Hello!! I am back in the south of France, getting back into the swing of the yachting season in the Mediterranean, despite the ferocious downpour over the Easter weekend! I ...
Challenge: Cook a 4 kilo / 9 lb grouper (merou en français) in a miniature boat oven, in a salt crust, for eight guests aboard a luxury yacht during the Grand Prix in Monaco.
I’ve never done this before, so I am a wee but concerned. Not nervous, because hell I am a chef, and chefs don’t get scared. We attack!
First task: acquiring the salt. The boat was located right across from Monaco Yacht Club, inside the race track. So basically we were closed in from 6am to 7pm each day. Finally on Friday, the day before “the big cook,” the tracks closed early, about 3pm, and I set off to the grocery store. It took me a while to navigate all the roadblocks…then I hauled a caddy with 10 large boxes of large crystal salt (gros sel); as well as two other large shopping bags of food. I might’ve been trapped for days on the boat with no opportunity to shop, so I bought as much as I could carry.
I really did all my exercise for the day hauling everything back to the boat. Everytime I am lugging stuff to the boat, to the train, across countries, continents, airplanes, between friends’ houses I curse myself. For bringing so much. And I vow that next time I will bring less, I will be more efficient, more streamlined. I will be the perfect traveling soldier.
But alas, I am not quite there yet. I am a mobile jet setter, love it or hate it, and with each trip, I am fine tuning the perfect travel bag, items that can do double duty, mobile, light, with stuff I wouldn’t be sad about losing. (It hasn’t happened yet. I am a backpacker disguised as a suitcaser).
So, I finally get to the boat; my guests about ready to have apero. I pump that out; then get to Freddy, my grouper. He was living in my home-sized freezer for the past week; occupying all my precious cold space. I took him out the night before, where he rested quite nicely in the sink, slowly thawing out, rejoining us in the ambient temperature world. He stabbed me in the center of my left palm before he went in the freezer, but he was cooperating quite nicely now.
We got him from the local fisherman (pêcheur) in St. Jean Cap Ferrât in France, along the Côté d’Azur…our home port.
I researched on the internet how to do the salt crust. There are three options: 1) crust with just salt; 2) crust with egg whites; and 3) crust with whole eggs. Additional herbs optional. I prefer a flaky white fish like seabass or trout, but you can try a firmer fish like grouper or Mahi Mahi.
Preheat your oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Cean and gut the fish, but leave the scales on to keep the fish moist. In a large bowl, mix 4-5 boxes of salt (about 1 kilo of salt to 1 kilo of fish); along with 2 eggs per box. The texture should be like wet sand. Pour half the mixture on a large roasting pan. Place your cleaned whole fish on to. Stuff the belly with herbs; I like thyme and lemon; try orange for a different kick. Cover the rest with the rest of the salt mixture; then pat everything nicely together over the body of the fish (you can leave the tail and head uncovered).
Throw that baby in there and let it cook. About 15 minutes for a small fish, up to 40 minutes for a fish larger than 4 kilos (like Freddy). To check if its done, stick a knife in the center of the fish, piercing the salt crust, and touch the knife to your upper lip. If it’s warm-hot, your fish is done.
Drape some herbs and extra lemon around the platter; and present your masterpiece table side. Crack open the crust, let them see inside.
Rush back into the kitchen; remove the salt, and filet the sucker.
Benefits of the salt crust: perfectly seasoned fish, not much faffing around. Guests looooove it. My guests actually pounded their fists on the table and screamed “Ivy!! Ivy!!” In my honor and celebration. Even the one guy (from the UK) who doesn’t like fish (unless it’s breaded)…even he liked it. Plus it’s like a celebration of the olden times.
Downsides: your galley gets completely trashed with salt, bits of scales and greasy fishy bits everywhere. Or at least mine did as I fought with Freddy and his firm, firm flesh. He was wiggling everywhere. It took me two days to get every bit of salt out. Also, now that your captain knows you can do this, he asks you to do it again two weeks later. Thank goodness the fish was a lot smaller. And this time around, I had plenty of salt on board.
The most exciting place to be in the world this week was for the Grand Prix in Monaco. We paid an extravagant fee just to dock the yacht inside the port. Lots of glitz and glamour, with the high-pitched squeals of racing cars during the day and pulsing nightclubs at night. Everyone was dressed to the nines, in marine and automotive inspired outfits.
