Stew Cues: by Alene Keenan
Being a judge at the TopNotch Tabletop competition for the 2019 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show was a real honor. Being up close and personal with so many professional stews is exciting, inspirational and always amazing. This year was no exception. It was tough to choose the winners; everyone did a great job.
Many of the Tip of the Day hints that stews shared during the competition were about being well-organized and prepared for any situation. Every yacht was mise en place personified. “Mise en place” is a French cooking term that means “everything in its place.” When you watch a cooking show on television or your favorite chef in the galley, you see how carefully things are set up before they begin. Ingredients are pre-measured, knives and tools are assembled, and each dish is carefully orchestrated. It is a fundamental foundation of a professional kitchen to help meal preparation go smoothly.
On yachts, every step in each department must be as efficient as possible. Mise en place means that whether on charter, with owners aboard or during downtime, each task in service, housekeeping and laundry is broken down and organized into effective systems. Stews must expect the unexpected, anticipate guests’ needs and plan ahead to prevent chaos from unfolding. There are plenty of surprise situations that can come up, and the less drama on board, the better.
One of the stews in the competition advised us that if the owner is coming on Monday, have the boat ready on Friday. That’s a great tip for staying one step ahead of the game in case they arrive early. Your reward just might be extra time to relax and prepare mentally.
There are many pieces to organize in service. Each step requires working with the chef (or being the chef), and coordinating with guests around menus, mealtimes, service location, and even the wind and weather. Breakfast lends itself well to mise en place. Guests have different preferences for how they like the day to begin, and service is set up the same or nearly the same every day. Buffet service is popular so early risers can help themselves to beverages and lighter fare. Many yachts will offer hot breakfast later after all the guests are up. Lunch is commonly a lighter meal or even enjoyed off the boat, depending on the types of activities that guests engage in. Dinner is usually the most formal and requires the most attention to detail in terms of setting up and service. Mise en place does not just apply to the chef for mealtimes, but to the stews as well in getting all the dishes, cutlery, glasses and service pieces ready ahead of time.
Housekeeping on a yacht is considerably different from keeping things tidy at home. Having a system in place is the key to efficiency. Furnishings and décor are usually luxurious and expensive, and require more time, attention and care. A standard schedule for housekeeping has many moving pieces. First and foremost is scheduling tasks during times when rooms are vacant or when the guests are not on board. Proper tools and supplies should be organized close to work areas to save time. Housekeeping relies on proper teamwork with galley and laundry departments. If you’re a solo stew or part of a smaller team, organization is even more important.
And last, but not least, is laundry. Even unpacking guest suitcases requires mise en place. Using a system to determine where to put lingerie and swimwear, workout clothes, casual shorts and T-shirts, and more formal items as they are unpacked saves time for everyone. If items always go back in the same place when they are returned from the laundry, it prevents mix-ups and confusion for guests. Guest clothing is often delicate and expensive. It requires extra time and attention to detail. Having a functional system for moving laundry through is important. A logbook to record who drops items off, what cabin they are from, what items are washed, dried, ironed, and when they are returned saves a lot of headaches.
Mise en place is not just for cooking. Every well-organized department on a yacht creates better teamwork, prepares crew for the unexpected, and helps keep morale high. A close-knit team is more likely to support each other, stay positive, and make all that hard work fun.
Alene Keenan is former lead instructor of interior courses at Maritime Professional Training in Fort Lauderdale. She shares more than 20 years experience as a stew in her book, “The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht,” available at yachtstewsolutions.com. Comments are welcome below.