Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Is it still snowing in NYC?

Ok, so I'm totally slacking on my writing, been having a wee-bit too much fun!

I got a job aboard a beautiful 74' cetch sailboat, custom built by Joel White in Maine. The captain is really easy going and fun and the boat is in impeccable condition - so the captain believes in working and playing hard. I'm the chef/mate so I'm actually learning to sail and today we let out the genoa and sailed to Anguilla, and I learned how to drop anchor and check if it is caught or skipping, etc. The boat is entirely wooden, hull and all and there is really nothing mechanical on it - all the winches are hand cranked, etc. so I'm learning everything...

After spending 3 days provisioning the boat and getting ready for the guests we'll be picking up in February we headed to Anguilla to hang out and party with friends for two days. Funny enough, the captain has friends that were visiting from Mass. and they happened to know someone who knows my friend over there as well so we all had a good time hanging out together, had a little get together on the boat and then went out to dinner. We sailed back to St. Martin this morning to pick up a new crew member who will be sailing with us down to Bequia, which we leave for tonight. We'll be hangin' in Bequai for a week and then on the 8th we pick up the owner of the boat and two of his friends in St. Vincent. We'll be sailing the Grenadines for 10 days with them and then they leave and we sail on over to Bonaire for a month of working on the boat and windsurfing... The owner will come back down sometime in March for another visit and then we'll find out where we go next - perhaps through the Panama Canal to the Sea of Cortez and Mexico, or we may check out Venezuala and spend the rest of the season down there. Sometime around May or June we'll be heading back up to Maine with stops in Florida and possibly the Carolina's - unless we go to Mexico, then we'll be doing Mexico and the West Coast of the US.

So, all is good and it pays to be picky and wait for the right job. I've had seven solid job offers in three weeks down here. The mega-yacht industry is STARVED for good crew - and especially chefs. I was offered a full-time position aboard the charter boat that I just finished up on, but I decided that the job on the sailboat offered more opportunity for adventure and fun. In the yachting world - the sailboat people tend to be more laid-back and easy going... The pay isn't as high as on a charter --- but it's still great and beats the hell out of slinging hash at a restaurant in New York!!!

I have yet to worry about a budget. These people want the best of everything, and are more than happy to pay for it. I use a provisioning company to order my meat, fish, wine and specialty ingredients. I get excellent quality from the provisioners - sushi grade fish, angus beef, milk-fed veal, organic, free-range chicken, etc. and there really isn't anything that I can't find through them. On the charter I just left and the boat I'm on now, the crew eats the same food as the guests and their is an unlimited crew wine budget. I get some guidelines as to what the guests like - but basically the menu is up to me and so far I've been able to have a lot of fun.

So, all is good. Well, I have to sign off now - we're heading out. Next time I write we'll be down in Bequia...

Peace out.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Daily Grind...

Seared Duck Breast Salad with Blood Oranges, Fennel and Pomegranite Vinaigrette

Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Pan Seared Sea Scallops with Caper-Lemon Sauce
Roasted Celeriac
Sauteed Spinach

Ginger and Vanilla Bean Poached Pears with Vanilla ice-Cream and Dolce de Leche

The biggest challenge in being a charter chef is coming up with menus that are fresh and new everyday, three meals a day, seven days a week, for two or more weeks, for twelve people. I had created menus and had all my meals planned out on paper, but that went out the window as I had to make adjustments to suit everyone’s eating habits, the availability of ingredients and the daily requests of the clients. But all in all, our guests are very easy and I know that on some charters people can be very demanding…

My day begins at 7am making pastries, frittata’s and fruit salad then I begin prepping for lunch so that if we go anywhere and I can’t cook in transit then everything will be ready (or close to it) when we arrive. The waters can be rollie so I have to keep all my prep on top of towels on the counter or it will slide away. Yesterday I had a near miss with a jelly jar as it went sliding out of my reach and last night I had doubts about my rice cooking properly with the water sloshing about in the pot.

