Culinary Magic

August 5, 2013 Published by

Writer Virginia Woolf once said, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” We totally agree and believe that if she had the chance to charter a private yacht, she certainly would have added, “One cannot cruise well” to that list.

tunaAs charter specialists, we travel throughout the year to various boat shows to inspect yachts, meet crew, and taste the fares of the chefs onboard. The Concours de Chef competition at the annual Antigua Charter Show is a highly anticipated event and one that gives its winners well-deserved bragging rights for the year. In May of 2013, the MYBA (Mediterranean Yacht Brokers Association) Charter Show in Genoa, Italy, celebrated its 25th Anniversary by holding its first yacht chefs’ culinary competition. For winner information, please contact NGY.

While every member of a charter yacht’s crew works tirelessly to provide clients with the ultimate vacation experience, the charter chef has the difficult task of keeping the crew fed and the clients dazzled.

Yacht chefs typically have certain specialties or cuisines they are passionate about, but they are constantly furthering their culinary prowess. If you spend a few minutes speaking to your chef, it usually yields colorful stories of cooking courses in exotic destinations, scientific experiments in molecular gastronomy, or hidden secrets learned from a local chocolatier in a Swiss village.

Yacht charter is an opportunity to be a bit daring and stray from your normal proclivities.   Imagine the journey you will take if you give your chef an evening of gastronomic “carte blanche”. However, yacht chefs also understand that today, more than ever, people are focused on healthy choices and might not be prepared to throw their healthy eating habits “out the porthole” for the duration of the charter. Versatility and flexibility are two personality traits all yacht chefs share. (See our Food and Libation sections to learn why they are so important.)

Chances are your chef will be provisioning ashore throughout the entire charter. There is nothing more enticing to a chef than a local market. Ask to accompany him or her on a shopping trip for the freshest ingredients and local specialties. That evening, you will be mesmerized at the transformation from market to plate.

Not only does your personal yacht chef prepare the finest cuisine, but the presentation also turns food into art. Take a moment to appreciate the attention to detail that goes into every plate. Cameras are allowed at the table! You may receive a printed menu to keep as a souvenir – If not, be sure to ask for a copy of the menu du jour. Looking at it after the charter will transport you right back to that memorable meal.

At NGY, we understand how important the chef is to a successful charter experience, and have decided to provide a glimpse into the minds of these culinary magicians.

Carlos Concha is our current featured chef.

chefCombining a Latin American enthusiasm for sharing fabulous cuisine and the knowledge gained from a lifetime spent traveling, cooking, dining and learning all over the world, Chef Carlos creates food experiences unlike any other.  Carlos is constantly educating himself and has taken courses in Asian culinary arts, Charcuterie, advanced cheese making, organic fruits and vegetables, and more.  Few chefs know how to bring people and food together to create truly unique culinary synergy like Chef Carlos.

Amber McGhee, the Executive Director of Crew Placement at NGY, recently sat down with Carlos, here is what she learned.

Carlos is a freelance charter chef.  If you would like to find out where is currently is cruising, contact us now!

What do you find most satisfying about being a chef on private yachts?

snackBeing a chef on a private yacht is like playing the most exciting game of Chess in the world. Every day you wake up to a different game, different players, and different moves.  Fresh ingredients from various ports of call mean you have to change your game. So do the multi-national crew, the yacht owner, and the guests on board. Even the weather makes the game different, and you can’t plan in advance. You have to play the game as it happens, day-by-day, moment-by-moment.  

Food trends seem to be moving away from most fancy/most expensive toward authentic. Have you noticed this has affected the guests’ requests and your own menu ideas?

Food trends come and go all the time, from the most complicated menus to the simplest tasty meals. My philosophy for all of them is to simply keep it simple.  My method is simple too: I put up the first meal of the voyage, no matter if it is breakfast, lunch or dinner, to make guests feel at home and let them settle in. Then we talk. I ask questions and listen closely to understand how they eat and what trends or cuisine types they prefer. It’s their vacation, it’s their time, and I work to make it perfect, just for them.  And really, the whole idea of menu planning on a yacht is academic because you never know what fresh local products will pop up. You need to be flexible and work with whatever comes your way!  

How do you see other food trends?

soupI have always liked the idea of Foraging, and 100-mile menus. And when you are always waking up somewhere new in the world you can indulge this style of cooking in the most wonderful way. Every port is a new opportunity to find the freshest local Farm-to-Table ingredients, and make the experience of being in that part of the world not just about what you see there, but also about what foods you taste. I love it!   

What inspires your meal innovation and creativity?

Fresh ingredients. Talk to the local people about what they eat, and were they shop. Then go visit these places: the farmers markets and specialty shops. Bring it all back on board; all that local knowledge and all those wonderful fresh local ingredients, and just cook honestly!

Share one story about cooking on board.

On board you have to be really organized, and be prepared for the unexpected. You can get specific dietary requests, or guests who crave something particular without notice, or sometimes they can just change their mind at the very last minute!

One day at dinnertime I had prepared duck breasts, butternut squash puree, haricot vert and a beautiful cherry red wine jus. We were almost ready to serve when word came down to the galley that some of the guests had decided that they didn’t feel like duck that night! That was a bit of a panic. But we made it work.

It’s all good fun. One of my favorite things is to surprise a guest or crewmember with something they didn’t expect. I pay attention when they talk about the restaurants they go to. I listen to the small talk, and the comments you overhear about a special meal they had awhile back. And then, when they least expect it, this special meal they have been thinking about and talking about shows up on their table. It’s one of my happiest moments to see them recognize what I have done – just for them!   

Working in the world of private yachts where a high level of guest interaction is required, how much of your success comes from your ability to interact with guests and other crewmembers?

frenchThe level of interaction and communication skills with owners, guests and crew is one of the most important components that make for a happy yacht, and a satisfying Professional Chef career. But don’t forget about relationships with your suppliers and crew agents either!  Go visit these people, get to know their businesses, and spend time on their farms. Appreciate how much effort all these people have put into making things the best for you so you can deliver it to your guests on board.

You know what will happen? They will work even harder for you, and you will be a happier person for it.

Please explain the challenges and fulfillment that comes from this more intimate cooking environment.

There can be a lot of challenges if you don’t plan and provision accordingly to your guests itinerary and food requests, as specific foods can be hard-or-impossible to find in some places. So you have to be prepared. But again, the best planning involves taking advantage of the places you are visiting:  explore your surroundings, talk to the locals, and visit the markets. You will fine lots of local products that should inspire you to deliver your best.

It’s a one-man show. Enjoy the opportunity you have been given!