Yacht Cooking Means Shipshape Service, Right Down to the Plate's Careful Position

Chef Sara Ventiera is on a three-week trip to the Bahamas, manning the kitchen on a 91-foot yacht. She will file regular updates from the waters about what it's like to work on a yacht, from pretrip provisioning to seaplane produce delivery. Click here for previous reports.

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Photo by Sara Ventiera
The captain's flan, with the flags appropriately turned to 12 o'clock.
"Can you seat them for me?" I asked Julie, the stew. "I have about ten minutes on the chicken and their starter is almost good to go."

This is crunch time in the galley. They asked to eat at 6:45. It was 6:47, I wanted to get this service over as quickly as possible. I wanted to go to bed. Julie hurried out to the aft deck to announce dinner was ready to be served. The guests meandered into the dining room to gather around the table. Meanwhile, Julie grabbed bottles of Pellegrino and wine. Tonight, their options were a Chassagne Montrachet, Domaine Ott Rose, and Acacia Pinot Noir. Each is
phenomenal, with the price tag to match.

While Julie tended to the guests, I was whirling around the galley. Tonight's menu was simple to execute, but there is always a bit of pressure before sending out the meals. To start, I made a balsamic-dressed, mixed-greens salad with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, and kalamata olives. With two days to go until I receive my new provisions via seaplane, I need to use up the perishables. When Julie walked in, I had just started garnishing the plates. She grabbed the first few salads and rushed them out to the guests. By the time she returned, the rest were ready.

With the starters out of the way, I focused on the entrees. My chicken breasts were just about ready to come out of the oven. The stock was boiled and ready for the couscous. I threw haricot vert into the top of the steamer. Off went my oven thermometer. I pulled out the chicken and tented it with foil. Dinner was minutes away. Now I just had to wait for the guests to finish their salads. This usually takes just a few minutes. Tonight they were tired. It felt as though it took hours.

When cooking for this many guests, it feels as though timing is always off in one way or another. Usually, I feel like I'm running behind. Tonight it felt like the opposite. As they worked on their salads, I removed the china from the oven and set it out ready to plate. Finally, the clanging of the forks on the salad plates ceased. Julie walked into the dining room. As I heard her picking up the plates and silverware, I began plating the entrees. I started by delicately spooning the lemon couscous with toasted pine nuts and roasted garbanzo beans. I set the chicken breast diagonally leaning over top. The haricot vert went across the intersection of both for some height. Julie and I quickly ran the plates out to the dining room and gently set them in front of the guests, making sure that the cross flags at the top sat directly at 12 o'clock in front of each patron.

"Tonight, we are eating chicken stuffed with gruyere, sun-dried tomato, and artichoke, over lemon, garbanzo, and pine nut couscous, with haricot vert. Enjoy." I said.

"It looks beautiful. Thank you" said the boss.

I returned to the galley to plate the dessert. I was serving the captain's flan. It's one of the boss' favorites. It's also one mine, because I didn't have to make it. The captain slid a knife around the edge of the ramekins and flipped them over the dessert plates. While he worked on the desserts, I plated our dinner. We eat the same meals as the guests. As we ate in the galley, we heard nothing but the clinking of forks on plates from the dining room. Apparently, the guests were also satisfied.

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