I’m constantly reading cookbooks and picking up cooking magazines to get new ideas. Desserts are the biggest challenge as I have five small refrigerators that cool down too easily when doors are opened and shut so custards and things don’t tend to set very well. The freezer is all drawers and is so crammed full there isn’t room to put desserts in their either and it’s too hot and humid to leave a dessert out on the counter. But I’ve found that fruit desserts work well; mango shortcake, poached pears; and cakey things like flourless chocolate cake, cheesecake. I’ve been cooking professionally now for almost seven years and yet every time I step into a new kitchen I feel like my brain falls out of my head and I can’t think of anything to cook. Another challenge of feeding all these people on the charter is that meal time comes in waves and many times everyone wants something different. For breakfast I feed the crew one thing, the guests another, the children of the guests another and on top of the frittata’s and pastry and fruit there are special requests for eggs to order, omelets, pancakes, etc. For lunch I feed the crew first, and then the guests and I have to come up with something for the non-meat eaters and the children, and sometimes again, the guests each want something different for lunch. At dinner time the crew eats early (so that they can help me clean up when the guests are done) and some guests may eat earlier or later than others and the children eat different food at a different time at a different table. It definitely keeps me on my feet and my day sometimes doesn’t end until 11pm.

Working on this thus far has been a great experience. The crew are fantastic, everyone lifts their weight, works hard, helps each other out and maintains a sense of humor, because if we didn’t all have a sense of humor we’d kill each other or go out of our minds – as the captain said, we’re adults living like children (bunk beds, shared quarters, etc.).

We’re in Anguilla again, this time for two days. We had planned on going to St. Barth but the weather at sea has been rough and our crane isn’t working to hoist the dinghy and we would flip it or lose it if we were to tow it in high seas. We left on very short notice (about an hour) so I didn’t have time to grocery shop and my supply of fresh produce and ingredients is running a little low – but it’s amazing how one can make do. I rationed the vegetables to the crew last night so that I would have plenty for the guests and they are talking about going out to dinner tonight which would be great, otherwise it’s frozen spinach! But I’ve got ample supply of other provisions so everything will be fine.

This charter was supposed to be ending on Monday, January 23rd but it has just been extended for two more weeks. I’ve got another charter lined up beginning on January 28th so I will have to leave this one and go directly on to the next one without any time off, which is kind of a bummer as I am totally and thoroughly exhausted. But the next charter is aboard a 74’ sailboat heading down to St. Vincent. We’ll be hitting the Grenadines and lots of little islands down and around South America. The captain and I are the only crew and I believe there are only two guests so we’ll be doing everything on this next adventure and I will really be learning to sail – I wouldn’t miss it for the world! I hope to find time to sleep sometime in late February or early March…

The Scoop on Soup...

Pancetta Wrapped Scallops
Guacamole with Yucca Chips

Petrale Sole with a White Wine Mushroom Sauce
Roasted Artichoke Hearts, Baby Little Neck Squash and Pommes Parisien
Cheese Course with Bleu D’Avergne, Rebluchon and Concord Grapes
Mango and Blood Orange Marinated in Contreau and Tarragon served with Vanilla Ice-Cream and Biscotti

Gazpacho is a chilled tomato and bread soup and although I don’t know the exact origins of it, I know it is from Spain and I would imagine that there are probably are as many different ways of making gazpacho are there are Spaniards. Unfortunately in America gazpacho has become a bastardized, watered down version of salsa; the bread sadly left out for the sake of the carb-phobic; red onion, cilantro and chili’s thrown in to give it that mass Tex-Mex appeal (please people, can we get over the Tex-Mex thing and move on already?); and some harsh, lip smacking acidity such as red wine vinegar and/or lime… Why not just throw a gob of sour cream on top and serve it with tortilla chips? Oh wait, I think the TGIF’s is doing that already…

In a feeble attempt at creating something closer to the real thing than the breadless, soupy dip we’ve all grown accustomed to, I read a few different recipes and made a highbred which I hope captures the true essence of gazpacho and has none of the trademarks of that slop served up at the all-you-can-eat fajita factory in your local strip mall. The guests on the boat raved about it…

Cristina’s Gazpacho that Does Not Taste Like Salsa.
And for the love of God, don’t leave out the bread mom!

