It’s what you make of it. I genuinely enjoy cooking for crew. Of course it is rather a lot when you’re balancing it with cooking for guests, but the people around you are your family, and you’re the hand that bears the food. This is a big deal for hungry working people!
Back when I first started cooking on a yacht, I wasn’t a hundred percent sure exactly what I would cook. A new group of people I didn’t know from Adam, unknown dietary requirements and preferences. Unknown levels of receptiveness… How much did they like their last chef?? Were they going to be loyal?? Compare all my food to the previous chef? Would I have a menu plan, would I wing it, would I follow a routine? These were the concerns I had. It’s fairly easy to say now, that these concerns are all ridiculous, because you get on with things, and people really do live in the moment. Literally, one meal at a time.
I think that cooking for crew can be such a daunting thing in your early years, when joining a new boat, not knowing the general dynamic and feel of the crew. Are they healthy, picky, ‘normal’? It’s a topic that deserves attention, and is something that I myself would have loved to have found some solid advice on a few years ago.
All boats and therefore all crew are different. This has been such a huge thing in my experience. I was cooking on a diving support vessel in the Seychelles last year, and the 15 crew were all absolutely fanatic about fresh fish. Sushi, sashimi, any kind of crudo. So they were catching fish and delivering them to the galley. Life was good! But here on my current boat, there are a good portion who can’t bear even the thought of fish, (unless it’s in breadcrumbs) despite my best efforts to coax them into eating it.
Generally, I’m feeding the crew the exact food that I want to eat myself. Not always the case, but fairly often I’m cooking specifically what I want to eat; the tangible perk of being the chef. Plus I can be relatively health conscious, and aware that what we put in our bodies is the fuel that gets us through the day so this is the ethos that extends to the crew. It’s so important to consider this when cooking for people who are on their feet all day. We all need the right types of energy to keep us going as we need, and it’s my job to make sure that the crew are getting this.
In the unthinkable instance, god forbid, I wake up hungover as sin, then I’m really going to send out some absolutely filthy fried food. Quite probably alongside a crunchy salad for an attempt at health. And in this instance of being hungover, the likelihood is that the rest of the crew will be the same, if not worse, and they’re fairly bloody good at communicating exactly what they want… a chorus of chirping chicks chirp fry up fry up fry up chips eggs poached, fried, or something like that. Or the Vegan pipes up wanting some all bran.
In the same vein, offering your crew a preference sheet or even just getting them to tell you their favourite meals can be a great way of making sure you please them all, by working your way through this list. The likelihood as well is that they’re probably going to be pretty simple things and also comfort food, which will be great for everyone. I know that a real favourite amongst my current crew is tomato soup. They love it. I love it. Winning.
I asked my fellow yacht chef friend Millie for some of her experiences cooking for crew and she said the following.
In some ways I think crew are the hardest people to cook for. Trying to please the same lot is a big challenge that a crew chef is never going to accomplish. Different tastes, preferences, state of crew member (hungover, pretend glutard), fitness fads etc changes every day.
The most difficult part for me is coming up with new things to cook everyone (probably makes me a terrible chef). Pintrest is good for this, but I find you have to be really specific in your searches. Anything Ottolenghi always goes down a treat and the odd fry up on a Monday after a long weekend is always well received. Crew preference sheet can be good for ideas. But crew are generally receptive, the south African guys on the boat are always grateful as are the captains which is a major part of the job.
You’re experience cooking for crew can also be influenced by your head chef. If they’re rubbish at ordering this affects the food cooked for crew. I’ve had it before where the chef has thought she was ordering x amount of kilos of bok choi for example. What came was three heads of such and the order was pretty much consistent like that the whole way through. Not a lot of fun when you’ve had to get up at three in the morning to accept this delivery. But then you get the amazing head chefs that one, get your foot into this lucrative door and those who are willing to teach you everything they know, that you can ask anything without feeling stupid.
I’ve gone from being a stew that cooked for crew, to crew chef and I would never go back. The galley is one of, if not THE most important aspect of both a charter and private yachts. It can affect a whole trip, which could have an influence on any side benefits that are associated with this industry. If the crew aren’t happy with the food they’re given, it could affect the overall running of the yacht which would then have an impact on the guests and how much they enjoy their holiday.
So here is my go to list, which I am sharing and hope that at least one person who stumbles across this finds it useful for those days when the mind goes blank…
- Lasagne, garlic bread and salad
- Roast Dinner
- Stir Fry
- Bagels with assorted toppings
- English muffs with assorted toppings. Poached eggs / spinach / hollandaise / ham / smoked salmon. People like eggs benedict and they will let you know this a lot, I find. They like it's variants. Add some avo. They'll love that more. People love avo.
- Smash some avo onto toast. It's so super trendy it hurts. With some feta and dukkah or za'atar. It's probably post-trendy now. Pomegranate seeds.
