While the police were striking in New Orleans last weekend, putting a damper on Mardi Gras activities, Buddy Bourgeois was whooping it up in Washington.
Bourgeois was one of the 2,600 Cajuns who gathered to honor the Louisiana Delegation last week at the Washington Hilton. For the occasion the Cajuns flew in 700 pounds of steamed shrimp and over two thousand pounds of freshly shucked oysters to feed the crowd.
Feeding hungry crowds is Bourgeois' business. He runs the largest offshore rig "complete house-keeping" firm in the Gulf of Mexico, serving 7,500 meals on 140 rigs, 24 hours a day. It's a business fit for a Cajun. "We're used to manuvering boats in rough waters. Only a Cajun knows how to slide up to a 200 foot rig in 10-foot waves and put supplies on board," boasts Bourgeois. His bayou chauvinism runs deep.Bourgeois is from Morgan City and that means oil rigs.
"Oil rigs are to Morgan City what snow is to Switzerland," says Larry August, the public relations officer/translator for a group of Morgan City oil-rig men. It is his job to calm the bad press Morgan City and the off-shore oil business has received in recent years. (One of Bourgeois' cooks, a man named "Preacher," was picked up by the feds after being seen on the FBI's Most Wanted list.)
August doesn't like to talk about the bad guys. He does say, however, that the men who work for Bourgeois' company, Oceanic Butler, have to be tough. There are no women, no booze, no recreation except a sneaky Cajun poker game and television, and very little free time. The few women that do work on the rig platform better be ugly. The pretty ones are tormented with practical jokes and suspicion. Romantic encounters are forbidden. The men must keep their minds on their work.
"These guys are drilling around the clock on rigs that cost from $20 million to $200 million, sometimes more than 12 hours a day. Buddy has to make sure they have nothing else to think about except their work," says August. While the roughnecks are drilling, Oceanic Butler makes beds, scrubs floors, cleans laundry and feeds bellies. "The workers don't have to spend a penny while they are on the rig. Everything is taken care of until they go on the bank (ashore)," says Bourgeois.
"Food is the major morale factor on a rig," adds August. To accommodate the crews, Oceanic Butler serves four meals a day, including two entrees for dinner and snacks between meals. Fresh pastries, pies and cookies are made on the rig every day and only fresh eggs and milk are used. "There is no powered anything," says Bourgeois. Nor are soft drinks served.
"They used to throw the empty bottles into the water," says August. He also explains that the EPA does not look lightly on littering or polluting the waters. Non-edible waste is disposed of with chemicals and edible waste is thrown over the rig platform for the fish.
On Mondays the traditional Cajun meal is served -- red beans and rice. To spice the food the tables are supplied with familiar Cajun condiments -- "pickapepper," cayenne, Cajun mustard and Tabasco sauce. (The peppers for Tabasco are harvested every fall on Avery Island, La., ground and fermented for three years and mixed with vinegar to make hot sauce.)
The foreign influence of the meals varies according to the location of the rig and the majority of men on board. If they are Texans, Tex-Mex is served, but one thing is never seen. "We never make white gravy (white sauce) like ya'll have up here. We make brown gravy (a roux of flour and butter simmered until brown)," says Bourgeois.
The dangers the roughnecks face are the same for Bourgeois' men. If a storm or hurricane comes up, the rig must be evacuated in seconds. "We take on two weeks of supplies for 10 days on the rig in case the weather is so bad we can't get ashore," explains Bourgeois. "It doesn't happen very often. But if we do have to evacuate and can't get back to the rig before the food spoils, we have to start all over again with new supplies."
Suprisingly, it only takes four or five hands to take care of the 40 or 50 men on the rig. They have all day to do their job and nowhere to go.