2 lbs. fresh tomatoes – Do not attempt this recipe with canned tomatoes or worse, tomato juice (sorry Ina, but your recipe for gazpacho kind of sucks).
2 Red Peppers
3+ cups day old bread – preferably baguette or a rustic country loaf; crusts removed, bread cubed and soaked in water for 10 minutes. Drained, but not squeezed out.
1 English Cucumber, seeded and chopped
6 Cloves Garlic, mashed with salt and pressed through a garlic press
2 Tablespoons Good Quality Sherry Vinegar – Quality really makes a difference. Check your local gourmet store for a good brand; Vinegar de Jerez. Good sherry vinegar has body, flavor and depth along with acidity. Cheaper brands are about as flavorful as citric acid. If you don’t have sherry vinegar, than I would suggest a combination of Balsamic vinegar and red wine vinegar and perhaps just a few drops of lemon. But don’t use just straight up red wine vinegar, it’s much to tart and you’ll loose any subtlety in the ingredients.
2 Tablespoons fresh tarragon, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh basil (or chives), finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350. Roast whole tomatoes in aluminum foil lined pan for 30 minutes.

Roast peppers over gas flame or broiler until skin is charred. Put peppers in a paper bag or covered bowl for 10 – 20 minutes, until peppers are soft and skin has loosened. Reserve any accumulated juices and peel and seed peppers using a small pairing knife (don’t rinse under running water, this washes the flavor away).

Peel tomatoes and add tomatoes and any juices to bowl with bread. Chop peppers and add to bowl. Add vinegar, cucumbers and garlic. Puree in batches in food processor. Add herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least three hours and re-season before serving. Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with a slice of avocado, if you must (my one concession to that dreadful Tex-Mex fad, I do love avocados…).

See, no red onion, no cilantro, no limes…

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Anguilla Day Trip

Lunch on the Aft Deck in Anguilla:
Asian Marinated Shrimp Skewers with Spicy Gingered Slaw

Cocktails on the Fly Deck:
Scallop Ceviche with Mango and Pomegranate Seeds

Choice of
Middle-Eastern Marinated Lamb Tenderloin with Minted Yogurt Sauce
Middle-Eastern Marinated Mahi-Mahi with Sundried Tomato Tapanade

Haricot Verts with Frizzled Onions, Tomatoes and Cumin Seed
Jeweled Couscous with Dried Apricots, Pistachios and Fresh Herbs

Chef’s Tiramisu

Middle-Eastern Marinade:
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, finely minced
½ teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon cayenne
¼ cup fresh mint, finely chopped (rosemary would be a good alternative)

Whisk all ingredients together. Voila. Great on lamb, mahi-mahi, chicken, etc.

I made lamb sandwiches for the crew the next day by slicing up the lamb and adding a little mayo to the tomato tapanade for a spread. I put them on fresh baguettes with spicy baby arugula and shaved red onion. Everyone was very pleased.

Mis En Place

Pronounced “meez en plauss” and French for “mind in place”. One of the first terms you learn stepping into a professional kitchen…

Chocolate Chip Pancakes with Powdered Sugar and Strawberries
Egg and Cheese Sandwiches
Spinach, Pepper and Feta Frittata
Banana Bread
Fruit Salad

Curried Chicken Salad with Apples, Dried Cranberries and Pistachios
Green Salad with Mangoes, Fennel and Ginger-Lime Vinaigrette
Naan Bread

Warm Shiitake Salad with Oranges, Bamboo Shoots, Water Chestnuts and Citrus-Miso Vinaigrette
Chefs Selection of Sushi – Lacquered Salmon, Crab and Avocado Hand Rolls, Spicy Tuna Rolls, Tuna Sashimi
Flourless Chocolate Cake with Mango Coulis and Vanilla Cream

Today was one of those days – breakfast stretched on forever, everyone wanted something different, and nothing was going as it should. There were slip-ups, spills, my flourless chocolate cake cracked, and it was just a generally annoying day. I was preparing for two new arrivals to the boat - the parents of the owners already on board - and I was getting a sickening feeling in my stomach that things just weren’t going to go well. I’ve had my menus for this charter planned out for over a week and I had already ordered my provisions and done my grocery shopping as we’re going to be in Anguilla for a few days where there will be no grocery shopping (to speak of) available, when I came to learn this afternoon that one of the guests arriving doesn’t eat meat, which completely throws off what I had planned. This compounded by the arrival of a new crew member yesterday that also doesn’t eat meat, another crew member that doesn’t eat fish, another crew member that doesn’t eat anything, and the two children of the owners that only eat food that is white (bread and pasta), beige (peanut butter and bologna) or purple (grape jelly). But such is life being a yacht chef…

