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Yacht chefs can shine onboard with a bit extra

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Chefs often are singled out on a charter or owner’s trip. It’s easy to be memorable when you give guests a style of food and service they aren’t accustomed to. And the food really stays with them. Who doesn’t have a favorite memory of a meal or dessert?

It’s also easy for chefs to shine away from the food. Well, the food always shines through, of course, but when we chefs put a little extra thought into what we do — that is, to do it with intention — our human side shows through.

Time is limited for us chefs. Our schedule is crazy, and if there is anyone who doesn’t have time to go off the plan, it’s us. But many times, due to last-minute guest requests, we have to, especially when we want to impress.

It is really the simple things that make you look like a star. So here are a few secrets to have up your sleeve so you can shine when the opportunity presents itself.

  1. Listen, and take the hint. Did you just hear the missus say her husband loves oysters? Did the boss just retell a story of a favorite holiday pie? Take those as hints as to what he might enjoy to eat.

Have some fresh-shucked oysters waiting for him when he comes aboard the next time, and watch his worries take a back seat.

  1. Kids are people, too. Do you have kids coming onboard? If so, one surefire way to look like a star is to make their favorite cookie. Why not devote a night to what they want to eat (approved, of course, by the parents or owners)?
  2. Crew have a say. Fix a meal each week from one member’s hometown. Think about it. To be in the Caribbean, far from their family in New Zealand or Australia, and be served a traditional meal from home sure warms their heart. (This depends, of course, on whether they like the meal to begin with so be sure to ask what their favorites from home are, write them down, and pull them out when you can.) They will remember your kindness and you will look and feel like a star.
  3. Special is as special does. Carry special food for the person who might be gluten intolerant, diabetic, or eating carefully because of an illness. Whatever it is, make it or get it. You can’t be expected to prepare all meals with their dietary restriction in mind, but if you provide an option, they will be grateful. It’s not hard to cook up a box of gluten-free pasta to have alongside the crew’s regular pasta. It shows that you truly care.
  4. Finishing touch. Work with your chief stew to provide special-made chocolates in gift bags for the guests upon departure, or perhaps leave them in the room for them to discover earlier in the trip. If the conditions are right, offer a warm note, letting them know you are happy to talk to them about food.
  5. Celebrate celebrations. Is a couple celebrating on board? Place a special champagne in the room with some fancy appetizers or midnight snacks so they can have celebrate without having to come into the common areas of the yacht. Yachts are for privacy. Offer to keep them fed in private.
  6. Kindness on a tray. Offer breakfast in bed one morning for the person sleeping in. Whether it is the captain, the chief stew or the owner, prepare breakfast on a tray with flowers and have it delivered with a note: “Have a great start to your day, compliments of the chef.”
  7. Plan ahead. Create a line on the yacht’s preference sheet (if you don’t already have it) to find out what each guest likes. I mean, really likes. If the sheet comes back incomplete, ask the charter agent to follow up and capture that. If that doesn’t work, ask a guest what another guest fancies. Find out what they really adore and try your best to make it for them while they are onboard.

Remember, you are there to please, preparing the best food you can. While chefs are often the stars of a charter, it’s really about making those who eat your food feel like the star. If you can do that, then you’ll be the one to shine.

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments on this column are welcome at editorial@the-triton.com.

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