The Triton


A look at food costs


The captain got the orders: the yacht needs to rein in food costs. So as chef, you are now being asked to account for costs. Be prepared to cost a recipe so that every ingredient, every spoonful has a number attached to it. Be prepared to live within a budget.


We have talked about this before but it’s always good to revisit the guidelines for costing.


The first rules for keeping food costs low on a yacht is to buy locally whenever you can. I was once on a yacht where the chief stew wanted to order food from her favorite provisioner in England instead of walking the markets of St. Maarten. The food bill was, of course, astronomical. And guess who got blamed.


Don’t buy overseas if you can help it. This way you save importation taxes, shipping fees and possibly duties, which can add up to more than the food on a moderate order.


Sure, sometimes you must order from home. Sometimes the owner or guests want what they want, and finding it on a remote island is not possible. But in general, shop locally when you can.


Another way to lower food costs is to buy in bulk. This applies to anything from fish and meat to grains. When you buy pre-portioned fillets, for example, you pay more for each item for the added convenience.


Instead, buy the whole fish and fillet it yourself. Buy the whole tenderloin and fabricate the meat. Not every person wants an 8-ounce fillet for dinner. Any leftover from fabrication can be used for other meals.


And finally, the best way to control costs onboard is to start with a menu and follow it. Start with the first recipe on your menu and break it down on paper in four categories. Let’s examine this technique with a recipe for Cashew Chicken.


Start with a row of columns on paper, the first labeled “ingredients,” the second “quantity,” the third “ingredient cost” and the fourth “recipe cost.”


The recipe ingredients are listed in the first column, followed by the amount you will use of each ingredient in this recipe in the next column.


Under “ingredient cost,” we have to consider two costs: the as-purchased (AP) cost and the as-served (AS) cost.


The as-purchased cost is the total cost for the product. For a package of 10 organic breasts, for example, you likely paid about $22. The as-served cost is the amount paid for each breast, or $2.20. This is the figure to put in the “ingredient cost” column.


To get this price, simply divide the AP (the amount paid to buy the item) by the number of items in the package. In this case, $22 divided by 10, or $2.20. Another example: a dozen eggs costs $3; divide the AP of $3 by the number of items in the package (12); each egg costs 25 cents, the ingredient cost.


This can get tricky. Say you are dealing with volume measurements. You have to break it down even more, down to tablespoons or teaspoons. Sometimes you have to convert from U.S. measurements to metric. There are some great conversion sites on the Web to help do this.


So for our Cashew Chicken recipe, we’re using 1 cup of cashew butter. There are 30.23 tablespoons in the 16-ounce jar, which cost $19. Divide it by half and you have $9.50 for 1 cup or 8 ounces.


In the “recipe cost” column, take the ingredient cost and multiply by the quantity. Then tally up that final column to get the total cost for the recipe. In this case, it’s $23.53, but since there are two servings, our per-serving cost is $11.77.


Costing a recipe can be labor intensive, but you only have to do it once. And when the boss complains that he is spending too much on food for the boat, in reality he might be spending too much on the alcohol and not the food. Break that down, too, if you can. Show him where he is spending his money. It might surprise him.


Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 20 years. Comments on this column are welcome at



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