In the winter of 2017, I was working for a busy event catering business in London. At Christmas time, we always had about 15 chefs in that kitchen to get through the workload (those were the days)! One of the chefs there was a superyacht chef (taking a break to visit his daughter but got roped in to help us out for a few days). He suggested I look into working on yachts, as he thought I’d be suited to the lifestyle. By January, I was taking my STCW, in February I packed up my flat and put my life in to a storage unit, and by March 2018, I had joined my first yacht in Croatia! Turns out he was right, and I owe him a lot.
I love to learn about cooking and I especially love the fact that it is never-ending. There are so many ways to cook and so many techniques and styles. Personally, I am very technique-driven and I like to understand the science of food and how it interacts with heat, cutting, and other foods.
When I’m working with other professional chefs, I’m like a sponge — I take it all in. I believe that you can learn a lot from your fellow chefs. I have also put myself through a number of great courses to push myself to the next level. On top of this, I don’t stop reading recipe books and practicing at home or during quiet times on the yachts. To say it is my passion is probably an understatement!
Working as a chef on yachts is a great opportunity to be truly creative, which is something I love most about my job. You won’t often get this working in a restaurant as the menu is already written and the recipes are tried and tested. On a yacht, there are usually a lot of preferences to cater for. I will never forget one summer when all six guests had a different food intolerance (I thought I was going to lose my mind)! But despite that, it’s still up to you to come up with interesting dishes and often write your own recipes and plate up with your own style. I love that part of the job and wouldn’t trade it for anything.
The job of a sole chef can be lonely, not to mention involve long hours. I feel it is really important to stay original and not churn out the same dishes too often, especially for crew. However, when you are working those long hours, it can be hard to gather creativity — this is probably the most demanding part of the job and I am often going to bed searching for inspiration for the next day’s menu. Oh, and pushing three trolleys around a supermarket on your own … that’s pretty tough!
As chefs, we are usually in one place: the galley. We rarely get time to come out of there, but this is okay — it’s the nature of the job. However, more and more, the stewardess has kindly offered for me to take a dish out to the guests with her, to introduce my food myself. At first, I was not used to selling my food in that way, usually letting the flavors talk for themselves, but the more I did it and the more I asked other head chefs about this, the more I have learned to sell my food verbally or through well-worded menus! It is nice to see the guests’ faces when you put a story behind a dish and describe what was done to achieve what they have in front of them.
Since “health is the new wealth” is a slogan that has been banded around a lot these days, I’d say that’s my style of cooking. The yachting industry is becoming increasingly interested in healthy lifestyles, which is why it’s important for the chef to provide healthy but delicious food for both guests and crew. This is where I have the most fun as I have a very nutritious approach to food and truly believe that we don’t really need only cream and butter for flavor. There are so many wonderful herbs and spices, stocks, and broths out there at our disposal, that it’s a case of pairing them with care and bringing out the best flavors. I like my food to be healthy but almost so delicious and eye-catching that you don’t know it’s actually good for you too!
Asian is without a doubt my favorite cuisine. All those wonderful flavors … I can’t get enough of them. I also love the variety from curries to sushi and noodles to dumplings. There is so much to get out of Asian cooking and it works really well as a fusion.
Red snapper pad Thai is my favorite lunch to cook for guests as it looks stunning, is a great Asian Med fusion dish, and is especially fantastic if you can get the snapper fresh from a fish market that morning. It’s filling without making anyone feel as though they can’t get into a bikini for the afternoon sun. It’s packed full of nutritious goodness and flavor too.
I worked on a beautiful 43-meter sail yacht called Blue Papillon as sole chef. The owners were probably the most wonderful people I have ever cooked for. I have never experienced such absolute enthusiasm and appreciation before. They loved my food and consequently I kept pushing the bar higher and higher to make them even happier. I worked hard to hit the brief and pay homage to the preferences. They wanted high-level, well-plated dishes that were extremely health-conscious yet came with great flavor. This is right up my street and I delivered some of the most colorful dishes I have done to date.
I love talking about this one, it still makes me laugh to this day. I was sole chef on a stunning 32-meter sloop. We were in the Hamptons and the owners had all of their children onboard, so I was expecting a lot of requests for chocolate pudding. One evening, I was asked for two blueberries on a plate. I actually had to check with the stewardess that she wasn’t having a joke on me, and I’m quite glad it wasn’t me that had to deliver that to the table!
Follow Chef Philippa on Instagram @TheNutritiousPea.
This column is taken from the April 2021 issue of Dockwalk.