By CDR John Neeb, SC, USN (Retired)
I also remember “Neeb's Loaf.” I got in trouble for the “name” but the “Galley Story” is a good one.
In March 1981, I believe, and six weeks prior to the arrival of “Neeb's Loaf,” I took 15 members of a high school recruiting group through the galley prior to a meal. We had already toured King Hall (it was called the Wardroom in 1981) during set up prior to the evening meal, and we were in the galley during final meal prep. Following a coffee break, we were to eat the evening meal with the Brigade.
I walked over to one of the large, free standing ovens and said to the group, "Want to see what's for dinner?" I opened the oven’s large doors and you could see the “ferris wheel” of oven shelving rotating around inside the garage-sized heating chamber of the oven.
As I walked up to the oven, I remembered that there was about 1,400 pounds of ground beef allocated to the meal. I remembered how much meat was taken out of the freezer, but not what the menu item was for that evening’s meal. I opened the door and then quickly shut it because I could not figure out what I was looking at. I just did not recognize what was being prepared and could not tell the group what was for dinner. Mr. Simmons, the Galley Foreman, always walked with me when I was in the galley because I asked questions (I didn’t know that much) and this gentlemen had been in the galley for 28 years when I reported to the Academy. He leaned up to me and whispered in my ear that what I was looking at was "meat loaf."
The way “meat loaf” was prepared prior to 1981 at the Academy, was to set the hamburger machines for “12 patties” all pushed together. The hamburger product was just that, defrosted hamburger right out of 35 pound cases and pushed into the hamburger machine’s hopper. The hamburger machine then "poops" out 12 hamburger patties all pushed together. You could actually see the individual patties in the loaf. The planning recipe called for two “loaves per table,” 372 tables in the Wardroom, you get the idea. I thought the final product was ugly, tasteless and cooked well done.
The menu item called "meat loaf" had an acceptability factor at the beginning of 1981 of about 60%. Either the Brigade did not like it (the Midshipmen actually complained about it) or it was not eaten and left to be thrown out. Either way, "meat loaf" was not a good item but it was served every 4 to 6 weeks, depending on the time of the year.
Mr. Simmons told me that any new menu item or major recipe modification could not be accomplished in under 6 months. With one new menu item coming on the menu every 6 weeks or so, staff training, practice in the galley and acceptability trials with the Brigade actually took that long. I told Mr. Simmons that the next time "meat loaf" was served it would be a new loaf.
Mr. Simmons organized his staff and the galley started coming up with the recipe modification, then practiced with 1 company of Midshipmen (10 tables), then practiced a week later with a battalion sized group of Midshipmen (60 tables). The final recipe called for the hand packing of the nearly 1,600 pounds of meat, with spices, veggies, eggs, bread, etc mixed into the ground beef to make the new loaf. The beef mixture was hand packed into 6 pound loaves. (By the way, the loaf I make at home is killer. I know my loaf.)
I am sure you know that Navy menus for the “Crew” are always signed by the Commanding Officer. At USNA, the Commandant signs the menu about a week to 10 days in advance of the first meal on the week long menu. Food items are ordered in weeks in advance, and some items one day in advance and others actually received the day of production, depending on the item. Even though we changed the recipe, it was still called “Meat Loaf” in the master recipe service. It did not enter my mind that "meat loaf" night for the Brigade was coming up and the draft menu went up well in advance to the Commandant for his signing and approval. We used a mimeograph machine in 1981 to make copies for all of the Companies and other distribution throughout USNA. At the time this all happened, I did not know the breath of the distribution of the Midshipman Menu and how “public” it really was.
It dawned on me one morning that next week’s signed menu was about to go into printing but still had "Meat Loaf" on it. I knew that if "Meat Loaf" went on the menu, the Midshipmen would think one thing was being served while what they were getting was something else. I also realized that all of the work to change the “Meat Loaf” recipe would be marginalized if we did not change the name of the menu item.
Jim, I had a signed and approved menu in my hand and it had to go to printing. So what could I do? Yes, that’s right, I took the signed menu sheet, used “white out” very carefully, then slipped the signed menu sheet into an IBM Selectric III typewriter, and I typed in "Neeb's Loaf."
