Top Shelf: Ease ‘surprise dessert’ panic

Aug 30, 2018 by Timothy MacDonald

Top Shelf: by  Chef Timothy MacDonald

As a sole chef in the 50-60m category, it’s hard scrabble. It’s harder scrabble floating around Cuba with the limited provisions available.

What I have found recently in Cuba from all the touring is that you can expect a higher “come back” rate from guests than usual. The dreaded death call we all know: “Guests are on the way back and want something light.” On consultation, “something light” always turns out to be the full Monty.

Why a higher “come back” rate than anywhere else in the world? The bottom line is the guests are not digging the Cuban cuisine.

Mid-afternoon, the quips start coming in from the deckhands: “Some guests are saying they are tired and may not eat out tonight.” This usually gathers pace with the captain coming down to the galley and mentioning that a few guests will probably have a “light meal” on board tonight.

This quickly cascades into more than half the guests disapproving of the local cuisine as, let’s face it, they are having trouble stomaching ‘piggy bits’ in 30+ degrees. A truce is eventually called, and dinner out is back on.

But then, like Stephen Bradbury out of nowhere, the call comes in: “Guests are on the way back and want dinner.”

In this situation, it’s hard not to just slop up ice cream as dessert – but this is where experience comes into play. Hours earlier, I had quickly assembled the Persian Princess, now setting at a rapid rate in the freezer.

French panna cotta mix, jelly crystals and French-quality fruit coulis. Experienced charter chefs know that one or all of the above kept in stock is essential to survival.


Persian Princess dessert

Standard dariole molds, oiled with nut oil

Kiddies jelly crystals, red

Stawberries, wild if available

French pannacotta mix

Passionfruit coulis

Iranian fairy floss (sourced from your UK supplier when you were back over in Europe)


Line your darioles with the oil and place them in a container.

Assemble the jelly using “Chef Mic” and place a 3 cm stage at the bottom of the molds, including some strawberries.

Prepare the panna cotta mix, which can be spiced up with vanilla bean, star anise or black cardamom. Once the jelly is set, fill up the molds with the panna cotta mix and leave to freeze or until set.

To plate up, squirt a circle of the most excellent French fruit coulis you have sitting in the top back corner of your fridge on standby.

De-cup the fridge-temp panna cotta and place in the center of the plate.

Reach down into your desserts cupboard and locate that fairy floss and, thinking Ivanka Trump first thing in the morning, place a shock of fairy floss on top of the panna cotta.

Within no time, you have assembled an easy crowd-pleaser with little effort other than displaying  why only experienced chefs should be employed on charter yachts.

Tim MacDonald ( has more than 20 years experience as a chef. He was named Concours de Chefs winner for Yachts over 160 feet at the 2011 Antigua Charter Yacht Show. His recipes are designed for the owner and guests. Comments are welcome below.