Crew Feature: Chief Cook Ranjith Gopakumar Nalini

5th Jun 2023

There are certain regional cuisines in this world that command attention. Beyond glorious taste or powerful nourishment, they capture the imagination, become mythical, and can even connect civilizations.

Chefs steeped in the cooking traditions of these locations are custodians of culinary creations that pass down through generations and are exported overseas.

Chief Cook Ranjith Gopakumar Nalini was raised in Chennai, the capital of the Tamil Nadu state in southern India, a region known for bold and flavourful spices, extensive use of coconut and tamarind, and an emphasis on vegetarian dishes. 

It is from the ancient Tamil word ‘kari’ that the modern word ‘curry’ was created by British traders transporting spices from South India centuries ago. 

“What is food?” asks Ranjith, from a tanker managed by Northern Marine. 

“It nourishes us, satisfies our hunger, and is essential for our survival. 

“But, just like art, music, and movies it also tells us a story that we can pass on to future generations. 

“Food is one of the oldest forms of communication and connection, and it is extremely powerful.

“I used to love eating different dishes made by my grandma. She was my greatest inspiration. Slowly, I started to learn her recipes and started helping her in the kitchen. 

“Somehow, it became my hobby to get engaged in cooking. As I grew, I started trying different dishes at home and started giving my best since I love cooking.

“A dish I can't refuse if my grandma makes it is ‘karimeen pollichathu’, a pearl spot fish wrapped in banana leaf and grilled. 

“In each and every bite you can feel the spices on your tongue as it melts in your mouth.

“If you come to Chennai, then you should definitely try some of the lip-smacking food like biryani, idli, sambar, masala dosa, and so on.”

Having been a cook at sea for 14 years, 8 of those with Northern Marine, Ranjith has created as many as 38 different dishes at one time for crew onboard. 

He is now well-used to cooking a wide range of different national cuisines and is motivated to expand his knowledge of wider international dishes, but it is Indian cooking that his passion was built upon.  

This is obvious when Ranjith discloses the most popular dish amongst crew. 

“Biryani is the most popular dish onboard. 

“And it's no wonder, for this dish truly is a feast for the senses. With its rich, aromatic flavour and impeccable taste, biryani has won the hearts of food lovers around the world. 

“What's more, it's a healthy meal that you can enjoy any time of day or night.

“As you prepare biryani, the tantalizing aroma of fresh spices will fill your kitchen, whetting your appetite and stirring your senses.”

Becoming a seafaring chef

Travel, good salary and being exposed to a variety of cultures are the reasons Ranjith decided to go to sea.
His career to date has been packed with experiences, but there is one occasion that stands out as his most cherished. 

He added: “I take pride in being a seafarer, and nothing should be able to take that away from me. 

“There have been countless moments in my life that I cherish, but there is one that stands out among the rest. 

“It is a moment that I hold close to my heart and will always remember with pride. 

“It was the day I blew the whistle as a Chief Cook, and it happened when I was just 23 years old. 

“I still remember the rush of adrenaline that surged through me when I realized that I had successfully managed to prepare an array of dishes at the same time, leaving a lasting impression on my fellow crew members. 

“That experience was truly transformational, and it taught me the value of hard work, dedication, and perseverance. 

“I am grateful for that moment as it has shaped me into the chef I am today, always striving to exceed expectations and deliver an exceptional culinary experience.”

Engaging the senses

It is well-known that the quality of food being served in the galley can influence the morale of a ship’s workforce. 

Ranjith understands that responsibility. 

He said: “Good food can boost crew members' spirits, provide them with necessary nutrients, and create a sense of community and comfort amidst the challenging and often isolated conditions of being at sea. 

“Additionally, having access to quality ingredients and well-prepared meals can be an important factor in attracting and retaining skilled crew members.

“My way of connecting with people is through food. 

“Sharing a meal with someone creates an experience that engages all the senses and puts people in a good mood. 

“It helps them to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with others in a similar situation. 

“As they say, 'sharing is caring.' 

“We need to share more with our family, friends, and even strangers as it can create lasting connections.”