VICL Culinary Competition: Nia Mora Aboard Pisces is Top Charter Chef

Award winning chef Nia at the helm of Pisces

Giving guests an awesome sailing vacation aboard the beautiful Caribbean-based 47ft Leopard catamaran, Pisces, while working with best friend, husband and Captain Jonathan Moynihan is what Nia Mora calls her dream job. A big part of Mora’s hospitality is serving fresh, flavorful, fine dining fare. It’s no wonder, and no daydream at all, that she beat 22 other high-caliber competitors to win the Top Charter Chef title at the Virgin Islands Charteryacht League’s Fall Yacht Show’s Culinary Competition on November 6th. Mora made Rastafari Surf & Turf, a classic lobster and filet mignon combo, with red, yellow and green sauces that reflected her multifaceted food and seafaring experiences.

Top Charter Chef: Award winning chef Nia at the helm of Pisces
Award winning chef Nia at the helm of Pisces

Mora spent summers during her child and young adulthood with her father’s family in his native Mexico City. Here, she developed a natural affinity for the kitchen. She put this skill to use back home in Detroit, Michigan, cooking everyday meals for her siblings as well as Thanksgiving feasts for the whole family. Mora moved to New York City at age 18 to attend the School of Visual Arts. She paid her tuition by working in her major as a freelance photographer and by waitressing. Here, in one of the biggest foodie cities in the world, she saw the true meaning of the term ‘culinary arts’, i.e., where the plated food looked as good as it tasted. This is a concept she enjoyed experimenting with each week when she’d join her sister and her former brother-in-law Aaron Sanchez (now famous as the co-star of the Food Network’s hit series, Chopped), for impromptu dinner parties. After graduation, Mora was ready for a bigger adventure.

Captain Jon at the wheel
Captain Jon at the wheel

“I bought a one-way ticket to Hawaii,” Mora tells. “I wanted to live on the beach and photograph. Then I met Jon. He had a boat, a 35ft sloop named Zeitgeist, and he invited me to sail with him from Hawaii to the South Pacific. It was on that 2400 mile passage that I learned to sail. I also did all of the cooking. The gimbal stove took a bit of getting used to. Let’s just say I made lots of one-pot wonders.”

Mora’s culinary and cruising lives intertwined in delicious ways over the next three years. There were dinner invitations from new-found friends in the Polynesian islands that exposed her to favorites like homemade coconut ceviche. On Waiheke Island, known as New Zealand’s ‘island of wine’, Mora landed a five-month job making beautiful bistro food at the Peacock Sky vineyard’s restaurant. Then, in Brisbane, Australia, Mora spent several months preparing meals at famed Chef Tyson Buchanan’s restaurant, Hops Scotch & Beans. It was Buchanan who encouraged Mora to use her hands-on learning to get her chef’s license. To mark this milestone, Jon presented her with two extraordinary chef’s knives. Then, the two embarked on yet another life change.

VICL Top Charter Chef, Nia Mora: Jon and Nia
Jon and Nia

“We had wanted to sail to Asia and Papua New Guinea, but we knew if we did this trip the boat would be a wreck. So, we sold the boat, flew to Fort Lauderdale and Jon earned his yacht master’s license. While there, we met friends who were professionals in the charter industry. They told us about the Virgin Islands and sent our resume. Charter Caribe set us up aboard Pisces and we came down in August to familiarize ourselves with the area. When I learned the former chef of Pisces, Louise Langello, won the culinary competition last year, I knew I wanted to win it too.”

For more information, visit: niamora.com and openseaphotography.com

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The winning dish
The winning dish

RASTAFARI SURF AND TURF:
Butter Poached Lobster with Lime Garlic Butter, Filet Mignon, & Three Sauces

Make your sauces beforehand so they are ready to serve when your steak and lobster are ready.

 

YELLOW SAUCE: MANGO
1 perfectly ripe mango
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Blend to a puree.

 

RED SAUCE: HONEY CHIPOTLE
3 hydrated Mexican chile peppers (I used Guajillo, but you could also use Ancho)
1 small can of roasted red peppers
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (or 1/2 of the pepper depending on desired heat)
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Prepare chilies by cracking open and removing seeds, veins, and stems. Cover with hot water. Soak for 1 hour. Drain, but reserve the soaking liquid. Place pepper skins in blender and add enough of the reserved water so chilies are somewhat covered. Add remaining ingredients and blend until thick and smooth. Be careful with the amount of chilies you use in this recipe, it’s spicy!

 

GREEN SAUCE: SALSA VERDE
1 bunch of mint
1 bunch of cilantro
1 bunch of basil
4 spring onions
3 cloves garlic
2 or 3 jalapeños (depending on desired heat)
5 charred tomatillos (burned part peeled, keep any juice for blender)
2 teaspoons of salt
1 avocado peeled
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
White wine vinegar to taste

Place all ingredients in a blender. Slowly add one teaspoon of white wine vinegar at a time until you achieve a creamy yet well balanced sauce. It’s really up to the chef, all the fresh ingredients will give you a wonderful sauce!

 

GARLIC LIME BUTTER SAUCE:
Heat 1/4 cup of butter on low until melted. Add sliced garlic until fragrant. (Do not burn the butter or garlic) Remove from heat and add juice from half a lime. Carefully strain the sauce to remove the garlic. Serve this sauce with the lobster and steak.

 

FOR THE STEAK:
Medallion size filet mignon (3”x3”)
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 275 Fahrenheit. Crust steak in salt and pepper. (Use more salt than you think you need). Oven cook steak on rack for 40 to 60 minutes until internal temperature reaches 125 degrees for medium. Allow steak to rest for 15 minutes. Internal temperature will continue to rise to 135 degrees. Then, give steak a hard sear in a cast iron pan for 1 to 2 minutes per side before serving.

 

FOR THE LOBSTER:
1 medium size lobster tail
2 cups of unsalted melted butter for poaching
4 cloves garlic
Rind from half lemon
Bouquet garni: fresh herbs of your liking (like thyme, or oregano) for the poaching butter

Blanch lobster for 2 to 3 minutes in boiling salt water. Remove and place in ice bath. De-shell lobster. Whisk butter on simmer with garlic, fresh herbs, and lemon rind to make it aromatic. Poach lobster in aromatic butter for another 5 to 7 minutes. Remove and serve with steak.

 

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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