How to be a first class cook on a yacht.
When you promise 5-star luxury on board a crewed charter yacht, the food on board is certainly put under the spotlight. Clearly, the level of equipment on board must be top quality, from both a sailing perspective as well as to ensure guest comfort. But when you get home at the end of the holiday, what will your friends ask you about? Once they've established that the weather was fine, 'what was the food like?' is probably going to be high up their list of questions.
The smaller the yacht, the tougher the challenge: less crew, less space for storage and preparation, less stability. Add to this the fact that the job description of the cook invariably also extends to hostess, mate/deckhand, water sports helper and housekeeping and you've got a real challenge on your hands. Not surprisingly, our guests frequently express sheer amazement at the standard and variety of what comes out of a Dream Sailing galley, with seemingly little fuss. The secret is in the planning and preparation.
1. Choose your recipes carefully.
Go for things which look impressive, taste delicious and don't include a list of obscure ingredients as long as your arm. Try each recipe first because quantities and timings are often inaccurate. Also, many recipes include unnecessary faffing, so if there are any simplifications and short cuts possible, make them. Re-write each recipe so the instructions suit your style of working and you don't forget the changes you've made.
2. Invest in the right equipment.
There's not space on a boat for a huge range of kitchen gadgets, so everything has to justify its place. Make sure you've got a good range of oven to tableware so you can serve things attractively without having to have two lots of dishes. Platters are a lunch time essential - ideal for seafood or a selection of cheeses and pate. Individual ramekins can be a far easier and more attractive way of serving things such as crumble for dessert, with less waste as well. As far as electrical devices are concerned, a good liquidiser/smoothie maker, a hand-held electric whisk and a mini-chopper will cover all of your needs without filling up the locker. If you've got space for a basic ice-cream maker, it's an ideal way of making easy but delicious desserts in advance and will make you every child's hero.
3. Use local produce.
The flavour of the food is part and parcel of the experience of being in a certain place: there's something incongruous about eating Singapore noodles when you're in St Tropez! Apart from anything else, ingredients typical to the region will be easier to find and a lot less expensive. Don't assume that everything will be available all year round because in many parts of the world you can only buy what's currently in season.
4. Compose menus that are practical to deliver, as well as blending complimentary tastes.
Bear in mind the equipment required to prepare and cook each element of the meal: if you're using the oven for the main course, serve a starter that doesn't require cooking or is cooked on the top of the stove. Avoid trying to prepare too many complicated dishes at the same time. Plan the menus to suit your itinerary, using up produce that goes off or ripens quickly first, as well as things that take up a lot of fridge space.
5. Provision accurately in advance.
Allow plenty of time to write your provisioning list, being specific about quantities and grouping products such as fresh produce, dairy items and dry stores so you're not running from one end of the shop to the other. Tick items off as you put them in your trolley so you don't miss things and forget them as it's no good discovering you're lacking the essential ingredient at dinner time when you're anchored in a deserted bay! Be realistic about the amount of fresh produce you can fit in the fridge and plan where you'll be able to replenish supplies; however, apart from things such as tomatoes, lettuce and fresh fruit, don't try to shop as you go because boats have a habit of not sticking to plans. If you absolutely have to have it, get it before you go. Small islands don't produce much food themselves and it will be flown in, so make sure you know what days the flights arrive because that's the time to do your provisioning. This applies to most of the Caribbean islands.
6. Pre-prepare and freeze wherever possible.
It's easy to bake a cake in advance and pop it in the freezer. Just plan the defrosting and your guests will be very appreciative when you deliver tea and home-made cake after an afternoon of sailing, especially in cooler weather. Also, the finished item normally takes up far less space than the ingredients and you remove the risk of them going off. For example, Gazpacho uses a huge pile of vegetables, but once made it freezes well and is ready to serve - especially useful if paired with a main course that is more challenging to deliver. If you're going on a passage, prepare a substantial, hot meal for each day and stock them in order in the freezer. Casseroles, tajines and curries are ideal because they're a meal in one and can be eaten with one hand if necessary in bouncy conditions.
7. Give some thought to the presentation.
Everyone eats with their eyes as well as their taste buds! Take a little time to think about how you're going to present things. Will you plate the meal or will some elements be on the table for guests to help themselves? Bear in mind that if you're plating food, you will need the counter top space to lay everything out, which isn't easy in a small galley. And don't forget about the overall table setting: ring the changes from one mealtime to the next with different place settings and napkins/serviettes. There's no need to be too 'Walt Disney', but a few stylish touches go a long way towards creating the right mood.
With forethought and planning, it's possible to delight your guests by delivering amazing food from even the smallest galley. However, don't make the mistake of thinking it's easy. In many ways, the hostess's job is tougher and more demanding than the skipper's; it requires hours of preparation and a great deal of focus on the detail. But putting in the effort beforehand will make an enormous difference, both for you and your guests; get it right and it can help turn a nice holiday into the holiday of a lifetime.
Michelle Blore is a yacht owner and founder of Dream Sailing which specialises in luxury crewed sailing yacht charter. Visit www.dreamsailing.com to find out how you can experience the world of luxury yachting for yourself.