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Culinary Waves: Feeding people gets tricky in power outage

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Culinary Waves: by Chef Mary Beth Lawton Johnson

I flew back to South Florida from the yacht to prep my house for Hurricane Dorian, and while waiting it out with my fur babies and friends, I thought about how those of us in yachting not only have to be prepared for these natural disasters on land, but also on board. 

If I lost power for a week or more at my house, what was I going to eat? No time to order a generator (which I should already own, given the amount of storms we have here). My home menu would have consisted of cold, canned items and green shakes, which are not necessarily appealing for a whole week. 

We were lucky, though, and a lot of people were not. So I am not complaining about cold food when people in the Bahamas have none. My point is that we, as chefs, have to think outside the box to get us by in times of crisis.

I have had generator and engine failure on power and sailing yachts, have had the computer crash for the ovens and high-tech cooking equipment while on charter, and have been hundreds of miles from a grocery store with nothing green for a salad in sight. I pulled it off, but the solution is: Think ahead.

Prepare in advance enough meals for the average amount of crew and guests who come on board. Basically, if you have a meal or two left after making a dinner, freeze it. Stock up on frozen meals, and think of meals that can be made without the use of an oven. Include desserts for one week. Make enough to feed the crew for one week. Remember to use single-serve dishes with airtight lids.

In case refrigeration is lost, write out a menu based on seven days of food that you can prepare without having a refrigerator or freezer. This has to be an exact science as far as portions are concerned. 

If you lose your ovens, you still might have the cooktop if it’s on a separate system. It took over a week to have our ovens’ computer fixed, with a charter on board. There was no baking during that time. Can you think of desserts for a week without baking? Or food for one week with no oven use? 

As you cook for the guests and crew, put an additional sponge cake in the freezer for that birthday cake to come. If you have leftovers, put them into prepackaged meal containers for the crew. Get them out of the refrigerator and into the freezer. When making soup, I usually make enough so that I have five to 10 containers of it at any given time for a meal. 

Here are some other ideas that will help you get by in times of crisis. 

  • Save leftover prime rib cooked rare, rare roast beef, pot roast, boiled meats such as corned beef – any cooked or marinated meats that can be sliced off for quick sandwiches or wraps that will hold in the refrigerator for up to a week. This includes smoked meats and smoked fish.
  • If you bring on a large cut of meat that is fresh and not frozen, go ahead and break it down to smaller portions, then label and freeze them. There’s nothing worse than having large cuts of meat go bad when you realize you have lost your freezer. 
  • Boil and cut up a whole chicken, with skin removed, for soups or salads. And with soups, don’t forget to throw in cooked pasta, beans, lentils and vegetables that you have on hand. Stock up on bouillon, stock bases, rices and peas. 
  • Blanch veggies that you bring on board fresh, then label and freeze them to add to soups or create stocks.
  • Can you make ice cream without buying it? Semifreddo? Sure you can. Yogurt parfaits, mousse, pudding and anything with a gelatin base works well as a “not baked” dessert if you lose your oven and all you have is a cooktop. 

These are but a few ideas of how to think creatively when something like a hurricane leaves you without your usual resources. I’ve been there, and someday you will be there too – if you haven’t already. The idea is to be prepared.

What have you had to do in a crisis to feed guests and crew on board? I would love to hear your stories. Please, send them to me.

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson, a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine, has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments are welcome below.

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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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