each prepared with fresh ingredients and a lot of passion for good food

Today, Corotan knows most of the recipes by heart, adding that he “only occasionally” has to consult a cookbook or his thick folder. The latter is simply called “Jutta’s Recipes” and contains over six hundred pages of recipes listed from A to Z. Jutta Diekamp, former stewardess and member of Hapag-Lloyd’s Marine Works Council, has spent countless hours collecting and filing them away. In a brief phone call, the Hamburg native tells us how it all came about: “In the mid-1990s, I personally observed at sea how Filipino cooks had a hard time with German food. That’s when I started collecting recipes in my spare time. As someone who loves cookbooks and cooking magazines, I just wanted to give some suggestions on how to add a bit of variety to the menu.” Hapag-Lloyd even sent Jutta to Manila once to provide a bit of help in the cooking school there. On the “Santos Express”, her folder is in the kitchen drawer right next to the classic cookbook par excellence: Dr Oetker German Cooking today.

Preparing European Food was a challenge, but a cooking course – in the Philippines with a German chef – gave him a taste for it. He rarely needs the recipe collections on board

At Hapag-Lloyd, the regular assignment of a cook lasts eight months. And Corotan doesn’t hide the fact that this isn’t always easy, saying: “Of course, that’s a long time. My parents are often worried about me because they read about mishaps and the like on the internet or social media channels, but these things happen only rarely. Hapag-Lloyd is one of the safest shipping companies in the world, and I haven’t experienced anything dangerous here yet.” Rather than dangers, the cook prefers to talk about shore excursions, like ones to the weekly market in Valparaíso, Chile. “The smells, the whole range of things you can get in general – it inspires every cook!,” he enthuses. What’s more, his job also enables him to support his parents financially, noting: “That was especially helpful when everything was shut down in our country owing to the pandemic.”

At home in Davao City, Corotan owns a little house with a small garden, in which he grows fruit and vegetables. “Papayas, okra, aubergines and mangosteens grow almost by themselves there,” he says. His big dream is to own a farm someday, perhaps even his own restaurant in Davao City. But before that, he plans to sail for a few more years – preferably for Hapag-Lloyd. “It’s not just the pay and the working atmosphere, as you can’t beat the food on offer here,” he explains. “Whereas on other ships I was only able to offer Gouda and Edam at most, we have an incredible variety of cheeses here.” Corotan knows how important it is to have good and varied meals on board. “The work is exhausting, and spending a long time at sea isn’t always easy,” he notes, adding: “Good food is exactly the right cure for stress!”

When asked about his favourite dishes, Corotan has a hard time deciding. “The French specialty lobster thermidor is really quite tasty, but of course I especially love Filipino food,” he says. “I highly recommend crispy marinated milkfish, but also deep-fried pork belly, called crispy pork kare-kare – and, of course, Adobo, the Filipino national dish. It’s a one-pot dish with meat, fermented black soybeans, lots of garlic and dried lily flowers, which is prepared a little differently depending on the region.” With those words, Corotan says goodbye and hurries back to the stove so that the today’s food for the crew will be on the table on time.

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