- Make anything and put avo on the side. Also, assert that the new green plum you found in the market is a superfood and has extraordinary powers and place this next to the avocado. They will likely believe you because you can substantiate this with some actual knowledge, you know, that eating your greens is good for you, and that this plum grew in the mineral rich volcanic soils next to a once active volcano, and people for years have coveted it's complexion enhancing qualities, and they will wolf this down and they will indeed be actually healthy. You have not lied, you have merely used your persuasive powers and knowledge as a chef to broaden people's diet. This, is a legit skill. I believe it might well be like having children, and sometimes you have to exercise your powers of psychology to entice the children to try new things and eat up their supper.
- Soup. Always a winner. With sandwiches or fresh bread. Popular ones with me have been tomato, pea and mint, spiced pumpkin, ribollita / minestrone, french onion. Sandwiches of any variety for lunch are always so popular. Wraps, toasties, club sandwiches, pittas. This is normal food, and easy to eat on the go when busy. They like sandwiches, I like sandwiches.
- Vietnamese Salad with baked fish and coconut rice. Tasty.
- Thai Curry - an utter piece of piss to make and people like this a lot.
- Katsu Curry. There is a reason people all over the world eat more fried chicken than anything else. There is a reason brixton exists and a reason Wylie Dufresne served it with caviar. And for these reasons, katsu curry will endure in it's popularity. We serve this japanese curry, this offering of fried chicken, chip shop curry sauce and rice to the punters with a smile and they are happy. People love this shit, and they feel wise and cultured and happy.
- Biryani, Rogan Josh, Tikka Marsala, Korma, Jalfrezi, Vindaloo..
- Any other curry you can think of
- Chinese – sweet and sour or 7 piece, black bean
- Steak and Chips
- Fish and Chips
- Mezze – hummus, tzatziki, falafel, flatbread, tabbouleh, roast lamb or lamb skewers, baba ghanoush
- Moules Frites
- Pasta with chilli, garlic and lemon
- Carbonara, Pesto, Mushroom… any old pasta
- Spag Bol
- Pasta Bake – leftover pasta turned into a pasta bake in my experience always gets eaten up the next day. Same goes for leftover sandwiches – these get wolfed down as toasties the following day. Hot and added cheese – it’s a rule and it works.
- Chicken Schnitzel with apple, capers, watercress, radish and chips
- Duck Pancakes
- Jacket Potatoes with assorted toppings
- Chicken Fattoush Salad
- Greek Salad
- Chicken Caeser Salad
- Waldorf Salad
- Tuna Nicoise
- Cobb Salad
- BBQ / Grilled meat and a selection of salads always goes down well
- Fried Chicken, Coleslaw, Chips
- Sesame Crusted Tuna Tataki
- BBQ Ribs
- Brunch instead of lunch, always popular, with a full English or eggs benedict etc etc – change it every time, waffles, pancakes…
- Clam Chowder or Cullen Skink
- Crispy Calamari
- Swedish Meatballs
- ANY meatballs
- Club Sandwiches
- Bang bang chicken
- Char Siu Pork Bao
- Anything Ottolenghi, like Millie said!
- Pretty much anything Jamie Oliver too… all his one pot wonders and one tray bakes. I do a lot of one tray roasted veg and meat bakes, they’re always popular. Sausage tray bake, chorizo, pepper etc.
- Fish Pie
- Gumbo, Jambalaya, Paella…
I also make bread every day, because I like bread, and bread is appreciated by all.
The easiest piece of advice I can give, is that if you investigate a few different menus from popular chain restaurants around the world – then you will definitely get inspiration for the type of day to day food that people often want to eat. I took this piece of inspiration from another blog someone wrote when I was having a mental blank a couple of years ago on what to cook for crew. The author said check out TGI Fridays or Cheesecake Factory – i thought hell no, but she was bloody right. I’ll list a few below:
- Stuffed Mushrooms with fontina and parmesan, garlic and herbs in wine sauce
- Loaded baked potatoes
- French Country Salad wth mixed greens grilled asparagus, fresh beets, goats cheese, candied pecans and viniaigrette
- Chicken and Avo Salad wth mixed greens, crisp tortilla strips, carrots, coriander and cashews tossed in citrus honey vinaigrette
- Chinese Chicken Salad
- NOTE – THERE IS A LOT OF CHICKEN. PEOPLE SEEM TO LOVE CHICKEN. CHICKEN IS FAIL SAFE. But also boring. I made a goulash last Wednesday, and I definitely used Ostrich. I’m still waiting to tell them they all ate Ostrich. I’ll wait for the right moment.