Sushi was on the menu for our guests for this evening. Sushi doesn’t take an incredible amount of preparation but it can be tedious and in order to make it look spectacular and appetizing, rather than sloppy and potential hazardous. It takes focus and organization and until today I haven’t quite felt like I’ve had the focus and organization that I need to be working on a mega-yacht, such as the one I’m on, and be putting out the level of quality that I personally want to be putting out…

The kitchen I work in is really tight and I began to feel “station creep”, something taking up every place on the counter, ingredients spreading far and wide. I really needed to pull myself together or the kitchen, and potentially dinner, was going to turn into a disaster. I looked around and thought about all the restaurants I’d worked in; if any of my old chefs saw me now they’d tell me to stop what I was doing and clean up my station - of course they would use much more colorful expletives and in a pitch that only dogs could hear – but you get my drift. I wasn’t thinking like a chef, my mind and my prep were all over the place.

A few years back I was asked by a friend to assist one of her friends (another chef) with a catering event. Upon arrival, my friend and I learned that the dessert for 150 people, which was supposed to be served in an hour and a half, was a complete disaster and totally un-servable. My friend was a pastry chef and the first thing she did was make everyone leave the kitchen while she and I spent the next 15 minutes (which seemed like an eternity) cleaning and organizing. Once the kitchen was clean and she had a grasp of what state the situation really was in and what ingredients she had available, she made a few phone calls to her sister who then ran to the grocery store for some ingredients, picked up some baking equipment from my friend’s house and brought everything to us. Then, my friend began delegating tasks to everyone; in an hour and a half we had completely recreated 150 desserts almost from scratch. Waiters were leaving the kitchen with plates of dessert while we were pulling the final batches out of the oven – but it all worked out seamlessly and the guests had absolutely no idea of the fiasco that had taken place.

I think about this every time I sense an impending disaster in the kitchen. It’s impossible to think if there is a mess, and you can’t focus on the problem because focusing on the problem isn’t going to put food on the plate. You have to become totally solution minded in a kitchen, especially on a boat where it seems like change, unexpected situations and disaster is lurking around every corner. So I stopped what I was doing and cleaned the kitchen, then took a break for five minutes. When I came back, I began setting up a station just as I would have if I were working in a restaurant - and just like that, everything started clicking and coming together. Before I knew it, it was time for “service” and the show was on. Even my presentation improved and the guests were gushing after dinner about how much they enjoyed everything and how beautiful it all looked.

Like an epiphany I realized what I needed to do and how I need to work to be able to enjoy what I was doing and not completely lose my mind. I thought I was organized, but in order to cook on a yacht, I have to be 100 times more organized – and extremely flexible. The nice thing about working on mega yachts is that there is a good budget for provisioning and menu planning, not that I can go completely crazy – but there is a lot of room to be flexible and to stock the boat well which is key when handling unforeseen situations and being well prepared, but I have to be able to deliver on their expectations too. Also, in provisioning for a charter I’m learning that I have to think a week ahead because once when we’re out motoring around to different islands I may not be able to get to a store for three or four days, and on many of these little islands around the Caribbean you just never know what you’re going to find; limp, anemic produce, poor quality meat, no herbs, and sometimes not even milk or eggs.… It takes a lot of planning…

So, all in all, I’m really happy that this is my first real mega-yacht experience because the captain has really been showing me the ropes and explaining how the business works. I’m being thrown into the fire and learning what the real mega-yacht world is all about. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also fun, really, really fun…

And leaving that other boat was the best decision I could’ve made.

The Owners Arrival

Seared Tuna Steaks Crusted with Herbs de Provence and Served with Black Olive Tapanade
Himalayan Red Rice Pilaf with Toasted Almonds, Orange Zest and Fresh Herbs
Medley of Baby Vegetables

Buttered Pasta and Frozen Vegetables (uncooked – served frozen!)