I spent the week feeding guests staying the week in Monaco – here are some images of meals I served as well as shots in and around the yacht:
OK guys, I am feeling hella exuberant! Being in Paris reminds me to live life to to the fullest. I’m surrounded by chic luxury juxtaposed by gritty pungent homeless smells. When I feel like I can’t hold my breath any longer (not breathing because I’m in awe and also because it smells); I stumble upon a hidden gem in a city that never disappoints.
Just beside metro Jussieu (line 4 – also near place Monge); is a throwback to Moyenne Orient luxury – there’s the old Orient Express train on display, the largest Mosque in Paris, and the Jardin des Plantes and Natural History Museum just next door.
For an unforgettable and truly Parisian experience off the beaten path, start off with a walk through the Jardin des Plantes and revel in the untamed beauty of the botanical wonders within. Then cross the street and go round the corner to the Mosque of Paris, the largest and grandest in the city, and get lost in the resplendent designs and rich patterns of Moroccan decor within.
Then make your way over to the restaurant for a grand meal of tagine, or maybe a spiced b’stilla, in the cavernous bustling yet warm and lovely dining room(s)! Relax and digest while you steam in the hammam on property, then continue unwinding while you sip on fresh sweet mint tea in tiny glasses on the patio. Make sure to order a few baklavas, shining puff pastry soaked and stuffed with fragrantly crisp walnuts and pistachios and perfumed sugar syrup.
Take advantage of the sun while it lasts, because the splendor only lasts so long – before you know it the grey and gritty skies will overtake the Mood and you’ll get on the bad side of this vacillating mistress – the brooding visages, the cold wet winds that creep into your bones.
Endure you must, and when you think it’s just frankly really un-fucking-bearable, what with the French “touch” (code word “touchy” attitude!), the golden rays and love and beauty of this gilded city will come alive again and lure you back in .. For another tromp through the treasure chests and golden waterfalls.
Paris always manages to take my breath away (and this time in the good way, not because men in metro never wear déo!!). I miss it so much, even though I am still in the city – there is just never enough time to see everything, absorb it all, get your head around the grandeur and splendor and heart-aching beauty of it all. Until next time, my love..
“When you tire of Paris, you tire of life.”
UN TRÈSOR CACHÈ A PARIS: DÉCOUVRIR LE MYSTIQUE DE MOYENNE ORIENT
“Le freak, c’est chic” – Célébrer la vie!!! J’ai visité la Mosquée de Paris pour le premier fois cet après-midi et c’est un trésor caché avec plein des activités à faire – le hammam, le salon du thé, un grand et beau resto avec un intérieur extraordinaire. Faire une promenade dans le Jardin des Plantes à côté la mosquée; voir l’intérieur de mosquée, manger une tagine sur place dans le grand resto avec les motifs marocaine sur les murs, continuez avec 2 ou 3 heures au hammam, et finir l’après midi avec une verre du thé du menthe et reste tranquillement sur la terrasse bien ensoleillée.
I sketched this out for a beautiful newlywed couple I met on the train from Paris to London. I think this will be the beginnings of a fully interactive map! But for now, my restaurant recommendations in Paris at a glance:
Hello!! I am back in the south of France, getting back into the swing of the yachting season in the Mediterranean, despite the ferocious downpour over the Easter weekend!
I was soaked to the bone and pummeled by the whistling wind, as I used my flimsy umbrella like a shield against the sideways rain to no avail.
As I dragged along my little caddy through the puddles on the ground I thought – wow this would make for a great comedic scene in the play of “Yachtie Life.”
Would love to share some scenes of my beloved purveyors; it’s been a good 6 months since I have seen their familiar faces.
They know what I want, and take the time to chat with me, as I wait patiently in line for my turn. That is one great thing about the French – they give good customer service when it comes to food!
Great care and attention is taken while preparing and selling fish, cheese or produce to the consumer. Actually, if you do not respect this mutual process, many of these culinary “artisans” will refuse to sell to you.
Luckily, I understand their love language, and I happily enjoyed the process and prepared a sumptuous meal of:
jumbo prawns and traditional Moroccan mergers sausage
black angus filet mignon (from America!), topped with foie gras stuffed figs, quinoa pilaf, and prosciutto-wrapped micro asparagus bundles
Roasted vegetable salad
Mustardy curry potatoes
finished with chocolate chili lava cake and vanilla pecan ice cream!
Seven guests (and 2 servers) were in relaxed, luxurious heaven while dining onboard a charming yacht in the port of Antibes:
I continue my own Easter journey today, Monday, as the French take an extra day for any and all holidays ;)
We’re off to the markets again, with slightly clearer skies, to begin the process of creating intimate culinary memories once more. This time I will have a guest chef, Monika from
Hungary, who drove to the south of France with her chefs knives and cat(!) by her side. Until next time…
“They say nothing is impossible. But I do nothing every day.” – Winnie the Pooh
Hello hello everyone!
