The Triton


Quick and easy shopping all about the list


By Mary Beth Lawton Johnson

It’s time to hop in the tender and head for shore to go shopping. Is the list handy?

As chefs, we work on our provisions list the minute the last set of guests leave the yacht and we turned in our latest order to the provisioning company. What remains are the items that we can’t get. (Or maybe it’s the entire list because not every yacht uses a provisioning company.)

That list holds all the bits of minutiae, all the tiny but vital ingredients that we can’t possibly keep in our heads. But how many times have we gotten to shore only to find that we don’t have the list? Or maybe that little item the owners asked for as they walked off the yacht last time didn’t make it onto the list.

I can’t count how many times this has happened to me and other chefs I know. Hey, we are not perfect but there has to be a better way than writing it down on a scrap of paper, and then tearing the paper into pieces to divide the shopping with other crew once at the store.

Every chief stew has her/his preferred way of handling lists, and the galley list should be a part of basic shopping when appropriate. I’m not suggesting the chief stew provision for the yacht, but when there are a few grocery-store items needed in the galley, the interior department head can manage this — if the chef’s list is clear (and includes options when the first choice is not available). Communication between department heads of the yacht will ensure that chefs will have what they need if they can’t make it to shore.

A few things make the list better for both the galley and the shopper. First, note the quantity desired. Listing “basil” isn’t enough. If the plan is to make pesto for 10, one bunch of basil (or worse, one jar of dried basil) won’t cut it. There’s nothing worse than having to go back to the store for that vital item. Just add to the list how much of each item is required.

Second, be sure to include substitutions for items that might not be easily available. The chief stew (or whomever is shopping) will be grateful for this. It saves a ton of time in the store and on the phone.

And finally, be sure to stick to the food budget as set by the captain or yacht. It’s not the shopper’s responsibility to know that the yacht shouldn’t be buying the $25 bottle of Greek olive oil the chef requested. As the chef, know what the galley is permitted to spend and keep those tabs diligently.

Now, here are some creative ways to keep a running grocery list and not lose it.

The best way is to use a smartphone and some sort of note-taking app. This way, it’s (more than likely) always with you, won’t get damaged or lost, and can be added to and changed. Make a copy and text it to the person shopping.

For those chefs who find it easier to write lists on paper, it’s often efficient to type up a list of pantry items and then check off each item as it is pulled off the shelf. That way, the list creates itself by keeping a running inventory. (The catch here is to actually make those checkmarks. Forget a couple and the list isn’t useful.) Then, just scan the list and then email or text it to yourself or to whomever is doing the shopping. That way, it’s accessible on a smartphone and is less likely to get lost.

For iPhone users, let Siri keep the list. Siri can do some amazing things.

One final tip for managing shopping lists for the galley. It is usually worth the extra few minutes to call ahead to make sure the store has the items on the list. The list can be emailed or faxed to the store ahead of time, and then a follow up call can verify that the crew isn’t wasting time tracking down non-existent ingredients. Not every foreign port handles or has the items we expect them to have. If there are specialty items involved, ask a store clerk to set aside what you need. And get the name of the person doing that so the items can be retrieved when the crew get there.

It may seem like a little thing, but all crew appreciate the value of a good shopping list.

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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