So, this is a true story. It’s not HORRENDOUS, but it does highlight some of the challenges that are inherent in my job. “Private chef,” by definition, is that you get whatever you want to eat. Ok, I can handle that. I learn your preferences and I’m more than happy to cook you what you enjoy eating. In a normal land-based job, if you throw me a curveball last minute and say, “I want to eat this-and-such” and I don’t have the ingredients on hand, I can pop over to the local grocery (or, if it’s really obscure and I have a day’s notice I can source ANYHING online) and bingo! It’s ready when you want it. SOMETIMES I can pull that off when I’m on a yacht, depending on where I am and what your budget is. Hell, the Internet is a valuable tool for those who “want it NOW.”
But, then there’s the final variable…do I even HAVE signal? Frequently where I go with boats, there’s NO SIGNAL. Good…and bad. Good in that it is ridiculously liberating to be disconnected from the clutches of social media, on-demand news, all the electronic noise that rules our lives. Bad in that…well, I can’t “fetch” on my owner’s or guests’ whims.
Take this story…I’m on an owner-run boat and we are on a 5-week cruise around Desolation Sound and waters around British Columbia. The owner is an interesting character in that he made his money on fast-food franchises, and when he retired, among other things he bought a house in my town of residence and this yacht (his second, actually…first one wasn’t big enough).
On this point of the cruise, he lets us know that he’s got a hankering for oysters. We know JUST the spot, so the plan is to anchor off in the bay that has them, and the next morning we’ll get up when the tide is right, head out by tender and nab those happy bivalves!
Excellent plan…but wait. Morning comes, coffee and breakfast is served and we are about to hop into the tender and zip on over to the prime oyster rocks. Except…Mr says he doesn’t actually want to GO with us; he just wants us to bring him back the oysters. Ah, “go fetch!” Excellent. Thankfully, there are two couples who are guests on the boat and they are game so off we go!
Well, the harvesting part was lovely. We found oysters of all sizes and were able to pluck some excellent specimens to join us aboard for the pending feast. Buckets filled, we head back to the boat and Mr is super excited for our haul.
The group wasn’t ready to eat them this early in the morning, so we made sure we had plenty of cool water in the buckets and refreshed it regularly. Finally, the moment arrived and OYSTERS WERE REQUESTED. Ok!
True confession: I do not care for oysters. If it’s an “acquired taste” then it’s one that I don’t believe is worth acquiring. I’ve actually had a standoff with a raw oyster at a sushi bar where, for a LOOONG moment, I thought the oyster was going to win! Thank GOD for Sapporo! You can swallow just about anything with the right amount of alcohol.
So, thankfully, one of the guests was CRAZY happy about shucking oysters. I have a great oyster knife in my knife roll and was more than happy to hand it over to her, along with a cushy dishtowel. They wanted to eat some raw, and some grilled. OK…do you KNOW what cooking oysters or clams will do to your BBQ? I suggested that they use a cookie sheet between the oysters and the grill bars to preserve the bars and I was glad they accepted my recommendation.
BUT…here it comes. Mr informs me that Mrs doesn’t eat oysters that way. She will only eat Oysters Rockefeller. WHAAATTT? Really? I mean, when did THIS come up in conversation when we talked about prep? Do you KNOW what goes into Oysters Rockefeller because it’s not something most people have on hand under NORMAL circumstances, much less on a yacht in the middle of freaking no-where.
Dilemma: the job of a private yacht chef is to always have a YES when it comes to a special request. Now, recall. I HATE oysters. I don’t cook with them, I don’t eat them. I don’t have Internet so I can’t Google Oysters Rockefeller, but somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of my brain, I remember it involved baked crusted little buggers with spinach and Pernod.
If you know about your liquors, Pernod isn’t one of those “everyday” bottles that people just happen to have, just in case. And, gee…we no got. So, I did have vermouth on hand. It’s gonna have to do. The ONLY reason I had spinach is because one of the guests is a smoothie fanatic and we stocked these random little balls of frozen spinach so she could drop them in the blender every morning for her energy blast. Great…that’s mine now. So, I have the most crucial ingredients kinda covered for my “pull it out of your a**” Oysters kinda Rockefeller and I get to work.
End result…Mrs LOVED it and kept telling her entire network (once we GOT signal and they were able to start playing Candy Crush again) that their chef made the BEST Oysters Rockefeller, but I continued to agonize over the fact that I didn’t make the dish per recipe even though I was at every disadvantage for making it happen.
Most chefs get to say no. Yacht chefs are expected to always say YES and figure it out on the back end.