My two favorite books about what “yachtie” life is like, especially from the perspective of working onboard, are by megayacht chef and author, Victoria Allman. I highly recommend checking out either of her two books about being yacht crew: SEAsoned: A Chef’s Journey with Her Captain (2011) and Sea Fare: A Chef’s Journey Across The Ocean (2nd Edition, 2013).
Talk about fun memoirs that give you an insightful account of crew life! I was so entertained by Victoria’s stories in her books—and based on her illustration in SEAsoned about what it is like as a yacht chef working with both inexperienced and experienced crew—I asked her to contribute a blog post… (And you can also grab her recipe for Poached Shrimp with a Coconut Butternut Squash Sauce here.)
Here is what Victoria Allman has to say with regard to the relationship between a yacht chef and a stew:
The Chef and Stewardess Dance
Contributed by Victoria Allman
It’s a delicate relationship between chef and stewardess; one that can make or break at trip. When the bond between the two is strong, the guests get the best possible service, food goes out hot, pertinent information is passed to the appropriate people, service is smooth, and the whole crew is happy. This is not always the case. When the relationship between chef and stew has soured, the guests suffer, the rest of the crew are affected and important information that could make the trip go so much easier is often left unsaid.
In SEAsoned: A Chef’s Journey with Her Captain, I illustrate what it is like as a chef on a yacht working with both inexperienced and experienced crew. I like a mix of both in the stewardess department to add both knowledge and eagerness to the day’s tasks. Because, what is essential to me, as a chef, even more so than experience, is that we are all working on the same page; to deliver the best experience to the guests as possible. I want the interior crew to get excited about what we are doing and get along so that this goal is seamless and enjoyable for everyone.
Because really, which of the two scenarios would you rather work with?
The alarm blares at five-thirty in the morning. The cabin is pitch black when you roll out of bed, tripping over last night’s uniform crumpled on the floor and stumble to the head. Looking in the mirror, you realize five hours sleep between last nights never-ending cocktail party and now was not enough time to erase the dark circles that have been forming under your eyes the last twelve days of this charter.
Your pantry is darker than the cabin as you enter. Random dishes from the dishwasher in the galley are piled precariously in front of the all-needing coffeemaker that sits quiet and cold in the corner.
In the galley, the chef replaces “Good Morning” with “I need the silver tray for fruit and chafing dish for the bacon.”
He slams a pan on the stove and narrows his eyes to thin slits.
There is no amount of caffeine that will wipe the scowl from his face.
“What type of muffins are you baking?” You try to defrost the man before the day spirals out of control.
He rolls his eyes and points at the blackboard above the phone, grunting but not answering.
Either Banana Bran or Blueberry Bran is scrawled in a doctor’s signature font and you are too afraid to ask which one he means. You hope the guests don’t ask.
You slink back into the pantry, muttering under your breath, and vowing to wait until the chief stewardess is awake to tell him about the beach barbecue the guests were planning last night. There’s no way you are going in there to get yelled at again. If he wants to know what is going on today then he’ll have to come here and ask you, you think.
It isn’t until eleven o’clock when the chief stewardess tells the chef about the planned barbecue. By then, he’d already prepared a lunch of fish tacos and roasted poblano pepper enchiladas.
His fury is evident. He slams the cooler bag on the counter and throws a bag of peaches into it. You can feel the bruises popping out on the delicate fruit like it were your own skin.
“I don’t have time for this. They can’t eat enchiladas on the beach.” His glare bounces between you and the chief stewardess like a pinball. “They’ll have to eat sandwiches.”
You and the chief exchange glances, too afraid to tell him that the guests would like a full barbecue, and pray that the rest of the trip doesn’t start out like today has.
The first rays of light seep through the porthole as you roll out of bed and tiptoe to the head to dress for another great day in the Bahamas. The rich aromatic smell of coffee meets you half way up the stairs.
“Morning, sunshine.” The chef’s cheery voice greets you at the pantry door as he hands you a steaming mug of coffee. “How was your evening?”
You spend the next five minutes discussing what happened after he put out the last chocolate tart. “They were talking about going to the beach this afternoon.” You relay.
“Great! A beach barbecue, it is.” The chef explodes in a smile from ear-to-ear. He grabs a pad of paper and starts jotting notes. “Do you have enough coconut bowls that I can make papaya mousse, as well as serving pina coladas in them?”
His enthusiasm is addictive. “We can do a Polynesian theme.” You exclaim and tell him about the grass skirts you have in the back of the decoration cupboard.
“Fantastic!” He tailors his menu to include roasted pork and pineapple skewers, poke, and grilled mahi-mahi with vanilla passion fruit sauce.
You are a team. Each suggestion spurns a new idea to create a better experience for the guests.
You remember that the new deckhand plays ukulele and add him to the entertainment as you rack your brain of which bilge holds the tiki torches.
“We last used them for the Urban charter.” The chef reminds you as he brings over a carrot nut muffin still warm from the oven. “You better eat before we get rolling. It’ll be a long day.”
It is now your turn to break into a smile. You love that the chef takes care of you and worries about your well-being. You want to reciprocate and offer to sweep his floor before the guests awake and want breakfast.
For the next three hours the two of you weave in and out of each other’s space like a well choreographed danced. He helps you unpack the dishwasher from the night before while you run down and grab an extra bottle of olive oil from the crew mess for him.
You find yourself humming and wishing this trip could go on forever.
Is there really any question of which relationship works best in the confined space of a yacht?
My advice to every crewmember, in any position, is to work hard at building relationships with your crew mates, chef or not. No matter how big the yacht is, it is too small a space to be in scenario one for any amount of time.
A big thanks to Victoria for contributing this piece. I absolutely loved both of Victoria Allman’s books.
Sprinkled with over 30-mouthwatering recipes and spiced with tales of adventure, SEAsoned is the hilarious look at a yacht chef’s first year working for her captain-husband while they cruise from the Bahamas to Italy, France, Greece and Spain, trying to stay afloat. I laughed out loud at some of the stories she told about her experiences with other crew on large charter yachts.
Sea Fare is for readers who enjoy travel writing and exotic cuisine. Culinary trained at the Statford Chef’s School in Canada and the Culinary Institute of America, Victoria shares her nine-year cooking odyssey as a yacht chef.
I highly recommend them both, but if you’re going to choose one, SEAsoned gave the best crew stories. Find both books through most all online book merchants such as Amazon.com and BN.com, or visit Victoria’s website at www.VictoriaAllman.com.
And be sure to check out Victoria’s recipe for Poached Shrimp with a Coconut Butternut Squash Sauce here.