How 7 Chefs Minimize Food Waste on Board

27 July 2021 By Laura Shaughnessy
two people sharing three dishes
Courtesy of Too Good to Go

Laura Shaughnessy is the former managing editor at Dockwalk. 

Sustainability is a growing trend we should all aspire to. Seven superyacht chefs and three sustainability pros weigh in on how to minimize food waste in the galley and what they do with leftovers.

In the yachting and cruise industries, food excess and waste appear to be a given.

“Think about it — if you can afford a million-dollar holiday for seven days, feel like being vegan one day, and carnivore the next, who’s to argue? I had a Russian family once that literally flew in shark fin and never touched it. It’s difficult at times to swallow some requests,” recalls Head Chef Anthony Bantoft of 63-meter Benetti M/Y 11.11. “The word no isn’t in most clients’ vocabulary. Having everything on hand is a necessity, even if it’s not on the preferences. It’s knowing and observing what produce is deteriorating quicker than others. Temperature changes from shelves to freight to handling to eventually finding its way to the fridge.”

So, how are superyacht crew supposed to fight against the ingrained tendency to toss leftovers? That’s the question we’ve asked these 10 in the know.

Plan Ahead

“Personally, I hate wastage in general and the amount of it we see in the yachting industry is truly awful,” says an anonymous chef aboard a 150-foot sailing yacht. “I try to limit food waste by planning ahead with my menus and provisioning. I often base my meals around what needs to be used up in the fridge first. I try to upcycle any leftovers into new dishes. If there are any usable leftovers or leftover ingredients from the guest meals, I would use that for crew and treat them to something nice,” she says. “Unfortunately, some dishes that won’t hold until later — for example, salads that have been dressed — will have to be thrown out if not eaten.”

While many crew will likely jump at the chance to do their part to save the environment, some aren’t quite as eager, according to the anonymous chef. “For the crew on larger yachts, there is the expectation of the chef to prepare a whole buffet spread of different dishes to suit each taste and provide variety. Anything left over from this typically would be thrown out as it would be considered lazy of the chef to re-serve or not good enough for the crew.”

“Although I hear of chefs with the attitude of ‘out with the old and in with the new,’ it’s hard for me to swallow,” says Bantoft. “This industry being an excessive expression of ‘Look at me’ and ‘Mine is bigger or better than yours,’ it’s a precedent to be able to take into account and respect the quality of what produce you have the luxury of working with, avoiding waste at all costs, not to mention wasting the APA and the end of charter result if the remaining APA is left.”

According to new research that they cited in January, the confusion around these best-before labels could be resulting in as much as £346-worth of food being thrown out by households annually.

“What ends up happening is the chef will make an abundance of food (because if they didn’t, they would get into trouble for not doing their job), and many crew tend to go out for meals on the weekend, so come Monday morning, there is a lot of uneaten food that has to be thrown out. Not only does the food go to waste, but the chef’s hard work and efforts to create meals that can be easily reheated also goes to waste,” says the anonymous chef aboard a 150-foot sailing yacht. “Fridays are every chef’s worst day!”

On the other hand, food isn’t something you can keep forever, so obviously, there’s a bit of a time crunch when dealing with it. That’s why food repurposing is one of the best tactics available to a superyacht chef.

Creative Repurposing

“Be inventive with leftovers; reinvent and utilize all leftovers,” says Chief Stewardess Gemma Harris, founder of Seastainable Yachting. “When leftovers get put out as ‘leftovers,’ they never get touched. So, reinventing is key.”

For example, taking the leftover fish fillets from lunch and the leftover mashed potatoes from the dinner the previous day, you can make fishcakes! There are so many ways to re-use food.” She continues, “The main thing about food waste, obviously, is that it shouldn’t happen — we can eat it!” Here are her other tips:

  • Add fruit peel to water
  • Make smoothies from bruised fruit
  • Juice old apples
  • Freeze vegetables that aren’t going to be used
  • Rotate produce: use things that will perish first
  • Longevity methods: Pickling, drying, canning, fermenting, freezing, curing; all methods which help. Also, temperature control of fridge/freezers, ensure things are kept at the best temperature for longevity.
  • Download the Foodkeeper app: it helps you understand safe expiring guidelines

“Yacht chefs are becoming more conscious of preventing food waste, both in only stocking what will be used on a charter and in utilizing all parts of the food items,” freelance Chef Grace Dvornik says, giving the following examples:

  • Save vegetable offcuts, meat, and fish bones in a freezer bag to use for stocks
  • Fry potato peels to use as a garnish
  • Add carrot tops and leftover greens into pesto
  • Put the leftover grilled meat from guest dinner into wraps or sandwiches for crew the next day.

