Book review – “The ship’s cook” by Mathijs Deen: A casserole on hooves


When it comes to the goat's collar, no buck is shot: Mathijs Deen.  - © Merlijn Doomernik

When it comes to the goat’s collar, no buck is shot: Mathijs Deen. – © Merlijn Doomernik

For the common landlubber the cuisine on the high seas is mostly of little importance. She pukes her stomach contents after the first waves rolled over the railing anyway. And the relevant literature is less about feasting and dining according to the standards of an electric blanket ride through calm waters on a luxury liner full of retirees, but either, if you are lucky, about being satisfied with ship’s biscuits, dried meat and stockfish, or, if you are lucky goes stupid, the sheer survival.

Outside in the ice, whatever runs the fur seal or can be harpooned by the men for the rough is devoured. Whale and seal taste sadly tranquil and the last remaining, guaranteed vitamin C-free tinned foods drive scurvy forward. However, it fits better into the overall picture than a Captain’s Dinner, where Leif Eriksson or James Cook enjoy entrecote in rosemary jus. In any case, it may have always been more important for many ordinary seamen how many barrels of strong beer were still in stock. Consolation is liquid and the dried fish has long been dead, but it too wants to swim.

In Mathijs Deen’s laconic short prose “The Ship’s Cook”, the crew of the “Texel” is doing comparatively well – at least initially. The taciturn ship’s cook Lammert seems to understand his craft. And he decided against the regulations to bring a billy goat on board to conjure up an Indonesian casserole. “They are not cattle, Gijs, they are provisions.”

But just as the men quarrel with their fate of being something like second-class seafarers on a firmly anchored lightship and want to go out into the oceans or at least far away from the “Texel”, the animal also has its own idea of existence. After the order on deck has been mixed up beforehand, because a main course can grow dear to your heart as long as it is still alive, it finally comes down to leapfrog. Fortunately, it does not lead overboard, but across the ship and down into its belly and bowels.

- © Mare

© Mare

At the same time, it is not just a malaria attack that stretches the ship’s cook, whose feverish dreams tell the readership about his childhood, a mother who called him “little monkey”, and the roots of the dish “Gulai kambing” with its exotic spices. The approaching bad weather not only endangers the menu, but also the entire ship. Fear, calamity and madness lurk in the fog – as well as a possible downfall that means death.

Life and survival, hope, memory, longing and dreams: The Dutch writer and radio maker Mathijs Deen has only a few (subsidiary) sentences for their psychograms and no more than It took 112 pages to pull itself into their wake, but didn’t want to do it – for the casserole on four hooves, Lammert actually had other plans: “He stood at the worktop and sharpened the knife.”

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Book review ships cook Mathijs Deen casserole hooves


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