Culinary Waves: by Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson
I have been on Spartan charter trips when a guest wanted a cake and I didn’t have a basic cake pan – much less a springform pan. So I had to make one, which was awkward. I did it, and the cake came out beautiful, but not to have even one cake pan on board is saying that dessert is not really made much on that yacht. When I’m on board, dessert is everything.
I also have been on charter yachts where there was every tool imaginable and the galley was so over-equipped that there was no room for the food and dry goods. How many immersion blenders are enough? One will do the trick; no need for five!
As a yacht chef, I keep a list of tools and equipment that are must-haves on any trip. I really don’t know until the preference sheets come in what a guest will like, so I have to be prepared. Maybe verrines are their thing, or a mousse layered using acetate sheets and a ring mold, or crème brûlée using ramekins and a blowtorch.
I carry a small bag of tools with me wherever I might go, including such things as pastry tips. I can never be certain that the charter yacht will have them on board, much less a disposable piping bag, so a few tips are necessary. There is nothing worse than finding only a used-up pastry bag in the galley. Especially if you want to pipe decorations or potato purée, or make stuffed eggs. This is a must-have in my tool bag.
So are acetate sheets. I’ve used plastic wrap and plastic bags when acetate sheets were not available. Acetate sheets just let you have a finer edge around the dessert and, especially if you are making a frozen dessert, it will aid in releasing the dessert from the ring as well.
Knives are also a given. Most chefs travel with their knives. If you can’t because space is limited or the captain says, “We have knives,” then only bring two of the best you have. I personally like Shun blades because they are lightweight enough for my female hands, so I carry an 8-inch knife and a paring knife with me.
As for specialty tools, some chefs carry specialty molds, such as tartlet molds and silicone molds, as well as special decorating equipment, such as baking sheets with designs that adhere to baked items or chocolate decorations, all of which chefs use to create their signature.
Another must-have in my personal tool kit are gold gelatin sheets. I much prefer them to powdered gelatin. Not every yacht will have gelatin on board, especially if there is a vegan or vegetarian agenda in place. Most gelatins are made from animal products. It is one staple that is a must for me.
Keep in mind that there is the consideration of what can be brought into a specific country, so check with customs and the captain before you haul a lot of tools to the charter yacht.
A final word of caution about something that I see a lot of chefs do: Don’t go out and purchase a lot of equipment for a short stint on board. I know of one yacht chef who spent close to $10 thousand on special equipment, then was fired. My mode of operation is based on the “less is better” principle. Use what is available and bring a minimum. You can always make do or substitute items in case you don’t have what you need.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine, and has worked on yachts for over 25 years. Comments are welcome below.