This post marks a new chapter in the Ivy Eats webspace. You guys have been following me around America, then on to France while I’ve experienced new culinary adventures.
Recently, my journey in food and following the passion has brought me to a third continent – Asia.
What I have discovered in the last 5 months has completely blown me away. You see, I have not just been searching for the best food in the world – but also the best life.
For the last 10 years, I have taken walkabouts around the world. Sometimes these journeys are a few weeks, a few months, and on my last journey, a full year. I have been searching for something. Growing up in America, in a middle-class suburb in Los Angeles, going to school, then going to college and getting a job – I just thought, there must be something else in life. Another way to live. I thought other people in other countries did it differently. They must live more exuberantly, more abundantly. I wanted to immerse myself in different cultures, experience daily life through a different lens, and combine all my experiences.
The scenery changed, the pace of life changed, and my tongue was changing! Not only was I eating new foods, but I was speaking new languages – reconfiguring how my mouth and brain was seeing the world. My lens and viewpoint on life has altered permanently with these experiences. Just look at the diversity of taste sensations I was experiencing as I started my day on 3 different continents:
My American breakfast – 4 egg whites, oatmeal with soy milk, fresh fruit
My French breakfast – hot chocolate, croissants, fresh baguettes, butter, jam
My Chinese breakfast – rice porridge with sauteed vegetables and tofu
In the next couple of weeks, I will be sharing my thoughts, experiences and findings in my research on food. I will seek to strive to answer the questions that many people around the world ponder and struggle with:
Why do I keep gaining weight? I don’t eat that much and I jog all the time..
I just ate a whole box of cookies – what’s wrong with me?
Why do I feel so tired all the time?
Why are Americans so fat?
Why are the French so thin?
How do I know if what I am eating is safe?
Why does everything bad for you taste so good? :)
Until my next post, I leave you with an image of the last (great) meal I had, at a Parisian brasserie:
Croque Madame, open-faced sandwiched topped with ham, bechamel sauce and cheese, melted under a broiler and topped with a sunny-side up egg
This was a recipe inspired by my old deckhand Tom. I was the chef on a small motor yacht last summer in the south of France.
It’s a twist on comfort food that excites yet soothes the body.
Also a great way to use leftovers – make another meal out of those odds and ends of meat and veggies in the fridge.
3 tbsp vegetable oil
4 eggs beaten
3 cloves of minced fresh garlic
Half an onion chopped
6 cups day old white rice (sticky short grain works best)
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
1 cup sweet sausage, chopped
1/4 cup Sriracha or sambal oelek chili garlic sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 stalks sliced green onion (or spring onion)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup stale bread or breadcrumbs
1/2 cup milk
2 lbs ground meat (half beef half pork or veal)
Half an onion chopped
1 clove garlic minced
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 cup white sugar
1 tbsp white or rice vinegar
1/2 cup sake, white cooking wine or water
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp five spice powder
Set your oven to broil at 220 degrees C or 430 degrees F. In a small bowl, combine stale bread and milk. Set aside. Chop onions and garlic. In a large bowl, combine ground meat egg, onions garlic and sesame oil. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper then foil and place meatballs. Cook in oven until browned and cooked through.
Meanwhile, in a wide frying pan, combine sugar, white wine and vinegar. Once syrup reduces and starts to brown slightly, add soy sauce and five spice powder. Be careful not to touch sauce directly with fingers – the caramel sauce can reach 300 degrees F. Make sure to not let the sauce burn!
Swirl the pan every few minutes to distribute browning evenly. When sauce has thickened and coats the back of a spoon, add meatballs and toss to coat.
While waiting for sauce to brown, use this time to chop your meat, vegetables and green onions for the rice.
In a large frying pan with sides or a wok, heat 1 tbsp of vegetable oil on medium heat. Add eggs and scramble, remove from pan and set aside. Add 2 tbsp more oil then add garlic and onion. Sauté on medium heat until fragrant. Add rice and stir to heat through. Add meat and vegetables, soy sauce sesame oil and hot sauce sauce. If rice is dry, add more vegetable oil or sesame oil. Take off heat, add green onion and serve with meatballs.
Instead of white rice, try brown rice, quinoa or even pasta. Most hearty starches makes a great variation.
