Feb 25, 1979 – July 14, 2017
By Dorie Cox
Chef Chris Cantrell is remembered by the yachting industry for his creative recipes, many based on the regional cuisine of his birthplace in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and his childhood home in southern Louisiana. Mr. Cantrell died July 14 at the age of 38; he had been undergoing treatments for stage 4 stomach cancer. He leaves behind a wife, Alice Morby Cantrell, and a 2-year-old son.
Capt. Phil Burgess, who hired Mr. Cantrell as chef on M/Y Helix, said he would have been perfect as a chef on a television show because of his animated character when he was cooking.
“I can imagine him performing. Chris was an amazing chef and he never repeated a meal,” Capt. Burgess said. “Well, only if someone asked and said, ‘I love that jambalaya.’”
Mr. Cantrell perfected Scotch eggs, popular in the U.K., even though he had never heard of them when Capt. Burgess requested the deep-fried sausage-covered eggs rolled in breadcrumbs.
“Chris would have 10 or 12 in the fridge for me on my watch, but they would be pinched by the crew,” he said.
Mr. Cantrell often spent his break time in the yacht’s crew mess tying his own fishing tackle.
“He was a keen fisherman with a passion for fly-fishing,” Capt. Burgess said. “One time he left his gear in his truck and someone stole his homemade flies. Out of all the things they could have stolen, that was the worst.”
According to fishing guide Troy D. Nash, passion was instrumental in Mr. Cantrell’s choice of professions. About 20 years ago, Nash met Mr. Cantrell as a client on his fishing charter.
“He was staying at the KOA in a tent, and I thought, wow, this kid is really resourceful and adventurous,” Nash wrote in an online post. “Chris made his intentions clear — he wanted to earn his sea time and get his captain’s license to become a fishing guide too.”
But Nash said Mr. Cantrell made the mistake of cooking for his family.
“I explained to him I thought he had a God-given talent and suggested he become a chef,” Nash wrote. “Not just any chef, but a yacht chef.”
And he did just that. His yacht jobs included M/Y Murphy’s Law, a 125-foot Delta; M/Y Helix, a 147-foot Feadship; M/Y Lady Nan Ce, a 112-foot Westport; M/Y Grand Coroto, a 115-foot Benetti; M/Y Senses, a 195-foot Kusch; M/Y White Cloud, a 220-foot Feadship; S/Y Matau, a 75-foot Privilege; M/Y Aquasition, a 147-foot Intermarine; M/Y Pegasus, a 162-foot Feadship; and M/Y Kismet, a 130-foot Feadship.
Mr. Cantrell met Alice Morby, who would become Mrs. Cantrell, when she started as a stew on M/Y Helix, said Chief Stew Kaki Burgess, wife of Capt. Burgess.
“Alice came on as a day worker, then we hired her for the season,” she said. “And we watched their onboard romance blossom.”
The couple married and had a son, Charlie, in 2014.
“Charlie is the spitting image of Chris; wise beyond his years and sweet like Chris,” Burgess said. “He doesn’t cry a lot when he falls down, he picks himself up like his dad did.”
When M/Y Helix underwent a refit, Burgess, worked closely with Mr. Cantrell during the galley and pantry redesign.
“It was a chef’s dream, the owner let Chris do the entire thing,” she said. “He was so laid back to work with, you don’t always experience that between chefs and stews.”
Burgess said Mr. Cantrell was an innovative chef and creative in many ways, including his love of music.
“He read recipe books, but he would make his own out of all the recipes using only what was on board,” she said. “He would not even put a pot on the stove to boil without turning on music. His music was eclectic, and somehow he always knew of some new, cool artist or band.”
Owen Doyle, owner of Owen Doyle Provisioning in Delray Beach, Florida, helped Mr. Cantrell make the move to land for his most recent position as executive chef on Bell Island in the Exumas, Bahamas.
“Chris was one of my Top 6 chefs that I’ve dealt with as far as professionalism and easiness to work with,” Doyle said. “A great chef, no drama, real family guy, with a most amazing smile.”
Mr. Cantrell specialized in farm-to-table food, making vinegars, dry-aging meats and working with chicken, pork and lamb farmers, Doyle said.
Friend and fellow chef Hector Castro “hit it off immediately” with Mr. Cantrell and said they shared similar sarcastic humor and occasional practical jokes.
“If I can describe him in one word, it would be generous. Generous with his time, with knowledge, with everything,” Castro said. “He was a walking library when it came to food and cooking. However, he was also humble enough to say he didn’t know something when he didn’t, and open to ask and learn from others.”
He said Mr. Cantrell found great joy in cooking.
“The guy knew how to cook. He was down to earth and a damn good friend, so easy to be around,” Castro said. “We’re gonna miss him dearly. He brought a high standard to the industry.”
Besides his wife and son, Mr. Cantrell is survived by his mother, Victorine Kay Cantrell; his father, Johnny Ray Cantrell; a brother, Andre John Cantrell; a grandmother, Bridget Verdin Chapel; parents-in-law, Susie and Alex Morby; and many aunts, uncles and cousins.
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome below.
Click here for a fundraising website for Mr. Cantrell created by friends of the family.