Outside the Massachusetts Maritime Academy dining hall sits the USTS Kennedy, the ship that carries — and feeds — hundreds of cadets during the school's annual training cruise.
It was on one of those cruises that dining service Director Luther "Fritz" Fritzinger started thinking about hosting an international cooking competition back home at the academy's Buzzards Bay campus.
"We were in Panama and we had brought all our alumni there together for a reception. We started talking about food and it just sort of grew," Fritzinger says.
Using money from the Compass on the Community program funded by Chartwells, the academy's food service provider, Fritzinger invited chefs from maritime academies in Panama and Shanghai to a cook-off with Mass. Maritime Sous Chef Mike Fuller.
The big day is June 6 and members of the public who eat lunch at the academy ($8 per person) that Wednesday can stay and watch the competition, which will start around 1:30 p.m.
"Walk in the door with $8 and they're welcome," Fritzinger says.
Borrowing from the Food Network's "Iron Chef" format, the academy cook-off will give each chef a basket of food and a half-hour to create the tastiest, most creative dishes.
Fritzinger has asked the visiting chefs to come a day early and cook entrees commonly served in their native lands. He expects students will be excited to sample the authentic cuisine.
"With all the TV shows about food, they understand food in a way I didn't at their age," Fritzinger says. "I try to provide a broad spectrum. We have a stir-fry station, a salad bar and three hot entrees. And everything we cook is from scratch."
On a busy day, the academy's dining hall serves some 3,000 meals. Routinely open to the public ($7 for breakfast, $8 for lunch and $9 for dinner), it draws some regulars, including a group of bikers who stop by after their weekly ride along the Cape Cod Canal.
During sea term, the cadets and the dining service manager are aboard ship. Even at sea, Fritzinger says, there are few limitations on what the staff can whip up — bananas Foster and root beer floats are favorites.
"We have very little ability to broil, but we do great picnics on the ship — sirloin steaks, spicy sausage. And we get produce in port."
"They like baby bananas. You eat them when they turn brown and they're very sweet."
One thing most cadets don't have to worry about is counting every calorie.
"They're very active," Fritzinger says. "Most could handle a 3,000-calorie diet without gaining an ounce."