“We were at the salt-and-pepper stage. I got to see the American spice store. Its contents were completely unfamiliar, but we learnt to use it.”
He says the stewards learnt oil catering from the Americans, who wanted spicy food, T-bone steaks and spare ribs. Chicken had to be fried the US way.
“Soups had to be made to Louisiana recipes. The cooks also learnt to make a special kind of corn bun and hot cakes. For every breakfast, the Americans wanted brown beans, green beans, bacon and eggs as well as pancakes with maple syrup.”
Food was very important for people’s wellbeing, Robertsen observes. “Those who worked offshore hadn’t much of a life beyond working, sleeping and eating.
“But conditions were very primitive. Coffee breaks on the Ocean Traveler and Ocean Viking rigs were taken in the same room which the toilets opened into.
“The coffee pot and doughnuts stood in a corner by the entrance. That’s where the oil workers drank their coffee, ate their doughnuts and solved the world’s problems.” And they wanted their ice cream, he relates.
“I scored a hit there by sending soft ice cream machines to every platforms. That allowed them to eat it around the clock, which was very popular.”
“After a few years, however, the authorities became very concerned that standards of cleanliness weren’t high enough, and the machines were sent back to land.
“Ocean Viking once had a cook who wanted to serve haddock, and he came close to being fired. The fish was tossed overboard. Lutefisk [cod treated with lye] was out of the question, and fish dumplings were considered abominable by the Americans.”
Some suppliers in Stavanger modified their product range, and Robertson bought a lot from the Middelthon company as well as from Lorentzen in Oslo – which was best for salsa.
Meat came from abroad in transit, passing through a bonded warehouse before being transported in containers out to the North Sea platforms.
The Americans refused to eat Norwegian beef. T-bone steaks came from the UK and beef from Argentina, Brazil and Canada – all of the finest quality. But the vegetables were Norwegian.
A supplier in Randaberg outside Stavanger was frequently used because he delivered on the hour even if the phone call came at midnight.
That was important, because the supply ship would not wait. Those who delivered food to the North Sea also had to be able to meet the oil industry’s demand for efficiency.
Queues in the canteen
The 2/4 Q platform in the Ekofisk Complex had temporary accommodation for 70-80 people. Personnel from such companies as Brown & Root arrived by helicopter in the early morning.
There could be up to 400 extra mouths to feed. But the canteen could only take about 35 diners at the same time. They were then given a specific time to eat, because the queue stretched down the corridor to well into the radio shack – quite a distance.
Lack of space meant people could not change out of their work clothes. They had to take off their oily and dirty outerwear and boots, which were banned in the canteen, and walk in their socks.