A Chef’s Journey: From Dentist to Superyacht Chef!
It’s October 2012 and we’ve only a couple weeks to go till we set off on our circumnavigation: I’m hunched over my shopping trolley in Waitrose supermarket, Southampton, in floods of tears. Paul is beside me looking awkward and trying to get me to snap out of this supermarket breakdown! I had never felt so overwhelmed in all my life. We had two weeks left to go and I just crumbled at the thought of how I could pull this whole cooking thing off! I broke down on three different occasions while loading the trolleys with food. Paul was mortified as people gave him dirty looks assuming he must have upset his poor wife! In fact, I did it all on my own. And as I looked down aisle upon aisle of food I just couldn’t see how I would ever be prepared enough for this role I had undertaken. This was the role of super-yacht chef. I was also the medic and first mate on board however those jobs came easily to me but this cooking malarkey was a whole other ballgame.
A year earlier Eddie had contacted Paul offering us this once in a lifetime opportunity to sail around the world on his Oyster 885’ LUSH. And Paul did say to Eddie at the time that I was “quite a capable cook”, which Paul genuinely believed. He clearly never noticed all the Marks & Sparks packaging in the bin over the years! Yes, I would have thrown the odd dinner party for friends but this would have taken me a good few days to prepare for and I would have followed the recipe word for word with all the exact ingredients. I didn’t have time for ‘slaving about in a kitchen,’ I was a career girl with a massive hobby outside of my dental job and that of course was sailing. Sailing was (and still is) my passion. If I wasn’t studying for exams as a student or working in a dental practice after qualifying I was on the water, my second home.
I would watch other cooks in awe as they threw a bit of this and a bit of that into a pot with great ease managing to produce a fine meal. The TV show Ready Steady Cook with chef Ainsley Harriott really bugged me, I just couldn’t get my head around how someone could think up a meal on the spot with just a couple of ingredients??!!!! My mum is a passionate cook, she would have as many culinary books as I had sailing ones and she tried tirelessly over the years to persuade me to don an apron and learn this great skill, “it’ll stand to you some day!” she’d say and as Paul & I considered Eddies proposition I hate to say it but I just wished I’d listened to mum over the years! Still though at least I had a year to get myself organized.
It was hard to know where to start. Gastronomy has to be the biggest subject in the world, there’s a phenomenal amount of information available online, in bookshops, magazines, everyone has something to say on the subject and this overload of information certainly did not help in my initial path to competency! Two months went by and I still hadn’t sorted out a plan for my cooking and after making a few calls I managed to find a brilliant chef and instructor Hazel Mc Fadden who would teach me one-on-one everything I needed to know once weekly. I had considered doing a month or three-month long cookery course in the likes of Ballymaloe Cookery School but that would have meant giving up dental job a lot earlier than planned and also I would have been learning about various dishes and types of cooking that with my particular brief would have been irrelevant to me. Eddie and Marie wanted healthy wholesome cooking with very little bread, deserts etc… no sugar, no gluten and no dairy was the request!
I would need to get a massive handle on seafood dishes and fancy salads galore along with gluten free, dairy free cooking. The sugar-free bit came easy enough to me as a dentist! Hazel was terrific, we met up once a week, and while the learning curve was steep I felt I had a good handle on it all, by the time I moved to Southampton, in September 2012. I then did a week-course in Rick Stein’s famous cookery school, Padstow, courtesy of Eddie. Various superyacht chefs in Southampton guided me through all the galley preparation, equipment, utensils and food provisioning. The tips they gave me were absolutely life saving and I’ll be here all day if I start to go into them now (you’ll have to wait for the book!). My mum was a super source of recipes and encouragement as always and Paul’s stepdad Bob suggested some clever bits of equipment to bring with me in particular a vacuum-pack machine which is essential for those of you planning some long offshore trips!
However, even after all that prep I was extremely stressed in the weeks leading up to our departure. Our first offshore leg we had 8 people onboard including the four crew, our second offshore leg was to follow in quick succession of the first with only a couple of days lay-over, and on that leg I would be catering for 10 people while we crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Then after two weeks at sea we would have a few days in Antigua to prepare before Eddie and Marie would join LUSH for the first time and spend the following 6 weeks (the first of many 6wk stints) onboard! I would then be catering for up on 12 people between crew and guests. Oh and I suffer from seasickness, did I mention that? Over my years sailing I have always had the upmost of respect for chefs working on yachts and I NEVER once wished to have such a job. Fine, if you’re on a racing yacht and everyone is eating freeze-dried food that you just add water to or army ration packs but on a superyacht with a galley you have to cook, it’s as simply as that!
Standing in Waitrose that afternoon, all that kept going through my mind was if I was having ten people round for dinner in my house my fridge and cupboards would be full with all the food I’d need for just one meal!!! “How the hell am I going to do this and have all the food I need for the guts of a month at sea with the same size fridge onboard as I have at home?” Luckily, I came up with a plan! I cooked all the meals in advance, vac packed them into A4 size flat packs and froze them. Thankfully we had a freezer! Slowly and surely I started to get on top of my brief! 100s of supermarket shopping expeditions later I managed to stuff the bilge, cupboards, freezer & fridge on LUSH full with food. I had a plan in place for every eventually….
If the fridge broke or the freezer or even the oven at sea one must have a plan B because there is nowhere to go in the middle of the ocean! Paul and Alan were always at hand to fix any technical faults in my galley, the only thing that outdid them was when the microchip on the motherboard of the oven burnt out. But that’s another story (again, it’s in the book)! Sailing to far-flung islands I had no idea what I could get food-wise ashore making it imperative to be absolutely fully prepared. At no other point (thankfully) was I anywhere near as stressed on our two-year circumnavigation as I was in those months back in Southampton. There is just a colossal amount of work involved in preparing a yacht to go to sea let alone to embark on a circumnavigation and on a yacht of this caliber and working for a celebrity like Eddie Jordan the pressure on me was immense. Nothing I had ever done up to this point came anywhere close to it!