Cheese Cake with Warm Blueberries
Chocolate Chip Cookies

The owners of Prodigy arrived today, a very nice couple from Georgia with their two young daughters. The girls are cute as buttons; the nine year old is lanky and tall with blond hair, blue eyes and very smart looking glasses. Her six year old sister is shy but funny, still wrapped in a layer of baby fat, with a thick blond main of hair. She’s witty and mature for her age and you can tell she’ll be a real firecracker when she grows up…

I was given a list of the eating habits and food preferences of the family before they arrived; what kind of coffee they drink and how they take it, what they like for breakfast, what they don’t like, etc. The girls love frozen vegetables – frozen – literally. They gobble them up right out of the bag! I asked the girls what other foods they liked and the nine year old announced to me that she was a vegetarian except for a few particular meats. As she was saying this, my initial thought was that that is pretty astute for a nine year old to decide that she wants to be a vegetarian. As a kid, I don’t recall every having a choice in what I wanted to eat at supper time, I do however recall some very late nights spent sitting at the dinner table because I didn’t clean my plate… I asked what meats she did like to eat and being a chef and familiar with all the different categories of vegetarians there are (avo, lactate, avo-lactate, semi-with-fish, etc.) I figured that she would say something along the lines of fish or chicken. But no, this little lady has created a new category of vegetarianism all her own. She’s an Oscar-Meyer-Bologna-and-Hot-Dog-Vegetarian and occasionally she’ll eat fish sticks and chicken nuggets… Her mom and I had a good laugh over whether bologna and hot dogs actually constituted ‘meat’.

Sunday the grandparents arrive and we’ll be heading out for Anguilla and St. Barth.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

New year, new boat!

Crew Dinner aboard Prodigy:
New York Strip with Ancho-Lime Butter
Grilled Vegetables with Balsamic and Fresh Basil
Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

There was an article recently in DockWalk magazine about boat design and how crew quarters were usually given whatever little space remained once the interior was designed, and usually that space was tight and cramped which is unfortunate considering that owners and guests usually stay for only a few weeks or a month and the crew live aboard the boat full time… Nothing could exemplify this more than the quarters I am in aboard a 150 foot power boat (a.k.a. “plastic fantastic”, dubbed by the sail boat crowd) that is spacious and luxurious with all the amenities and yet the quarters, which I share with the stewardess, require entry through a small hatch at the bow of the boat, and climbing straight down a latter into a room that is no more than 6 ft. x 8 ft., fitted with two bunks, a minute closet, and a set of two tiny drawers. But it’s a trade off; the crew and the captain all seem really nice and the boat is beautifully maintained…

I’ve been hired for a two week charter while the other charter chef is on vacation, though there is a chance of the position going permanent. The captain aboard right now is also a relief captain as the permanent captain is on vacation for four weeks. Ironically, the relief captain was once actually the captain of the boat that I just left so she was sympathetic to my plight. And, the crew and everyone I’ve met so far in the yachty world all speak highly of this boats regular captain unlike when I mention the name of the boat that I left last week.

This yacht spends its summers in Rhode Island. On the passage to the Caribbean, the captain made stops in Florida, the Bahamas, and the Dominican Republic allowing the crew time off to go diving and even telling them they had to get up one morning at 6am to work – but then surprising them with a day off and tickets to an aquarium. Now that’s a good captain! The boat is used privately by the owners, but is also chartered. The boat has a scooter, Jet Ski’s, a canoe, diving equipment, and snorkels, etc.

We pick up the owners tomorrow in St. Martin and then head to St. Barth and Anguilla, weather permitting. It’s been a little stormy the past few days, and the seas are rough outside the marina so we’ll have to wait and see.

I landed this job just two days after arriving in St. Martin, and since I’ve had three other job offers. One I refused because I’d heard that the captain couldn’t keep his crew, lots of turn over, etc. and two others I am still speaking with. One would be a charter boat heading to Nantucket in the springtime and the other is a charter boat heading to the Mediterranean. I’m hoping to get on a boat to the Med…

Monday, January 02, 2006


New Years Eve Dinner:

Caviar Blini’s with Crème Fraiche and Chives
Oysters Mignonette
Grilled Octopus and White Bean Salad
Grilled Pomegranite Marinated Qauil
Salt Crust Baked Filet Mignon with a Whole Grain Mustard and Cornichon Sauce
Stuffed Baby Zucchini with Farro
Flourless Chocoloate-Coconut Cake with Tropical Fruit Coulis

New Years Day Brunch:
My Resignation

To say this year started with a bang would be an understatement… Going on a 7 week stretch with only one day off, I was beginning to run out of gas preparing dinner for ten people for New Years Eve – which should’ve been easy work. Then, at seven pm New Years Eve, I overheard the guests talking about a day sail for January 2nd. I asked about it, and was informed that there would be 30 people for lunch aboard the yacht. Considering that nothing would be open on New Years day, and I’d been asking for three weeks what the plans for the holidays were – to which I received no reply - I was a little steamed.

