Monday, January 02, 2006

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…

2 comments:

sha said...

i would love to crew this boat w a chef like u!!

sha said...

here s a tip
once you will be working in a boat with a bigger budget and charters then there are times you do not need to queue for shopping

you will use purveyors

 
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