Confessions of a Charter Cat Chef

1/1/2012

Liz Tosoni

Tom’s had this idea for years: wouldn’t it just be the coolest gig going- skippering a charter catamaran in the Caribbean, taking guests out for dream sailing trips in warm climes during the winter months, and getting paid to do it?

I’ve always thought on the other hand, romantic, yes, maybe, BUT, imagine the unromantic side of the coin-the cooking, for example, how time consuming, how challenging, how downright scary for the likes of little ‘ole me. It’s one thing to produce meals in Feel Free’s galley, for Tom and me and for various friends and family members, but to put together gourmet meals for groups of six or eight holiday makers day after day on a luxury yacht? I’m a sailor, NOT a chef. No, that’s definitely not my schtik!

When we got the invitation to do just that though, to be “Captain” and “Chef” of a 44 foot Lagoon catamaran, for a week, in the British Virgin Islands, with six guests from the U.S., well, I couldn’t deny that it was a good opportunity to check it out. How could we say no to such an offer- getting paid to run a luxury yacht for a week in a tropical paradise?!

I agreed to do it but that didn’t mean I wasn’t terrified. Terrified! The three couples who chartered the vessel were expecting haute cuisine for a week. Oh my gawd, how am I going to manage it? I ruminated. Not to mention Tom who was also a tad apprehensive. After all, we didn’t know the boat. We had never operated a catamaran on our own. To put it mildly, we were filled with trepidation as we arrived in Tortola the night before the charterers were to arrive, but truly grateful when friends Gord and Ginny, who had introduced us to the Charter Company, Festiva Sailing Vacations, were there to greet us and give us a quick tour of our catamaran, Dessie.

I tossed and turned that night on board the yacht and when daylight appeared, bright and clear, reality set in. The rooms had been more or less made up but the rest of the boat was in complete disarray, inside and out. Soon enough cleaners and technicians started to arrive, as did the fellows from the grocery store who layed on a cornucopia of food- fresh vegetables and fruits, dairy products, meats, pastas, flour and rice, cake ingredients and dessert mixes, canned goods. juices, snacks, condiments, herbs and spices galore, toiletries, paper products.

Then came the booze and soft drinks, boxes and cases of it, wine, beer, spirits and mixes, enough to satisfy a navy for a year it seemed! Where does it all go? Where do we stow it?

In the midst of this frenzy of activity, I was trying not to panic. My mind was trying to concentrate on the meals. The guests would be arriving tired and hungry at 5:00. I had to think ahead to what I’d be serving not only that evening but the whole week. Here’s what I was given as a guideline for the week’s menu. It turned out to be my Bible!

Before arrival, I had this mistaken idea that all the food items would be neatly packaged and labelled by the day and the meal. No such luck! Even if I found homes for the mountains of goods, how was I ever going to be able to locate them later when I needed them? Okay, one step at a time, I reasoned with myself. Stay calm and focused. So I studied the menu for the first evening and here’s what I found:

Snack                  5:00-5:30 pm

Chips and Salsa

 

 

Dinner                 7:30-8:00 pm

 

 

Tuna Fillets with P/apple and Green pepper sauce.                    

 

Spinach and Plantain. Tomato and Herb Rice.

Dessert                8:00- 8:30 pm

 

 

Ice-cream and chocolate sauce

Easy peasy thought I and even knew exactly where all these items were; then, I looked at the recipes:

Whoa, scrumptious sounding, but time consuming! And this was just the first night. How am I ever going to be able to find the time to prepare it all?! The guests would soon be arriving, and shortly thereafter, wed be heading to a nearby anchorage, then dinner, and then there were the preparations after the meal for the next day.

Honestly, amid the chaos of that day, I felt as if I were in a nightmare, didnt have a clue as to how I was going to be able to get through the week, and the guests hadnt even arrived yet! Secretly, I was so mad at myself. Why on earth did I ever agree to this?

Well, by the time our six guests arrived, somehow, a miracle happened. Everything did get stowed and all systems were pronounced to be in good working order. Dessie was ship shape. We headed out to our first BVI anchorage following buddy boat Claire, skippered by good buddies Gord and Ginny.

The evening meal went by without a hitch. Another miracle! The guests declared the meal delicious which much encouraged me; however, my stress level was still high as I had the next day to gear up for.

Breakfast and lunch were straightforward enough but what really got me going was the beef tenderloin dinner. Look at the instructions:

"Take the tenderloins and cut the ends off. Depending on how thick you want your steaks you can cut three or four steaks out of a tenderloin, so you need to cut them into rounds. Turn the cut pieces upwards so that they look like little towers. Use your fingers and massage the meat to make a larger surface area on either side (top and bottom) Using the palm of your hand and simply flatten the piece of meat. It should now look like a round thick piece of steak. Place in marinade for as long as possible."

Ohmygawd that seems complicated! What is it, a massage parlour for meat? In the end, on the good advice of Gord and Ginny our mentors, Captain Tom just barbequed them the old fashioned way, and again, another meal success! Dessert was another matter. No chocolate cake mix to be found! So it was Fruit Crumble instead- the dessert suggestion for Day 5.

The days went like this: up at 0615, put on the coffee and hot water, start chopping fruit or do other preparations for breakfast. By about 0830, serve breakfast, do dishes. Around 0930, raise anchor or drop mooring ball, get under way, raise sails. 1000- start preparations for lunch. 1100- drop sails, anchor or pick up mooring, get back to work on lunch while guests swim or go for a wander ashore. 1230- serve lunch, do dishes. Guests would spend afternoons snorkelling, swimming, visiting their friends on Claire, or wed set sail for another anchorage, while I was in the galley making dips for Happy Hour as well as main meal preps. 7:30- dinner, followed by dessert, dishes. Evenings found me baking bread or making a dessert for the following day.

Guests partied in the evenings and boy did they know how to have fun! Heres Ginny dishing out a birthday cake in Claires galley. By the way, thats Pina Colada cake to die for, a huge hit.

You get the idea. It was full on galley duty interspersed with crew duties.

There were no meal disasters, and I discovered some delectable recipes which I will definitely repeat in Feel Frees galley, not only main courses but also marinades, spreads and desserts.

The guests were very appreciative. In fact, they claimed that the food was wonderful.

By the end of the week, I was exhausted though. Beautiful as the islands and anchorages were, the navigation is all a blurr for me, unheard of aboard Feel Free. My feeling was one of relief, so thankful it all turned out. Were I to do it again, Im positive it would get easier and easier. But would I do it again? Whats your guess?

I have to say there were a few technical hiccups along the way to be sure, so stay tuned to hear Toms version of the story.