Each year, English Harbour transforms from the picturesque Caribbean yachting haven to a buzzing superyacht hub, as vessels make a beeline for Antigua in preparation for the Antigua Charter Yacht Show.
Celebrating its 61st year in 2022, the event was larger than ever before; attended by more than 30 of some of the world’s most impressive charter vessels, with a combined LOA of more than 1,500 meters docked between Falmouth Harbour, Antigua Yacht Club Marina, and Nelson’s Dockyard. But the focus here isn’t clients, it’s industry professionals, as the show is brimming with charter brokers, destination representatives, captains, managers, and a variety of vendors.
“It is networking in a relaxed and friendly environment, and seeing great yachts,” says Paul Deeth, chairman of the Antigua Charter Yacht Show, while explaining what makes this show a “must” on the superyacht calendar. And it’s true — the energy across the show is palpable, with an emphasis on the social aspect of the industry. The opportunity, therefore, is building your network, having unprecedented access to each of the yachts in attendance, and engaging in the multitude of events throughout the show.
But, among the perpetual buzz of the show, another important event takes place; the coveted Antigua Charter Yacht Show’s Concours de Chef, which celebrated its 22nd year in 2022. Held in association with sponsors Shoreside Support and Global Wine Solutions (GWS), the competition puts chefs on board some of the world’s finest yachts to the test, exemplifying the creative flair, originality, and overall talent stemming from the galley.
Chef Elizabeth Lee, the coordinator of the Concours de Chef, explains the intrinsic value of the competition and why it offers a great opportunity for those who take part. “Competitions such as this are extremely important as they bring positive exposure to the participating chefs. I always gained a great deal from winning yacht chef competitions and it’s one of the reasons why I am the acting coordinator today,” says Lee, who attributes some of her success in the galley to competitions such as this.
As Lee explains, the competition is a mode to exposure, and a way to showcase the talent that resides in superyacht galleys across the globe, which gather at the Antigua Charter Yacht Show. “It is very beneficial for any chef’s resume. They are also given exposure through various media platforms.”
For the 22nd edition, the task was centered around the guest charter experience whereby participating chefs were asked to create a three-course dining experience for six judges, including Lee. “This year each chef was supplied with one 50-gram tin of Royal Ossetra Petrossian Caviar and two mystery ingredients, which were to be showcased in at least one of their three dishes,” says Lee. In 2022, the mystery ingredients included a prime strip, Colorado rack of lamb, Iberico pork Secreto, dry aged branzino, grouper, Ora King salmon filet, Premium Uni, or Hokkaido scallops.
“Our judging criteria for the competition was appearance and presentation, taste, creativity, execution, and overall appeal,” says Lee. Separated into three categories; 160 foot and over, 126-159 foot, and 125 foot and under, each chef had 30 minutes to serve a three-course meal and show off their talent.
Leading the 160 foot and over category, Chef Ryan Squires of 72.5-meter Coral Ocean was awarded first place, having astonished the judges with his Endless Antigua Summer corn agnolotti served with Royal Ossetra Petrossian Caviar and air-dried sirloin of beef, mustard greens, followed by Branzino en papillote, rocket butter served with juice of imperial mandarin, peel, and pepper oil. To finish, Squires served freshly made French hazelnut ice cream with a pine nut honey truffle tart.
While relatively new to yachting at just three years in, Squires says the experience was relaxing — the crew were “magnificent,” and he found the organizers incredibly welcoming. Perhaps that’s no surprise after his 30 years of worldwide restaurant-based training and regularly performing for world-renowned food critics. Squires has previously worked at well-known restaurants, including The French Laundry in Napa Valley, Per Se in New York City, and Noma in Copenhagen.
His winning menu was inspired by “the weather! Antigua [is a] very similar environment [to] where I’m based in Queensland, Australia,” he says. “Weather aside, it’s also important to be original while also pulling it off — thinking outside the square, so to speak.” Squires had about 25 percent of his menu percolating beforehand, “So until I saw what I was working with, I then based complete menu around this. It should never be the other way round.” Produce, he says, should always be at the forefront of decision making.
It was a tough competition and coming closely behind in this category was Chef Richard Broom of 65-meter Illusion and in third place was Chef Steve Scoullar of 50-meter Adventure.
Taking first place in the 126–159-foot category, Chef Russell Ally of 44.8-meter Audaces stole the show. It was not his first contest in 2022 — he came second in the Barcelona chef contest earlier in the year — but he found it more relaxing to cook food that he creates every day on charter.
Ally has been in yachting for five years, starting on 30-meter boats all the way up to 75 meters. He trained at The Henley College and cooked in several restaurants, including at London Street Brasserie, Danesfield House Hotel, and Bel & the Dragon Group under Ronnie Kimbugwe.
Ally felt “relaxed, comfortable, and confident and definitely not as intense as I was doing the first event in Barcelona,” he says. “I love to cook with fresh, clean flavors, not throwing things in and going over the top. I like balance — my choices from the briefing were uni, prime sirloin, and caviar. The provisions were superb from Shoreside Support.”
His menu included hand-picked white king crab, diced apple, and chili potato spiralized cannoli and uni cream, Sekagani crab cake with brown crab sauce with caviar and apple gel. He also made sirloin steak with white truffle butter, shaved white truffle marrow mashed potatoes, with marrow butter and mushroom purée. To top it off, his dessert was white chocolate apple limoncello, diced apple, crystallized ginger, and cinnamon liquid center with honey and ginger ice cream.
Ally was closely followed by Chef April Oden of 40.23-meter Cupcake in second place and Chef Eric Davis of 47.8-meter Mirabella in third place.
In the 125 Foot and under category, things were just as fierce, but it was Chef Suzanne Trice of 36.8-meter Radiance, who put on a mesmerizing starter of caviar three ways, followed by rosemary and garlic seared lamb chop; finishing with poached pear with ginger shortbread crumble.
It was Trice’s first chef contest — and her first yacht job. “I was shocked I won!” she says. “I said to my family that I did not expect to win but I was glad I pushed myself to do it and was proud that I put out really good food.” While the 30-minute time slot was challenging, it was really well organized and went well, she says. The boat had also just arrived after a 20-day transatlantic trip, so she almost did not enter. “I thought I needed to push myself being a new chef and it would be a good experience,” she says.
Trice trained at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York and worked at two-star Michelin restaurant The Modern under Executive Chef Thomas Allan before moving into high-end catering. She also worked as an event chef in New Hampshire and Maine, which trained her well for her yachting career.
“The inspiration of my menu was to keep it simple, but with sophisticated flavors — I wanted to let the high quality of the products shine through,” she says. “As a career changer after 22 years in education, completing this competition with no regrets was a great validation that I made the right choice in changing from education to the culinary world,” Trice says. The win “was icing on the cake.”
In second place in the category was Chef Paolo Costantini of 18.9-meter The Sun and Chef Michelle Brink of 23-meter Kings Ransom in third position.
“The quality of the dish pertaining to visual appeal, flavor, technique, and execution is what sets the winners apart,” says Lee, a hint perhaps at how chefs can impress at the judges in 2023.
“My inspirations for the event are to increase exposure to the competing yacht chefs and yachts, while building relationships with the chefs and grow the yacht chef community so that we can assist one another with advice, ideas, and information in the future,” Lee adds, explaining that this is done through various communication platforms where chefs can discuss food and yachting related topics.
With plans well underway, the Antigua Charter Yacht show will return once more to English Harbour in December 2023, bringing together some of the finest yachts on the water under the Caribbean sun. So, chefs at the ready — be prepared to inspire as the Concours de Chef will see its return and put some of the industry’s finest talent to the test.