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Chef Byron Bursey adds another layer to one of his famous desserts.
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Just a few of the desserts whipped up by chef Byron Bursey. All are made from scratch by Bursey himself. Which one would you choose first? And second…

Articles of Interest

February 1, 2008
Byron Bursey: celebrity chef on the FPSO
Petro-Canada Flagship - Issue 1, Volume 7

We’re in the kitchen on the Terra Nova FPSO. It’s early evening and many of the day shift have already turned in for the evening. With the exception of one other person in the galley, a steward, all is quiet.

This is a favorite time for head chef Byron Bursey, who is putting together one of those decadent desserts for which he has become famous.

The kitchen is generally considered ‘off limits’ but this doesn’t stop someone from sticking his head in the door to ask ‘What’s for supper tomorrow?’ When he sees that there is an interview going on, he apologizes and then says, ‘Be sure to write about the desserts!’

I ask Bursey to explain why everyone keeps talking about his desserts.
‘Well, the rumour is that they are very good,” the chef says with a smile, spooning a layer of cookie crumbs into the dessert cups. “Desserts, I find, are very important, especially here, where you are confined and limited to where you can eat. In fact, after working a 12-hour shift, the entire meal experience is certainly a high point of the workers’ day”

It follows then, that the chef is an extremely important position on any offshore installation.

“No question about that,” Bursey says. “Food is fuel for the body, and mind too. If the food isn’t good, people are going around half-hungry and tired. If the food is bad the morale is bad. Everybody is on edge and their mind isn’t on their job like it should be. Food has a major part to play in running an offshore installation.”

That being the case, the workers on the FPSO have reason to be content — and perhaps make regular visits to the gym. Working in their midst is one of the best known chefs in the province; the former owner of the Flake House Restaurant and former executive chef of several other well-known establishments. During his 23 years in the food industry, Bursey has won awards for his cooking, taught culinary skills and served as consultant to other restaurants.

So why, then, would he leave all that for the challenging lifestyle that goes with working offshore, with its three weeks on / three weeks off rotation?

“I wouldn’t trade this for anything,” Bursey says with conviction. “Yes, you work a long day here — 12 hours— but that’s a lot better than the 14 or 16 hours a day I worked onshore! Those are the hours you work when you run a restaurant. And that was six days a week year-round, and seven in the busy season. I’d go home and all I wanted to do was sleep. I wasn’t fit to be with.”

Compared to that, the three weeks offshore sound positively relaxing — followed by three full weeks off. “And that is real time off. You don’t get someone calling you to complain that the stove isn’t working, or a tour bus is coming and they’re out of codfish. When I’m at home now I actually get chores done around the house — something I haven’t been able to do for years.”

There are other positives associated with cooking offshore, Bursey adds. “It’s a fantastic bunch of people here, the entire crew. You spend half your time with them, so they become like family... your second family.”

Bursey says his employer also understands the importance of feeding the crew well, so they don’t skimp in the quality and variety of food he is given to work with. “It’s amazing really. This Christmas, we had lobster, crab, shrimp, tenderloin, striploin, prime rib…it was unbelievable. I’ve got Belgian chocolate back there to use when I want to. There are hotels and restaurants in town that don’t give you that much to work with.”

“I am really lucky to be here, and I’m really glad for the fact that I can come out here and practice my craft, with very little restriction. I’ve got a pretty good feel now for the crew, what they like and dislike, and usually it works out pretty good. Unlike the restaurant business, you know every day exactly how many reservations you’re going to have... they always show up and are good return customers!”

The up and down, back and forth motion of the FPSO, which can range from gentle to rough depending on the weather, doesn’t cause any real issues in the kitchen, Bursey said.

“In bad weather, you have to be careful not to put too much in the pan, and be careful when handling hot stuff. It’s just an adaptation you make and it doesn’t take very long. When it’s rough and you’re making scrambled eggs, it’s easy... they scramble on their own! You don’t even have to touch them. One time I went into the galley and was going to slice up a bologna. I laid it on the table and reached for something and when I turned back around, the bologna was gone. I had to run after it!”

Another worker leans in to ask if the new charbroiler will be ready in time for steak night. He sees we are busy and bows out, but not before saying ‘Ask him about the diesel oil!’

So I do, and learn that, as a young man, Bursey worked for Chimo Shipping as an ‘oiler’ in the engine room. He tired of it and decided to study cooking, something he was always naturally good at. In one media article, a journalist wrote that he had graduated ‘from diesel oil to olive oil’.

Incidentally, one of Bursey’s co-workers on the Chimo ship away back then was a young man named Eric O’Brien, now the Offshore installation Manager on the FPSO. The career path has come full circle for Bursey and O’Brien.

“Now I call Eric my sous chef,” he says with a wink.
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