All things considered, I decided that enough was enough. As of midnight, January 1, 2005 I quit - effective immediately. Of course, the owner tried to jip me out of my pay, but after a heated argument I got my full pay and summarily left the boat. I knew of a crew house in St. Marteen where I would be able to stay on the cheap while I looked for work and the woman that ran the crew house also had a yacht placement agency that would be able to assist me in my search. The previous captain of the boat I worked on caught wind that I was leaving and fully understood why. He and his fiancé (he’s the captain, she’s a chef) were in St. Barth on a catamaran that they charter and there were no guests so they offered me a place to stay for the night and to sail with them to St. Marteen today, January 2nd. The captain knows the owner of the crew house and called for me and got me a room. In exchange for their help, I am going to be spending the day with them tomorrow doing work on their catamaran and getting it ready for the next charter. Another captain came by and said that he might be able to use me for a few days, and he gave me his number, and another captain said that she might be able to use me on a charter for a few weeks… So, even with no set place to stay and no job lined up, having just thrown caution to the wind – I can’t help but feel my spirits lifted. The sheer kindness that I have been met with since I stepped off of the boat is indescribable… I have totally confidence that I’ll find a new job within no time…

Anyway, yesterday evening the captain and his fiancé invited me to join them for dinner with some friends in St. Barth. The friends were American, from Sausalito of all places (I grew up between Sausalito and Burlingame in California)!!! One of the gals had made a traditional American holiday dinner – turkey with all the fixings! It was the best way to spend the New Year – with new friends… It was just awesome…

This morning we sailed into St. Marteen at around 10:30, then I grabbed a taxi to the crew house. The owners weren’t around but I was met by five other crew that were staying at the house, and assured once again that finding work should be no problem – there is a shortage of yacht chefs… Did I just strike gold? Guess we’ll find out…

The cat I sailed across on is a 62 foot gunboat. Apparently this is a world class yacht, built for speed. The captain said he sailed from Rhode Island to St. Marteen doing 24 knots in 27 knots of wind… (Forgive me if my verbiage is incorrect, I’m still new to all this). Just coming to St. Martinn, the cat was a totally different experience than a mono-hulled sailboat. The movement wasn’t so stomach churning. And the kitchen, well, it’s the ultimate open kitchen. Tiny is an understatement – but it is on deck and open to the sea which was really nice… It was a really nice sail…

It feels good to be off the yacht I was working on, great in fact, nice to set my bags down today and relax a bit. I could use a week off – but my job search starts ASAP and tomorrow I’ll be working at the catamaran…

So, stay tuned for the next adventure…

A Christmas Story

Christmas Dinner:
White Asparagus with Crispy Proscutto, Mache and Truffle-Balsamic Vinaigrette
Crispy Duck Breast with Curried Apple-Cranberry Chutney
Bhutanese Rice Pilaf with Shallots, Almonds and Cardamom
Dark Chocolate Orange-Blossom Mousse

If there is one thing I loathe more than being cooped-up on a yacht in St. Barth without access to land and without a day off in sight, it is being cooped-up in my Brooklyn apartment in the dead of winter during a snowstorm and a subway strike. This was the thought that went through my head on Christmas Eve as I bemoaned my situation to my mom on the phone, and she said to me, “honey, why don’t you just quit right now and fly home?”.