In case of extra guest snacks, desserts, canapés, etc., crew can help themselves after the guests have had their fill. If serving guest meals family style, any platters of leftover food are offered to crew at their next meal or repurposed, advises Chef Dvornik.

When leftovers get put out as ‘leftovers,’ they never get touched. So, reinventing is key.

For Sous Chef Rachel Cunningham of 88-meter Feadship M/Y Fountainhead, most of the leftovers on her yacht get repurposed into other crew meals, such as leftover beef stew that becomes a beef and vegetable pie. She Vac Pacs and freezes the rest, such as soup, stew, curry, and most grilled meats. “They come in handy to add to other meals or on a sandwich day. Leftover guest food prep will be used for the crew. Leftover guest food that went out to the table is obviously binned.”

“I like to use leftover food and [make] a completely new dish out of it — when possible,” says Chef Nathan Clements of 56-meter Perini Navi S/Y Asahi (who also refers to himself as an aquatic ceramic engineer). “When prepping a lunch buffet for guests, always make extra, trying to put out the right amount. Any withheld prep would go onto crew buffet later that day. Any food left over from guests on the buffet is often hoovered up by any lurking deck crew!”

Fish market
Courtesy of Nathan Clements

What's Your Preference?

“Always use the preference sheet!” says an anonymous chef who was last aboard a 150-meter motor yacht. “For example, if the guests have written down that they don’t like fish, save your time and energy and DO NOT BUY FISH! Start with your seven favorites of each breakfast, lunch, dinner, appetizers, and desserts. Use that as a starting point to put the week’s menu together.”

Practically speaking, you can help minimize food waste among crew by ensuring their preference lists are up to date, then adjusting portion controls. It’s a different story with guests, though. In addition to having ever-changing demands, they’re paying for what they want, when they want.

For guests, Harris believes that set menus work really well — when they’re open to it. “But it is definitely something worth trying to pitch to guests. If you have set menus, the waste is cut dramatically. It can also be a selling tool, especially for more environmentally conscious guests,” she says, giving the following scenario: “Tonight’s menu is locally sourced from this island and it’s all in season, bought from local farmers/fishermen…”

Preference sheets are key with food waste — for both clients and crew. “Guests are slightly different as they can constantly change their minds, which makes provisioning harder as you have to cover quite a few bases. In terms of guest food, yes, it is used up as crew food if it cannot be used for future trips, etc.”

Greenhouse at Blue Fields Farms

Saving the Planet

“While on charter, we collect all biodegradable items in a large bowl, and every day when the yacht travels three miles offshore, it is discarded overboard — and of course loved by the deep-sea fish,” says Chef Elizabeth Lee of M/Y Pegasus IX — and cookbook author of Made with Love: Culinary Inspirations From Around the World.

For the last six years, she’s been using Debbie Meyer GreenBags for storing her fruits and vegetables. “This product is a reusable storage bag that contains zeolite, which absorbs ethylene gas. Plants use ethylene as a hormone. One of its actions is to ripen fruit. If you can reduce the concentration of ethylene around the fruit or vegetable, it will not ripen and perish as quickly,” she says. “It is also good practice to rotate and check all fruits and vegetables as often as possible, especially lettuce,” she advises.

It’s important to be extremely organized in the galley. Part of this is trying to purchase and store exactly what you may need on charter or for daily use.

“I also purchase all of my greens and microgreens from Blue Fields Farms. Blue Fields Farms, located on the island of New Providence, produces fresh naturally grown salad blends, micro-greens, and living herbs. They are a sustainable aquaponic farming operation revolutionizing traditional agriculture in The Bahamas,” says Lee. “I find that the lettuce from this farm, with the help of my Debbie Myer GreenBags, have lasted up to three weeks.”

During her 18 years as a professional charter yacht chef, she’s learned a lot,including how to stay productive and sane in the galley.