- Santa Fe Salad – lime marinated chicken, corn, black beans, cheese, tortilla strips, tomato, mixed greens in a spicy peanut coriander vinaigrette
- Tuna Tataki Salad with a herby wasabi vinaigrette
- Avo Toast
- Californian Guac Salad – greens, aco, tomato, corn, black beans, feta coriander, spicy avo dressing
- Super Salad – greens, spinach, kale, avo, broccoli, grapes, roasted pear, blueberries, onion, sunflower seeds and parmesan tossed in lemon vinaigrette
- Kale and Quinoa, grapes, sweet red pepper, sunflower seeds, and parmesan tossed in lemon vinaigrette
- Falafel Salad
- Almond Crusted Salmon Salad over kale, brussel sprouts, rocket, avocado, quinoa, creanberries and radishes
- Half Turkey Baguette with Soup
- Melanzana Parmigiana with Pesto Spaghetti
- White Chicken Chilli – chicken, white beans, roasted green chillis, onions, and garlic with a touch of cream. Served with steamed rice and fresh green salsa
- Shepherds Pie with cheesy crust
- Parmesan and Herb Crusted Chicken serced with smoked ham mash and garlic chilli broccoli
- Chicken Madeira – sautéed chicken breast with fresh asparagus and melted mozzarella and fresh mushroom madeira sauce and mash
- Chicken Picatta – sautéed chicken breasr wurg kenib saycem nysgriins abd caper s and angel hair pasta
- Chicken Costoletta OTHERWISE KNOWN AS A KIEV with lemon sauce, mash and asparagus.
- Chicken Marsala
- Miso Salmon with sugar snaps, rice and miso sauce
And TGI Fridays. (I’ve not been to a TGI Fridays, but the menu seems alright for inspiration when it comes to random crew you have never met before.)
- BBQ wings with ranch and blue cheese dressing
- BBQ Chicken flatbread, chipotle BBQ sauce, monteray jack, cheddar, coriander, red peppers and onion
- Caeser Salad with grilled chicken and kale (BUZZWORD ALERT)
- Pecan Crusted Chicken Salad over mixed greens with kale, tossed in blueberry vinaigrette with dried cranberries, mandarin oranges, candied pecans, celery and blue cheese
- Strawberry Fields Salad – balsamic marinated strawberries, shaved parmesan, goats cheese and glazed pecans over mixed greens tossed with balsamic vinaigrette dressing
- Chipotle Yucatan Chicken Salad – sliced chipotle chicken breast served over mixed greens with kale, tossed with avo, mixed cheese, tomato, red onion, coriander, tostadas and avo vinaigrette. Drizzled with chipotle crema.
- Cobb Salad – grilled chicken breast served over chopped romaine, with sliced avo, grape tomatoes, egg, smoked bacon, crumbled blue cheese
- Bruschetta Chicken Pasta – fettucine tossed in garlic, basil and tomato marinara, tpoped with strips of chicken breast, finished with balsamic glaze and parmesan shavings
- Bourbon Chicken Breast, mash, lemon butter broccoli
- Parmesan Crusted Chicken, Mac ‘n’ cheese and fresh tomato and mozzarella salad
It’s been a while since I consulted my inspiration list, because I really just look in the fridge and play ready steady cook, which works from a waste perspective as well as being the most fun a lone chef can have in a galley. Apart from talking to the vegetables, ordering in live animals which is a treat for the vegans, and playing guess the cost of this tiny tin of fish eggs that costs 5 times as much as it would have done in harrods because we bought it from a yacht supplier. In addition to the fun that this fun game can offer, ingredients as you move around (as you would bloody well hope) are different and it’s nice to be influenced by new ingredients and styles as you travel place to place… i mean, that's literally what we live for as chefs. But, I still reckon I could have done with being handed a list of food for inspiration back when I was starting out :)
I just received some words on cooking for crew from my friend Chris Rowley, an amazing chef on yachts for years. right as I'm coming to the end of this article, and guess what, he sums it up in one paragraph! In stark contrast to my verbose essay. He said:
Well I really don't want to sound like I'm complaining as I actually enjoy cooking crew food. It keeps me busy, it's a chance to experiment and you learn how to get the most out of cheaper quality ingredients quickly. Also you get to eat what you like cooking and eating. I will say that yacht crew members love to complain if it's not uniform, amount of breaks / days off, salary, other crew members, condition of the boat, and the list goes on and on. The food is no exception, but really they eat much better than CEO's of massive corporations. They get so used to an experienced chef cooking for them twice a day great food just becomes normal and they start to forget how much work goes into planning and preparing the meals. I have thick skin so unless someone has a genuine complaint I try to ignore most comments and just have confidence and faith that I'm producing a balanced diet for people to eat day in day out.
If any budding yacht chef, or indeed any seasoned chef stumbles across this and has had the patience to read through the ramble all the way to the end, then I’d love to hear what you have to say! In the comments section below J I think it’s bloody important for us chefs to share these things!!