I consider myself to be quite professional under all circumstances. I may encounter situations that make me seethe inside, but in my time as a yacht chef, I have learned to embody the mantra “Never let them see you sweat.”
This is now…but it wasn’t always that way…
Early on, when I was first starting out on yachts, I had an incredible fear of not measuring up. While I’d been cooking — sometimes even “semi-professionally” — for much of my life, this was the first season I was an actual chef on a yacht. I really didn’t know what to expect.
On this particular trip, some of our guests were people I knew in a different context so I thought things would go rather smoothly, having already had a connection with them. But, from the get-go, things were anything but smooth.
I tried my best to impress these folks, especially since I was so new at this gig. I already had come to realize that, in the world of luxury yachting, you really don’t have the option to say “no.” Even when it seems impossible, you say “Yes,” and then you figure out how to get it done.
On this particular day, the “boys” on the trip had booked a charter fishing boat with a guide. Not unusual in the Pacific NW, it was a chilly and rainy day, even though it was mid-summer. I had a great grilled meat salad planned for lunch and was scrambling to get it done by the designated lunchtime. Suddenly I heard voices on the dock: oh, no! The guests are back early from fishing. And, in a mood. Apparently they had spent all that time (and all that money) and didn’t get so much as a nibble.
So, as I’m now struggling to speed up the lunch timeline, I am told by the Captain that the guests are cold and they don’t want the lunch I am working on…”Mr.” wants soup. There’s no questioning me if I can change the plans and would it be convenient if I made a soup? NO…I am essentially ORDERED to produce a soup. NOW.
Soup? I’m just about ready with my planned lunch and now I have to abandon that and come up with a soup? I don’t have soup planned anywhere on the menu…so what do I even HAVE to make soup with?
Now, understand…on a yacht, when we are out in the “wilderness,” it’s not like I can pop out to the nearest shop and grab some missing ingredient. I am STUCK with what I have on board. And, to make matters worse, I literally have this “deer in the headlights” moment where I can’t think of a single soup I could make!
Once I regain my composure a little, I realize I have a start: carrots, onion, celery…and chicken broth. That’s the beginning but now what? I get the “holy trinity” chopped up and sautéing in the pot. I find a partial package of Italian Sausage in the freezer. Quick…defrost that. Looking in my limited pantry, I find a box of dried cheese tortellini and both white beans and garbanzos. Ok…we’ll use those. The “Mrs.” had brought a big bundle of kale from her own garden, so I added a few leaves, finely chopped to finish the soup. All it had to do now was simmer, — not as long as I usually would like because they wanted soup NOW, — but just enough to get the tortellini cooked.
Ok, so my mission was accomplished. Soup was headed to the table. Word comes back from the Steward that the guests have decided they want my original lunch, too, now. So, I go back in flurry mode trying to finish up the original lunch without too much delay.
By the time lunch was finally served, I was wrung out emotionally. All I could do was escape to the boat deck, hide on a deck chair…and let the tears fall. Captain found me not too long after and essentially told me that everything went off great, from the guests’ perspective. Only the crew knew what sort of hoops I had been asked to jump through. But, at that moment, I wasn’t really sure I wanted this gig that badly. I loved to cook and be on the water, but the stress of rude and inconsiderate “entitled” people derailing my carefully constructed plans on a whim just didn’t seem worth it.
The funny part of this story is that they LOVED my soup. So much that they asked for it warmed up again the next day. Thankfully I’d made a vat of it, so I did have enough for a second meal. I put that last one together, I wouldn’t have had the ingredients to try to make another batch!
And, now, every time I make soup, particularly from scratch with no recipe, I think “F U ‘Mr!’ with a laugh…