For Chef Lee, it’s important to be extremely organized in the galley. “Part of this is trying to purchase and store exactly what you may need on charter or for daily use. Prior to charter, I personally always prepare a ‘tentative menu’ and make a provisioning list based on each item I will need for that particular menu. I find that since I have adapted this method, I have had minimal food waste. Literally, I use every vegetable with no need to re-provision, and I have the added benefit of an extremely organized galley.”

iStock/Candle Photo

While in Maine a few years ago, where she worked in a fleet of charter sailboats in Maine, Chef Dvornik learned how to positively deal with potential food waste and like Lee, also tossed food scraps overboard once at a certain distance from shore as stated by maritime law.

“Because all trash and recycling was stored on board the boat until the end of the trip (three to six days), separating the food waste allowed the trash to be kept on board without causing a smell or attracting insects,” she says, adding that this prevented food waste from being put into trash bags and ending up at the dump or in a landfill. “While this method may not be probable for yachts who cruise crystal-blue waters close to shore or remain on the dock, an interesting alternative would be implementing a compost system that could be collected in major yachting ports.”

In addition to crewing on a 40-meter motor yacht, Chief Stewardess Harris works on maintaining Seastainable Yachting as a platform that helps yacht crew make sustainable switches to their day-to-day processes on board.

“With Seastainable, I want to fundamentally raise awareness and then help shift the mindset of crew by actually [giving] them tangible ways of helping the industry become more sustainable.” Her recommendations to cut down on food waste:

  • Compost bin: available in some marinas
  • Stasher bags: silicone bags for storing leftovers and cut fruit/veggies, etc. (instead of plastic tubs)
  • Bees wax wrap: use to wrap up cut fruit/veggies, etc.
  • Silicone covers: for cut fruit
  • Containers for dry goods: These last longer than in the cardboard/plastic packaging that goods come in

She also recommends vacuum pack machines, which help keep things fresher for longer in the freezer — on the other hand, she does caution that the bags are plastic.

Harris understands firsthand how important it is to put measures into place that reduce the inevitable waste. “The main issue is storing the waste that is created. There are solutions such as holding tanks, glass crushers, compactors, cooled storage, etc.,” she says, adding her recommendation to check Superyacht Rubbish out since the website has a lot of various solutions for waste disposal, including one option that actually turns food waste into graywater.

Kiyra Rathbone doing a waterway cleanup

The Water Wars

“Food waste is something I take very seriously and have many ideas that I practice to almost eliminate my food waste on board,” says Chef Lee. In addition to being food waste-conscious, being smart with water and plastic bottles is important to her and the rest of her crew.

“Three years ago, we also removed all plastic water drinking bottles from on board Pegasus IX and we now have half the garbage and save tens of thousands of dollars each year as we do not purchase drinking water!” Chef Lee says.

Chef Clements offers a different take to the food waste issue. “In my experience, food waste is miniscule. When we had a mineralized drinking water tap installed in the mess and a soda stream setup that reduced our plastic waste by tons.”

Chief Stewardess and Purser Kiyra Rathbone, aka The Green Stewardess, stresses the importance having a good water filtration system in place. “Check your water tanks, ask your engineers, have it tested,” she says. “You want to know what quality of water is in your freshwater tanks. And then your next step is to find a good water filtration system.”

On a yacht, you have to implement a water-safety plan to ensure that the water from the tanks is safe to drink, which then has to go through further filters and then out of a tap.

“As chief stew, I can tell you, trolley loads of six pack, one-liter water bottles are provisioned for the crew,” she says, adding that a crewmember will on average go through two 1.5-liter bottles a day. “And you’ve got 10 in the crew, that’s 20 bottles per day, times seven days, times four weeks.”

Rathbone understands that there’s a stigma attached to being eco-friendly. “I think when it started a couple of years ago, someone came in with a very clever sort of business tactic that it should be more expensive. And so a lot of people think anything eco-friendly has a bigger price tag,” she says, adding that it’s just not true.

Unlike full-time landlubbers who have the luxury of using a filter water tap, it’s not so easy for crew. But on a yacht, Harris says, you have to implement a water-safety plan to ensure that the water from the tanks is safe to drink, which then has to go through further filters and then out of a tap.

iStock/rustam shaimov

Donating Isn't Always So Easy 

It seems like it would be easy to give food excess to the hungry, right? You would think so, but there are surprising obstacles.