I could walk away from this job and head home, trek through the snow everyday to interview for jobs, pick up my catering and freelance clients again and trek through the snow to grocery shop and cook for them. But then I’d just be bitching about the weather, job hunting, this or that back in New York… As Gilda Radner said upon learning she had cancer, “it’s always something”, and so I’m going to take it in stride that I am at least stuck in St. Barth because if there is one thing that I’ll never grow used to, it’s winter in New York…

It is also too tempting a lifestyle to just throw in the towel; to be working aboard a yacht and traveling around the world appeals to my sense of wanderlust and I actually enjoy the culinary challenges (finding ingredients, small spaces, being at sea, etc.). In many ways, it’s an ideal marriage… And besides, I’ve already made the jump, I’m on a boat. I have the skills and qualifications and now I’m just gaining experience (wasn’t it Confucius who said experience is a curse?) and when the right opportunity presents itself to jump to another ship, I will.

I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone in my misery. My other two compatriots are going as stir-crazy as I. They’ve even taking to flirting with me, being ridiculously silly (they had “be nice to Cristina day” where they swore not to pick on me at all – of course, they still did.) and even hitting on me – a sure sign of their wavering mental stability! I am even getting along well with our trusty steward, with whom I initially butted heads (and recently socked in the jaw). Should I be suspicious of their friendly behavior? Maybe they’re plotting to throw me overboard…

A few weeks ago I asked the boss if he would like me to prepare anything special for Christmas dinner, to which his reply was vague and gruff, which about describes most of my interactions with him… In St. Barth grocery shopping is a challenge and needs to be planned so that one can find all the necessary ingredients before everything has been completely picked through by the crew from all the other mega yachts in the harbor. Boat crew are literally waiting at the grocery store entrance for the doors to open at 8am and it’s like a contest to see who can fill their grocery basket first. By noon, you’ll be lucky to find fresh eggs, much less nice salad greens or even a bulb of fennel… So I wanted to find out what the boss had in mind so that I could plan accordingly. In getting no response, I assumed that he and his guests would be going out…

Then, at 7pm Christmas night I was informed that there would be four for dinner. I can’t say I was surprised by this and I actually didn’t mind the challenge of putting together a nice dinner on the fly. I was happy to finally, FINALLY be cooking for a dinner party – even if it was only four people. This is what I enjoy about being a private chef, and although the situation is the restaurant equivalent of getting a six-top 15 minutes before closing, it’s par for the course, and I was happy to be cooking a nice holiday meal…

Since I’d been feuding with my boss for the last two weeks about going to land, I didn’t have much on board in the way of fresh produce. There was a small bag of mache (a type of lettuce, commonly found in Europe. It has very small leaves and is tender and succulent), but I had to really pick through it to get three perfect little portions – but perfect they were. Since I basically had no other fresh produce, I searched the pantry for an alternative and found some canned asparagus that the previous steward had bought. There were two cans of Dole green asparagus, which were mushy and totally un-servable; but there was one can of white asparagus, a French brand, that was surprisingly tasty. I shaved some proscutto and put it in a low oven ‘til it became perfectly crisp. With a little drizzle of aged balsamic and truffle oil, I had a nice first course.

I was able to quickly thaw some duck breasts under running water. In a pot I put diced apples, cranberries (I had bought them for Thanksgiving, but we were hit by the storm and I never used them), onion, ginger, mustard seed, lemon peel, brown sugar and curry powder to make a chutney. While that was going, I started on some Bhutanese rice for a pilaf and had a double-boiler going to melt chocolate for mousse. I knew it’d be a challenge getting the mousse to set in time, especially because the temperature of our refrigerator fluctuates wildly (because of the generator power being switched on and off during the day) but I figured what-the-hell… I prepared the mousse, portioned it into brandy snifters and stuck them in the back of the fridge. The stewy set the table on deck, lit candles, opened a bottle of wine and by 8:30pm the show was on and we were serving up a perfect Christmas dinner.

By 9:30pm the guests were finished and the plates cleared (it always amazes me how quickly people eat). The crew gave each other a big Christmas hug, the engineer and I had a good cry over the fact that we were missing our families and couldn’t be with them for the holidays, and we all sat down to our crew dinner (the same menu as was served the guests)…

Santa Claus cruised passed us on a dingy. Christmas lights in the shape of pineapples and palm trees glowed in the distance. Our stockings were empty, but our bellies were full and our spirits lifted as we found common ground in the bottom of a bottle of 115 proof rum, after our 42nd 12 hour work day in a row…

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