There is nothing worse for a yacht chef than to have our guests sitting around the table, waiting for their next course. They are waiting, of course, because the elements of our meal are all coming out at different times. I hate it when one dish either gets cold while I’m waiting for another dish to finish or it overcooks slightly in my attempt to keep it warm.
To be a great chef, you must have your food come out all at once, on time, and done to perfection.
So how do you get to that point, especially if you have space constraints with small galleys and small ovens?
Start by making the menu and putting time slots next to each item. For instance, if you will serve Glazed Ham with Fresh Green Beans and Baked Sweet Potato, look at each item separately and write down the time.
Pre-cooked glazed ham takes about 30 minutes to heat. To be ready by 1 p.m., it should be in the over by 12:30 p.m. Prep time is about 20 minutes.
Fresh green beans take about 8 minutes to cook. To be ready by 1 p.m., put them on at 12:50 p.m.. Prep time is about 20 minutes.
Baked sweet potatoes take an hour to cook at 400 degrees F. To be ready by 1 p.m., preheat the oven at 11:45 a.m. and begin baking at noon.
If we follow that simple schedule, our main dish should be ready at 1 p.m., that is, if everything goes according to plan.
What if your menu is more complicated? You can break it down further and put time slots next to each item in a recipe to ensure accurate timing. Just be sure the amount of preparation is accurate for each recipe.
Although this sounds simple enough, you can imagine how much more complex it gets when you toss in a couple more courses before the main and a couple more after. And, invariably, one of your guests won’t eat what everyone else is eating, so factor in a few more schedules and a few more plating times.
That’s when you begin to rely on those time schedules.
For those yacht chefs in a tight galley, you can’t always put all your menu items to cook when you want. In those cases, simplify your menu or accept the fact that you might have to make a few items ahead and reheat for plating. It’s not ideal, of course, but we do what we must.
To keep the courses hot, warm up your plates, use warming ovens or, if it’s available, heat up the oven and turn it off. Don’t let it cook the foods that are already cooked; you just want to keep them warm. Even an insulated bag would work.
One lesson learned the hard way: Don’t cover crispy foods as the crisp will fade into soggy.
Sometimes, you do all the right things, including following your timeline of prep and cooking, but your items still don’t all come out on time. Things happen in the galley. The oven is slightly off, the cooktop burner shuts down or, like what just happened to me, the rack got stuck and I couldn’t shut the oven door until it was fixed.
Things like this happen. It’s times like that when you thank your lucky stars that the stew has your back.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.