Use cilantro or parsley instead of green onion
Use any precooked chopped veggies (carrots, broccoli, zucchini etc) in place of peas
Use chopped ham, chicken or other meat instead of sausage
We all know the familiar grumbles and complaints.
“We don’t eat leftovers.”
“You know what my mom used to do…”
You think your crew is spoiled and should be happy with what’s on the table. But take their criticisms and turn it around! One of the joys (and headaches) of crew cooking is giving them what they need.
This doesn’t mean just feeding their bodies, but their cravings too. Food is linked to our desire for adventure or comfort. Not wanting leftovers may mean they need extra love – they feel that no one took the extra care to make something special. Not wanting chicken again might means they need variety, they’re bored at work. When they’re homesick, they want food how Mom made it.
So as we head into the winter season, let’s start fresh and put a new twist on comfort food.
If you’re on a small boat, you can branch out of the meat, starch & veg routine. Really. This can be a hard mindset to break, especially for those of us coming from the restaurant industry. Crew doesn’t always need-or want-elaborate meals. One-dish meals are okay. As well as simple food. Something they can eat standing up when things are chaotic and they need to feed their bodies in a rush.
One day I made a salad for myself with leftovers from crew and guest meals. I was running out of food, and also craved something simple. I made everyone else steak, potatoes and broccoli, only to see everyone eyeing up my salad and wanting that instead.
The next day I made Niçoise salads for all (guests and crew) and everyone was happy.
I’ve learnt that crowd pleasers include anything you would find in a standard casual restaurant. Soups, salads, sandwiches and pastas. Chicken piccata. spaghetti and meatballs. Shrimp scampi. Minestrone soup. Look at menus from the Cheesecake Factory or TGI Fridays. Research a few new ethnic dishes and you are good to go.
This actually goes for your guests as well, especially if you have them onboard for longer than a week. They don’t want foie gras all the time.
For larger yachts, you need to offer a variety of dishes. This can be difficult to do on your own. The most important thing to remember is to make it easy for yourself.
If you have time before a charter, get ahead. Make a double batch of soups, lasagnas, curries, and chili, and freeze the rest for a second go around.
At the beginning of the week, I make two sheet trays of grilled chicken breast (about 20 pieces). I slice up half, and freeze. It becomes chicken curry, sandwiches, stir fry, chicken and broccoli pasta – you get the point. Do the work once for multiple meals.
Use that slow cooker or oven, let it do the work for you while you prepare guest food.
Frozen pizzas and savory tarts are my friend in a pinch. Jazz it up by adding your own homemade toppings: fresh tomato and mozzarella.
Simplify your seasonings. My favorite sauces include: equal parts honey and Dijon mustard, stupendous on baked chicken or salmon. Ketchup or HP Sauce and honey also work well.
Some more crew meal ideas:
Make your own sandwich bar – Fresh bread, cheeses, salami and spreads. Make your own salad bar works too. Crew can be creative and tailor their meal exactly how they like it.
Hot sandwiches – sausage and peppers, Cuban, chicken chili and jack cheese. Burgers. Grilled cheese varieties. Tacos, burritos
Ethnic dishes – Moroccan chicken, Chinese fried rice and sweet and sour meatballs, kungpao pasta, moussaka, Cajun gumbo, kebab
Once a week, do a fry-up for breakfast, with eggs, bacon, toast and potatoes. It goes a long way toward boosting team morale. Each crew member can also request a special dish once a month.
And if at the end of the day, there’s still a wave of discontent, the only thing you can do is accept it and let it go. It’s pretty much impossible to please everyone.
I know chefs take pride in the food they deliver, and really want to make crew happy. You bend over backwards and expect some gratitude. And you might take these complaints personally.
But just remember, they might just be having a bad day. Maybe they’re bored of detailing toilets and screw heads. Maybe they’re missing home.
For better or worse, it’s your job to take care of their body and mind. It’s a big responsibility, but the next time they praise your food and you make their day, it will all be worth it.
This article originally appeared in Onboard Online Magazine on November 29, 2013:
Everytime I prepare for a charter, I wonder if I’ve bought too much food. Space is always a premium on yachts, but you need to have everything a guest might ask for.
I’ve had to dash off the boat for mushrooms for an omelette; and call 5 provisioners for passion fruit juice on a Sunday. (When by the way everything is closed in France). And did we have any mini salami sticks for the 7 month old baby?
We had a 3 week charter coming up, and I had 3 shopping carts from Carrefour, and a shopping caddy each of meat, seafood and chicken. (I need a caddy of chicken just to feed our deckhand who eats for 3). Also 4 boxes of ice cream and 5 pallets of produce.
