Find common ground to feed guests on various diets

Jan 30, 2017 by Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

Yacht chefs juggle different diets all at once. It isn’t easy, is it? I can’t count the number of times I have had to prepare for numerous diets on one trip. I literally stood on the aft deck and had bag after bag handed up of special foods, special requests, and strict diets to follow.

Trying to accommodate the crew’s diet requests, the guests’ diets and the owner’s diets all at once is enough to make a yacht chef want to jump overboard.

However, that is the nature of the beast in our industry. Unlike a restaurant, which has a set menu, yacht chefs are expected to go “off menu” at every meal. It is an on-demand type of job and this means adhering to what the guests want.

Over the years, I have learned to weigh everyone’s diet and come up with two entrées that might satisfy all diets every night they are onboard. If two proteins are not allowed due to budget restraints, I’ll find one protein that will work.

Of course, that’s difficult to do if some crew or guests are vegetarian or vegan sitting at the table with meat lovers. But there are always meat alternatives or extra helpings of the “side” dish of vegetables that can serve as the main entrée for those without meat. This is where preference sheets are critical so provisioning is effective. (To be sure, traditional preference sheets don’t really go into enough detail, and last-minute requests will happen. Or perhaps the owner or guests changed their minds since they filled it out, had a health incident or simply looked in the mirror and decided that they need to be on a diet.)

Let’s say one trip includes a crew member who is a strict vegetarian, a guest who loves steak and potato, and a woman who is gluten free. How does a yacht chef prepare and serve one meal and satisfy them all?

Start with the preference sheets. Find one piece of common food ground. Is it a protein or a vegetable? If they don’t want beef because of heart issues, serve a less fatty item such as rack of lamb, buffalo or bison, or venison. Or go the seafood route. Often, vegetarians will eat seafood as well. Offer two proteins at a meal whenever possible to satisfy as many diets as possible.

Next, ask the guests if they like healthier options in side dishes. Try quinoa with nuts, cranberries or diced veggies, or cauliflower couscous with lots of spice. Instead of potato dauphinois, try a sweet potato or butternut squash instead. Also a gratin of butternut and creamed spinach is great as a side dish.

I often purée celeriac and cauliflower, or mash butternut squash or parsnips as a healthier side or base. Or try a healthier version of an old classic to cut out calories by using nut milks in place of cow’s milk. Still, always have the heavier options requested prepped or ready to go in case they want what they want. I always have potatoes and pasta on hand just in case the die hards onboard can’t live without their heavy starch.

Dessert is always a challenge. Everyone of a certain age is watching their diet. Some can’t take milk, some don’t want heavy cream. Some prefer cakes. Try a soufflé instead. Simple poached pears in red wine are marvelous and look beautiful on a plate. A floating island of meringue with berries works well for guests who don’t want heavy desserts.

Sometimes, it’s impossible to find one item in common, so it is necessary to cook something entirely different for one person or two. I try to find out ahead of time what their likes and dislikes are and to work a menu plan based on that. We try to offer two proteins at every meal to include a meat and a fish or vegetable protein with at least three vegetables so that everyone is happy.

Hopefully, nothing will be sent back to the galley but if it is, it is because I simply did not do my homework to find out what the guests really want.


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.

View all posts by Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson →