Top Shelf: Cooking for the boss, no matter what

Jul 3, 2020 by Timothy MacDonald

Top Shelf: by Chef Timothy MacDonald

Often, we see in employment ads “American home cooking, midwest style, meat-and-potatoes”. There seems to be two sides to the culinary coin in regard to food preferences.

Over the past decade in Europe, there has been a movement toward hiring Michelin-starred chefs. I mean, that’s got to be the answer, right? If the chef has a Michelin star, he/she has to be good. In march the sous vide machines, little plastic squirt bottles and El Bulli tombs. The captains convinced they’ve hired JC in a chef’s kit stand back and watch the whole thing come apart like Evil Knievel at Las Vegas. The recruitment industry is fuelled by such hiring practices.

I laugh every time I hear the tale of a Michelin chef who has gotten a yacht job and then, within a season, has had to be replaced by a veteran on the lam. I hear the same tale every time: “He could not cope with being the sole chef, and the crew food was terrible or non-existent.”

There is more to it, I’m afraid, if you want to earn the yachting bucks.

Over in the states, on the other hand, things have remained consistent and reliable. Not once have I heard the words Michelin, owner is a foodie, etc. The emphasis is more on a clean-cut, presentable appearance, longevity and good references, and a willingness to cook what the family wants.

This is the way it should be, as at the end of the day, the boss pays the bills.

Food preference-wise, family cooking is the requirement. Cook outs, cookies, brownies, steak ’n chops, baked spuds, big salads for lunch, sandwiches with chips, pies, … . The only way to win is to fold in and follow the wake.

The gap that exists is the non-acceptance that, at the end of the day, we must cook what the family wants, not what we want to cook.

There is no greater example of an American family standard than an American pie.

Blueberry and apple pie

Blueberry apple pie

American pie dough:

  • 5 cups soft flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 450 gm cool butter cubes
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup cold water

Blueberry and apple filling:

  • 2 cans Musselman’s blueberry pie filling*
  • 1 teaspoon gingerbread spice
  • 3/4 can equivalent of cooked pink lady/Fuji apples. Quartered apples roasted with butter,vanilla and caster sugar.


  • Mix the dry ingredients and add the butter. Work until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Add the combined beaten yolks and water and mix only until combined. Cool it and create a pie shell. 
  • Using the leftover dough, create thick 2cm-wide strips. You will need about 12. Refrigerate the strips till needed.
  • Bake the shell at 180c using blind baking until the shell is dry and golden and completely cooked, about 30 minutes.
  • Add the filling and then lattice the strips of dough over the top.
  • Re-bake the pie for another 30 minutes. It’s essential that the dough is fully cooked and well done.

* The canned filling is essential not only for the fruit content but the flan gelling component that keeps everything together when cutting the pie.

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.