I have been in some restaurants that were remodeled from private homes and admired the way that chefs working in close quarters could turn out fine meals. The kitchen at Restaurant Jules Verne, the eatery located almost at the top of the Eiffel Tower, turns out gourmet delights despite being the size of large closet. This is still roomy compared to the galley of a flying boat. Take a look at the kitchen in this Sikorsky VS-44:
And yes, that’s it. Two burners, two ovens, a prep space the size of two shoeboxes (that has a sink built in under it, covered in this photo), and the tall cabinet is the left photo is a refrigerator. That little space turned out meals for 26 passengers and three crewmembers, and they were fine meals – this aircraft was owned by American Export Lines, which also operated luxury liners and tried to match that standard of service. Harry Pember, in his book on the aircraft, wrote that meals were “prepared from scratch and served, in the style of the finest restaurants, to the 26 passengers on board.”
Look at something else about that kitchen and you’ll really be happy that you didn’t have to cook in it: There’s no lip on those electric burners, no barrier between them and the aisle, so if the aircraft hit some turbulence, a pot of boiling water could go flying. I thought this might have been a detail left off of an aircraft that was extensively refurbished and now in a museum, but a look at the brochure from when this plane was new (left) shows the same situation.
The VS-44 was one of the last prewar designs, a relatively fast long-range aircraft that first flew in 1937. Pan Am, the major buyer for all passenger flying boats, decided they preferred larger aircraft from Boeing and Martin, but a few went into commercial service and kept flying passengers in the Caribbean until 1969. This aircraft was restored to beautiful condition after spending some years beached as a hot dog stand in St. Croix. To think of the kitchen that once produced luxury meals reduced to making hot dogs is sad, but the aircraft was rescued and is now available for viewing. Gourmet meals may never be cooked here again, but at least visitors can admire both the beauty of the aircraft and the agility of the people who cooked and served in her.