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Make time to save time with appetizers when guests are late


The call comes over the radio. The guests want to spend more time at the beach, or the plane is late, or there is more shopping to do.

Either way, as the chef, timely turn out of food is important, and when little interruptions happen, we need to be prepared to handle it with food that will stand the test of time. I am not speaking of food to leave out but of food that will not go soggy if made ahead.

There are some appetizers, lunches and even dinners that can be made ahead and that will keep when guests are running late.

For a dependable lunch that has no set time, try hardy salad greens such as kale or romaine,  a tabbouleh salad or even Mediterranean fare such as chilled dolmas. A composed salad of greens with a side of quinoa pilaf is a great solution, too. The pilaf can be kept warm in a warming drawer and the salad can be kept cold in the refrigerator.

Try to avoid any type of fruit or vegetable that will start to oxidize and turn brown once cut, such as apples, avocados and peaches. If those are on the menu, wait until guests are onboard and ready to eat before making a slice.

If preparing quick-cooking beef such as individual steaks or tenderloin, don’t start cooking until the guests are on the swim platform or in sight in the tender.

And never put dressing on the salad until the guests are pulling out their chairs to sit down.

Sometimes, chefs spend much of the afternoon planning and preparing creative appetizers only to discover the guests are going to be late. The bad news is that those apps won’t hold up, but the good news is the crew will be well fed, and there will likely be a little bit of time for a redo.

It’s not that we can’t be creative — many times it works and pays off — but we yacht chefs must always have a back-up plan.

I keep in the freezer some pate sucree and pate sablee. In a pinch, I can pull one or both out, slice some off, and either bake off biscuits or push the dough into molds and then fill for a quick appetizer. Depending on what kind of appetizers I want, I’ll fill with lemon curd, chicken salad or salmon mousse for a quick tray, or fill with quiche and bake for something warm. Easy, simple, fast.

One appetizer item that can withstand a few hours of delay is cheese. Most cheeses, especially all the hard cheeses, benefit from being out for an hour or two before serving to bring out their flavors.

This doesn’t work, of course, with soft cheeses such as a triple cheese or a soft washed rind unpasteurized cheese. Soft cheeses need just an hour to bloom so that their flavor is pronounced and aroma prevalent. After about two hours, they should be refrigerated. Keep an eye on these to chill when necessary or replenish as needed.

Verrines (a number of components layered in a small glass) keep well, too, but choose chilled verrines such as mousse with an accompanying flavor. Also, consider pate with accompanying accoutrements.

Slow bake French bread, already sliced and dredged in a combination of butter and olive oil. It is hearty enough to withstand even the runniest tapenade, but not for very long.

It’s best to have something for guests to snack on immediately when they arrive back onboard, which also buys a little time in case the oven is not preheated or the entree isn’t quite ready. Slow guests down with some finger nibbles such as wine biscuits, cheddar straws, different flavored olives, or nuts that you can flavor or spice up yourself.

I suggest cold appetizers for those days when guests are coming in late from a day at the beach, such as stuffed mini tomatoes, stuffed vegetables such as scooped out zucchini, stuffed egg shells with a mousse. If guests want hot appetizers, let them have the chilled apps first, while the hot apps cook.

Appetizers that will keep in the refrigerator for those late returners are truly a face saver and a game changer when time is not on your side.

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 are welcome at

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About Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years.

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