My eyes glazed over the sea of dried goods and delicate raspberries spoiling in the sun. I had a headache. i had to lie down. Where was I going to put it all?
Overwhelmed, I left the galley and salon in disarray for a nap. i kept procrastinating, until there was only an hour before we went to sea.
Guests were coming back in 45 minutes. Pasta went under the sofa; eggs and potatoes with the pots and pans. Everything was out of dight, but i was afraid to open a cupboard and have 5 kilos of broccoli fall on me. There was a bag of lobsters hiding behind the trash can.
So this week, me and the Asha crew are off to Corsica and Italy for 3 weeks with 8 French guests. Things got off to a rocky start; the guests asked if they could drop off luggage and wine the night before…which seemed OK except we needed to meet them at an Italian port about an hour away. An engineer was still working on the boat and we ended up bringing him with us as we set sail.
We met the agent and the family on the quay, along with 20 boxes of wine. No joke. Five types of rosé as well as tons of juice and soft drinks. Not to mention we had already ordered a huge amount of beverages.
Our stewardess joked if we die at sea, it wouldn’t be of thirst. After the guests left, we hit the remote for the gangway (the motorized plank for people to step on the boat). We heard a nasty clanging sound – the belt had snapped. After hours of trying to fix it ourselves, we were in trouble; if we didn’t fix this problem our charter would be cancelled and would 150,000€.
At midnight, the captain called his Italian mechanic and two men came on the boat at 8am the next morning. The guests were not supposed to arrive until 10am; but instead they showed up at 9am with more food and no way to get on the boat.
Luckily the gangway was fixed, and everyone came on board.
One woman, who is slightly heavier, gave me a container of protein powder and shaker. For her diet. Everyone is on a diet. That’s what people say; No one ever says i want cheeseburgers and macaroni and cheese and eat like a fatso when you step on a yacht. However, people will still want to eat well. So I start with fish and vegetables on the first day and end with steak and chocolate lava cake at the end.
Today’s lunch menu:
Grilled langouste (clawless French lobster)
Rocket with orange and olive oil vinaigrette
Grilled St. Pierre (firm flaky fish)
Pasta torrefié with fresh pesto and marinated cepe (porcini) mushrooms
Steamed haricots verts
Berries and balsamic vinaigrette
Dinner musings for tonight:
Scallops with red beet root coulis
Filet mignon roasted fingerling potatoes asparagus
Yuzu sorbet and fresh berries
Everyone cleared their plates. Does this mean I should be giving them more food? Before first and second course, there dolphins and whales in the ocean saying hi to us. I think it’s a good omen for the next three weeks!
When you’re sailing in the Mediterranean, you have access to live lobsters and fresh caught fish. With such sublime seafood, you don’t want to bury it in cream sauces or anything fussy.
Try split lobster tails spread with pesto or tapenade and broil in the oven. Mussels are also great served this way – a la provençale. Spread honey and whole grain mustard on filets of branzino or monkfish and bake in the oven. Serve on a bed of lentils cooked with preserved lemons then garnish with olives amd fresh cherry tomatoes.
In the evening, for a tropical flair, grill scallops and serve with a kiwi and mango compote and passion fruit beurre blanc sauce. The delicious bounty of the ocean just needs a simple mixed salad and fresh crusty bread to make a simple yet fabulous Mediterranean spread.
Lobsters à la Provençale
Bring a large stockpot of water to a rolling boil and whole live lobsters (as many as you can fit). Cover and let cook for about 20 minutes. Remove from water with tongs; reserve cooking liquid. Let cool and tear off tail and claws; discard the rest. Use a sharp knife or kitchen shears to split tail down the middle. The back of a heavy cleaver works great for cracking the claws. Spread your favorite pesto or tapenade or even puréed sun dried tomatoes on the lobsters with a knob of butter and place under broiler for 5 minutes. Serve with a wedge of lemon.
Heat a thick-bottom sauté pan or grill. Clean and dry each scallop. Sprinkle fresh ground pepper on both sides. Add butter or oil to Pan and sear scallops for about 2 minutes on each side (look for crusty golden caramelised color). Meanwhile, cut kiwi and mango in small cubes, and add 1/4 red onion or one shallot. In a small saucepan, heat equal amounts of white wine and orange juice. When it comes to a boil, add small chunks of cold and unsalted butter gradually to the mixture and whisk until dissolved. Keep adding butter until sauce is creamy and tastes buttery. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use a spoon to make a circle of sauce on plate, add compote, then top with 3 scallops and garnish with half a strawberry.