“Just keep smiling,” I was told on my first day as crew on a yacht. That was twelve years ago and it has proven to be the best and easiest piece of advice to follow.
I am a yacht chef. I wake every morning at five-thirty and stumble upstairs from my cabin to grope for the button on the coffee machine. The mechanical grind of the beans and swish of water shooting through them are the first signs of life on the boat. Before I have fully opened my eyes, I tip my head back and shoot two straight shots of caffeine. My body shudders involuntarily and my eyes squeeze shut. It’s the ritual I start my day with. Within minutes, I am smiling. I love this life. I love yachting.
I was drawn to yachting for the ability to travel to new places and experience new things. My first summer as a yacht chef, we anchored off the island of Sardinia, with its clear blue waters, white sand beaches and terra-cotta villas dotting the hillsides.
Every morning a tender would approach our boat. The pescatore Vito bellowed out to me. “Allo! Allo! Buon giorno!” His thick accent brought me running, not only in anticipation, but also for fear he would wake the whole boat. “Buon giorno, bella,” Vito sang out.
“Buono giorno, Vito.” I practiced the small amount of Italian I knew. I leaned over the cap-rail to exchange kisses on the cheek. He cupped my face in his hands. The smell of the sea surrounded me.
“Today the sea was good.” He waved his rough thick-fingered hand over the display of seafood surrounding him. He was an olive-skinned wrinkle of a man who had spent too much of his youth on a fishing boat in the hot sun. His back rounded and his forearms bulged, his eyes sparkled with life.
I was charmed, but more for his boatload of freshly caught fish. I looked down to see monkfish, blue fin tuna, mussels, squid and clams on the floor of the wooden skiff.
“Gamberi?” Vito lunged his thick fist into a plastic tub. Long wisps of the prawn’s antennae trailed through his fingers. They were as fat as a cigar. I was quite alarmed by the red-flesh and florescent purple vein running down their spines.
“Si.” I studied the bottom of Vito’s boat and selected the snow-white flesh of monkfish to stew that night along with the shrimp.
“Benissimo.” Vito clapped his hands together like I had announced my winning of the Nobel Prize. He lovingly placed my fish on the back deck like a father placing his newborn down for a nap. “Grazi, Bella. Domani, arrivederci.”
And just as quick he sped off.
That afternoon, I pulled the veins from the shrimp and stripped them of their protective shell. The hot pan hissed and spat as I sautéed them in olive oil and garlic. I tossed them with vibrant green beans from the local market. The taste was like no shrimp I had ever experienced before. They were sweet and tender.
Next, I simmered the monkfish in a tomato broth with capers and parsley. Small bubbles exploded on the surfaced of the liquid. Wisps of the ocean floated into the air and mingled with the smell of garlic. As it bubbled away on the stove, I sliced the bread for dinner. It was simple food, yet so full of flavor. I wondered why anyone would eat anything else.
The meal was finished with an almond cake from nuts grown in a nearby grove.
As I cleaned the galley that night with a glass of Sardinia’s ruby red powerful Cannonau di Sardegna in my hand, I realized that as a yacht chef, you cannot ask for a better experience than that. I smiled. I love this life. I love yachting.
Shrimp and Haricot Vert Saute
1 pound haricot vert
1 tablespoon sea salt
1/2 cup olive oil
8 cloves garlic, chopped
2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
½ red onion, diced finely
1 lemon, zested and juiced.
3 tablespoons chopped basil
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon sea salt. Slice haricot verts in half on an angle. Blanch in water for 4 minutes. Drain and place in ice water to retain bright green color. Drain and reserve.
- Heat a heavy bottomed sauté pan on high. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 cloves of garlic. Add ¼ of the shrimp and season with some of the salt and pepper. Sauté 2 minutes on each side until they are just cooked through, the flesh will turn form opaque to white. Be careful not to overcook them or they will turn tough and chewy. Scrape the pan into a large salad bowl with a rubber spatula and repeat process working in batches for the rest of the shrimp.
- Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to pan and sauté the red onion for 1 minute until soft. Add reserved green beans and sauté for 2 minutes to warm. Scrape into salad bowl. Toss all with lemon juice, zest and bail. Taste for seasoning and acidity.
- Serve warm as a salad with crusty bread to dip in the residual lemon vinaigrette. Any leftovers make a great salad the next day. Serves 6.
About the Author
Victoria Allman has been following her stomach around the globe for twelve years as a yacht chef. She writes about her floating culinary odyssey through Europe, the Caribbean, Nepal, Vietnam, Africa and the South Pacific in her first book, Sea Fare: A Chef’s Journey Across the Ocean
Victoria is a columnist for Dockwalk, an International magazine for crew members aboard yachts. Her column, Dishing It Up, is a humorous look at cooking for the rich and famous in an ever-moving galley.
You can read more of her food-driven escapades through her web-site, www.victoriaallman.com