No big deal, nobody reads the menu anyway, at least that is what I thought. I did not know (this all was within the first 3 months of my reporting to USNA) that Plebes have to memorize the menu and sound off with the complete menu in Company areas all over Bancroft Hall before they march down and enter the Wardroom. And when they did (Plebes of the Class of 84) they were asked, “What is "Neeb's Loaf?" and, of course, no one knew. So they all said "I will find out."
“Neeb's Loaf” was really good that night, and it was something new and unknown. It brought down most of the Brigade into the Wardroom (King Hall). Every chair set that evening was taken. The estimate of discarded “Neeb’s Loaf” after the meal was “To Small to Record” from all of the tables set that night. (The food garbage from the Wardroom floor is actually evaluated as part of the “galley control process.”)
Prior to that meal, the Midshipmen sort of knew I was there because I had walked the Hall every meal since the end of January, 1981. They saw me, but we really did not talk. They did not know my name. I also happened to be driving a 1964 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud III to work and the Midshipmen kept looking at the “Supply Officer in the Rolls.” But now, every Midshipmen knew my name.
Fortunately, “Neeb's Loaf” was really good.
Normally, that would be the end of a good “Galley Story.” But this was the Naval Academy, and like I said, I did not realize the extent of what goes on the Wardroom/King Hall actually got beyond the basement of Bancroft Hall.
At the Commandant's Morning Brief the next morning, the acceptability of the evening meal, the name “Neeb’s Loaf” and the interest from the Midshipmen (the Plebes got creamed because they did not know what “Neeb’s Loaf” was) got discussed. A copy of the menu was presented and you could plainly see the change I made to it. I mean white out is white out and you could see the change. During the meeting, the Deputy Commandant called and told me to report to the Commandant's Office. I was in the Ice Cream Room (the galley actually made the Ice Cream in Bancroft Hall, not the Dairy Farm). I was in a white jump suit and hairnet watching the morning ice cream production, so when the galley office staff told me the Commandant wanted me I just ran up the stairs, entered the Rotunda and walked into the Commandant's Office. (I did knock three times) The office was really full of people and everyone was in "dress uniform." My white jump suit was covered with streaks dark ice cream, no cover (hair net in my hand), in other words, I was working, but reported to the Commandant’s Office “as ordered."
I was asked about “Neeb’s Loaf”: Yes, I changed the name of the menu item after it was signed by the Commandant; No, I did not know I had to be in Dress Uniform to be on this deck; No, I did not know I had to have a cover; Yes, I knew my shoes were filthy. I was asked for an explanation by the Deputy Commandant.
In front of everyone, I told the Commandant I had just spent 2 years in a civilian hotel school (MBA, Michigan State University), and that I believed the Commandant's job equated to being a General Manager of a large hotel and that I was his Executive Food Director. I also said that I had missed the menu item change and believed I had the authority to change the menu, as needed, to make the production in the galley a seamless 24/7 operation. I said I had just a few minutes to identify a change to the name of an evening meal item and just used my own name. I stood up for the galley staff and just put my name on the menu, something I learned in Hotel School.
Being chewed out was something that over the years I got used to. As I recall it happened more than a few times at the Academy. Maybe if I had used the name "the Deputy's Loaf" or “the Dant's Loaf" it would not have been that big a deal.
The interesting thing was that the Academy got over 400 letters (no emails in those days) talking about “Neeb's Loaf.” It was written up in the newspaper and made the radio talk show discussion in Annapolis. It was the start of many food items designed for the Brigade and King Hall. But Jim, the really important part was that Brigade met their “Mess Caterer” and knew my name in less than 80 days after reporting aboard. The Midshipmen started talking to me that evening and it was just easier for them to call me “Commander Food” which they all seemed to remember. In Hotel School, the term “Branding” is talked about often. I took 6 graduate level courses in hotel and restaurant marketing, executive decision making and hospitality advertising. I knew exactly what I was doing, and yes, I am lucky it worked.
Now, some former Midshipmen remember something that happened over 32 years ago. Now, that in the restaurant business, is really amazing.
John Neeb Commander, SC, USN (Retired) Mess Caterer to the Brigade of Midshipmen Classes of 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987