“It’s a shame, and I’ve often thought how nice it would be to be able to donate [overflowing refrigerator contents] to charities,” says Chef Cunningham. “However, there’s never really enough of it to do that with. Even on an 80-meter vessel, we throw out only ‘bits and pieces.’ It’s such a small amount, I’m not sure how much of a difference it would make.”

Furthermore, as she points out, “Many local laws prohibit giving away ‘leftovers,’ which is a real shame. The onus seems to be on the person giving the food away, and while I can understand there are dietary and allergenic issues they are protecting the receiver from, it would be great if there was a way to manage this.”

On the other hand, there are measures in place to still donate the food: “Whenever I have been on a boat entering a shipyard period or similar, all food close to expiry dates is donated,” says Cunningham. “That can be great for food banks as it is mostly items like sauces, dry goods, and other non-perishables.”

He also recommends cleaning out the galley on a regular basis and donating the unused food to local food banks. 

“I think it is important to be lined up with food charities at the home port,” says the anonymous chef whose last charter was aboard a 150-meter motor yacht. “So many of the boats are moored in countries with food insecurity, so it is important to try to do our part as guests of the country.”

He strongly recommends the World Central Kitchen, which he calls an incredible organization: “If there’s a disaster, they’re onsite seemingly within hours to start assessing the situation and to prepare warm meals. As an example, they arrived in Nassau before Dorian even hit The Bahamas to be prepared for what was to come. Over the next eight to ten weeks, they used volunteers from everywhere, which, in the future, would be a great way for crew and guests to help and to be involved.”

He also recommends cleaning out the galley on a regular basis and donating the unused food to local food banks. “During these especially difficult times, gifts of food are extremely helpful.”


Food Myths

As for food labels, how well do you understand them? “A really important myth to bust is one around food date labels,” says Jamie Crummie, co-founder of Too Good To Go, an anti-food-waste innovator whose mission is to bust food myths.

According to new research that they cited in January, the confusion around these best-before labels could be resulting in as much as £346-worth of food being thrown out by households annually. And if households are throwing that much away, how much more are superyachts tossing?

“It’s therefore vital to remember that while use-by labels are a safety measure and shouldn’t be ignored, best-before labels are an indication of quality and can be perfectly good to eat for days, weeks, or even months after the date has passed,” Crummie says.

With best-before dates, look, smell, and taste produce to see whether the food is beyond its best-before date. “For example, eggs will give off a pretty bad odor when they’ve gone bad, whilst something like flour will discolor,” Crummie says, explaining that most people can determine whether food they have at home is still good to eat.

He squashes another food myth: things like broccoli stalks, potato peelings, cauliflower leaves, and banana skins are inedible. “In actual fact, they can be really delicious and nutritious to eat. For example, potato skins can contain nearly three times more vitamin C than potatoes without the skin; and banana peels contain serotonin, as well as an antioxidant called lutein, which aids retina regeneration — something that could be especially beneficial given our world’s increasing amount of screen time. So by eating parts of produce that would normally be discarded, we can have healthier guts and a healthier planet at the same time.”


The Golden Rule

While food waste is an important matter, it’s also important to stay out of a**hole territory. “We’re not here to stand on a pedestal and tell people, ‘You’re not doing good enough,’ Or, look down on someone who has no clue how to recycle. Some people can do a lot. Some people can do a little. It does not matter; what matters is the positive engagement.” This is what helps attract people to your cause, after all.

It’s best to be understanding and respectful to people, no matter what they are, or aren’t, doing to help minimize food waste. “The worst is to be an extremist and push the conversation into a negative light, where you’re shouting at everybody [and] you want to impose some rules,” she says, adding that this only alienates your crew and makes them do the opposite.

It’s about creating new habits and reprogramming ourselves to do what we can. “We have to think, ‘Oh, this plastic bottle, let me squish it. Let me put it in the plastic recycling container.’ Not just chucking it in the bin. It's a small example, but it’s to break these habits and to just make new ones,” says Rathbone.

This column is taken from the June 2021 issue of Dockwalk.


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