They're inescapable in South Florida: big, white-hulled yachts docked up and down the Intracoastal Waterway. This time of year it's even worse. For four days, starting today, the waters of Fort Lauderdale will be overtaken with yachts during the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.
Everyone sees these magnificent vessels from afar, but only those who work onboard really understand what happens inside. We chatted with a few of the paid hands to find out five secrets of a yacht chef. Here are their top five tricks for doing the job.
5. Buy in Portions
Cooking on a yacht is a completely different beast than running a kitchen on land. Besides the obvious lack of space and availability of ingredients, the one thing yacht chefs always seem to be running short of: time. No, they are not pumping out meals by the hundred as would be expected in your restaurant kitchen. But with minimal staff -- one, maybe two chefs -- they are expected to turn out top-notch meals for hungry crew and the ultra demanding high-end guests. How do they make this happen? Portion control. Luckily, South Florida businesses are not unaware of the needs and time constraints of yacht chefs. All provisioning companies and many grocery stores -- Whole Foods has a yacht division -- cater to the needs of chefs by offering any and every kind of meat individually packaged, portion-controlled, and cryovaced. Yes, these chefs probably can butcher meat with the rest of them. But, honestly, on a yacht, who has the time for that?
4. You're Probably Eating Ready-Made Ingredients
They might deny it, but, on occasion, every yacht chef has done this: buy ready-made ingredients. Maybe some bread, garnishes, or frozen meat pies. Between working 16-hour days alone or maybe with one other person in the kitchen, catering to a grumpy, homesick crew, and smiling and appeasing demanding guests, sometimes a tired yacht chef just needs a break. This could come in form of a frozen croissant, bottled balsamic glaze, or the specialty-store-purchased pot pie. No one ever notices the difference.
3. Stepping out to "Provision"
Remember how we just said yacht chefs are crazy busy? Well, this might seem counterintuitive, but they love to provision. What does this really mean? Get off the boat to go shopping. Yes, yacht chefs are busy. They most often barely have time to take a breath during season, but again, sometimes they just need a break. This is where provisioning comes in. They might run to a gourmet shop to sample products. They might sneak off to the farmers market for fresh produce. They might hit a high-end wine store to research what's happening in the wine world. Or, it could just be the mall. Sometimes you just need to get off the boat.
2. Bisto Gravy Granules
Have no clue what that is? Well, many a yacht chef does. It's used to thicken meat dishes and sauces when they need some extra plump. Introduced in the U.K. in the late '70s, Gravy Granules dissolve in hot water to make an artificial gravy. Wildly popular in Britain, this secret ingredient is all over the British yachting industry. Yeah, it sounds strange and you would never see it in a restaurant, but it gets the job done. You can't buy time, but you can pay for convenience.
1. Look After the Hand That Feeds You
Food has power. Either you know that, or you don't cook. In a large crew full of so many different personalities, how does one get ahead? Food. When you know someone is having a bad day, it's not difficult to cheer them up. Maybe one crew member misses mom's homemade cookies. Another, curry. Perhaps the Captain is a fan of a big, juicy steak. No matter what, if one of them is feeling down in the dumps, cheffie can probably make it at least a little bit better -- and score brownie points in the process. Let's just put it this way: a smart chef has job security.
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