Was it worth it? Absol-bloody-utely!! And did I enjoy cooking onboard LUSH and have the most fun-job you could ever have on a yacht? Absol-bloody-utely! It was tremendously fulfilling, I cooked with ingredients from all over the world, some of the time I didn’t even know what I was actually cooking but I’d try everything. At markets I met the most wonderful people and had such a laugh figuring out the local language and the food. I truly got to know countries and islands even if we were there for a short time! I appreciated where food comes from, the hard work & love that goes into growing it, the art and time involved in fishing, which as you know we did plenty of! This job didn’t just involve cooking food, it involved a connection with produce and people. And yes it was a whole different experience than just going to the supermarket and I’m so fortunate to have experienced it. And as for the seasickness? Yes, I still did get that from time to time depending on the conditions. At least sailing west through the tropics is pretty much all downwind so that made life in the galley a lot more bearable! And it’s so small in my whole circumnavigation story that I’m glad I didn’t let it beat me!
The job of a superyacht chef on a circumnavigation project is a tough demanding one and sometimes there would be absolutely NOTHING to buy ashore other than coconuts and bananas! Honestly! I was continually challenged to think on my feet and come up with a fancy dinner of sorts for Eddie, Marie and their guests. After I had succeeded in my first month of offshore cuisine from Southampton to the Caribbean, I was pretty nervous cooking up my first proper plate for Eddie and Marie in Antigua. Thankfully they were both an absolute joy to cook and work for. Eddie’s first comment on sampling my cuisine was “wow, that’s sensational”!! Honestly, I couldn’t believe it! “Sensational”, what a word!!! And that was just my first meal for them, I cooked hundreds and hundreds of dishes over the two-year period and yes kept learning along the way. There were times when we were supposed to eat ashore and the plan might get changed last minute and I’d have to cook up something quickly or I’d be about to serve dinner and the lads would have to move the boat for some reason. Things changed constantly, no two days or two meals were ever the same. I even cooked for Royalty and a smattering of celebs along the way. Hard to imagine that I was unable to scramble eggs a year earlier! Undoubtedly the biggest journey of the last few years for me wasn’t the 38,000 nautical miles but rather the journey of self-development I’ve been on as a person and a chef (and need I say it but there’s just too much of it to go into here…. wait for the book!)
To circumnavigate the world was my dream! For as far as I can remember I wanted to sail around the world! Okay, in my early years I fancied the idea of racing around a la Volvo Ocean Race style and then when Paul and I met we talked of building our own yacht some day and doing it. I never planned to do it in a professional capacity for a couple of reasons. The first being my previous culinary inadequacy and the second was because I had this notion I wanted to do it on our terms in our time (crazy!). I’m not sure we’ve told you this but Paul and I nearly turned down Eddies job offer!!! We nearly turned down this enormous dream opportunity because we had notions about how we wanted our dream to fair out! I wonder are any of you readers missing opportunities because it’s not packaged exactly as you imagine? I’m delighted that I had to learn such a massive skill to fulfill my dream and one that will stand to me forever more. And yes, Paul too was challenged and he learnt a whole heap along the way, which he’ll be revealing very shortly through our mailing list.
And now, what next for me? Well I’ve come the full circle on this chef’s journey and I’m going to hang up my apron and sailing boots for now and return to dentistry, this time in the south of the UK. I’ve always loved my job as a dentist and if you’re a patient of mine you’ll know that. On that note, thank you to all my patients who have emailed me while I’ve been away and for all your messages of encouragement. It’s amazing the amount of people though, that have asked me recently how could I ever “return to the day job?”, the thing is in dentistry I don’t just view it as treating “teeth,” I’m treating people at the end of the day, same in cooking it’s not just about the “food” but more importantly it’s about people. And once you focus on making people smile and making a difference, however small, you will ultimately be fulfilled whatever your job!
Will I return to the sea some day? You know me well by now folks! Do I really need to answer that question? Luckily the sea isn’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future, if anything it’s growing! Meantime we’ll have to live vicariously through your blogs, so please send on links! For Paul & I it’s time for a new chapter and a spot of landlubbing!!
One Life… Live it!!
Lots of love,
We have the first draft of our book complete, which apparently in book publishing terms is the very start of a long and arduous process. If any of you have any connections in the crazy world of books and publishing please do link us up.
Paul’s Big Secret!
Paul has been working away since September on a very exciting project, while we’ve been in Spain. He’s literally going to reveal this to you in a private email within the coming days. Sorry that there’s been a delay on it, I know a few of you have been wondering what’s keeping Paul from making his big announcement! I promise it’ll be worth it when you hear what he’s been up to! So if you’re not already signed up, sign up now and hear all Paul’s exciting news.
Click Here to Find Out about Paul’s Special Project!
Speaking Engagements Paul and I will be speaking in the National Yacht Club, Dun Laoghaire, Dublin on Thursday the 19th of February. If you’re keen to hear more about our travels and have a good fun night out then please ring the National Yacht Club and join us for dinner (€25 for 2 course meal) at 7.30pm followed by our Circumnavigation talk afterwards! Website: www.nyc.ie Phone: 01 2801198 If you would like us to speak at your event, yacht club or wherever please just drop us a line here. http://sailingwest.com/get-in-touch/