Crew Compass: by Lauren Loudon
Although all yachts are different, there’s generally a basic pyramid that makes up the crew. Needless to say, the bigger the boat, the bigger the crew, but in each department there is a team of people who have each other’s backs – even if it’s a team of two. They can answer each other’s questions and offer a helping hand, be it on the interior or on deck. But often – up to a certain size boat – in the galley, you’re on your own.
When I put together a sample menu for my first charter, I didn’t know many people in my situation, so I couldn’t reach out for advice. I turned to the internet, but all the blogs and columns were aimed at green stewardesses or deckhands. There was no advice on what to cook or how best to manage your day in the galley – at least, not back then, when I was looking for it.
That’s because it’s so broad. But I didn’t know this six years ago, when I was sent a six-page preference list that came with a full-paragraph introduction and photograph of each guest. I received it by email a month ahead of our first charter, which was to be a Christmas holiday for a family ranging from the grandparents to the 10-year-old granddaughter.
I studied in detail the likes and dislikes of each person, only to realize that hardly any of them seemed to eat the same things. One didn’t like fish, one was allergic to seafood, one only liked dark-meat chicken, one didn’t eat red meat, and another ate only fish and seafood. I almost pulled my hair out thinking about the 21 different meals over their seven-day charter, and what I could possibly serve to keep them all happy without having to make two or three different dishes for each meal.
All I wanted was to give every guest that stepped on my boat the best experience I possibly could. I wanted to be an integral part of making their holiday amazing. It was my mission. So, I planned my menu around every single detail on that preference list.
By the time they stepped on board, I knew everything that each of them liked. And the same happened for the next charter. I tried so hard to fit everybody’s favorite dishes into the trip without leaving anybody out, which often did mean making two or three separate dishes at mealtimes.
I planned my menus so meticulously that when I couldn’t find a specific ingredient, I almost had a panic attack. I overwhelmed myself with work. I took on too much, and I got so stressed.
As time went by, I met other chefs and got to talking about how things are done on board. I learned their tricks, I got advice, and I suddenly understood that I was probably doing too much, trying too hard and creating unnecessary stress for myself.
One of the girls introduced me to the Facebook group of a community of chefs on yachts in the Caribbean – a forum where we could all ask questions or favors, and post our ideas. Again, I could see what other people were doing and realized I was making too much of a challenge for myself.
A couple of years ago, I created an Instagram account (@sailingfooddiaries) entirely for my food. It was mainly for myself, so that I could remember what dishes I had made and refer back to them when specific guests were on board. Over the years, it has turned into something more than the mere diary for myself that I had intended. Through it, I have been able to connect with so many other yacht chefs and follow their journeys. We often discuss dishes, and I can ask for advice on a specific ingredient or assist with provisioning in a familiar area.
There is a growing community of us, with several pages on Instagram and Facebook, and most recently, a broader platform called “thesuperyachtchef” that brings all of our creations into one space. They also have a website of the same name and are holding interviews with yacht chefs to share publicly.
With nobody else physically in the galley with us, it is so nice to be able to use these platforms to share recipes, offer moral support and even meet up when in the same location. It just goes to show the power of social media and the positive ways we are able to create community, and to inspire and support instead of compete with each other.
We may be alone in the galley, but it is comforting to know that we are in this together. Sending a particular thanks to Jackie, Paula and Nardia for the constant moral support.
Lauren Loudon has worked as a yacht chef for more than four years. She hails from Lancashire, England. Comments are welcome below.