Literally from the ground up is how Mark Miles acquired his firsthand knowledge of fine food. The UK native hails from a farming background in rural Dorset, where he worked growing and selling fresh produce. A decade ago, he swapped shore for sea and with partner, co-owner and fellow licensed captain, Lynn Griffiths, now charters the 72-foot Giorgetti & Magrini-designed sailing yacht, Pacific Wave, in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. While Miles is quick to say that a two-person operation requires each crew to do a bit of everything, it is Miles who is captain of the galley.
“My previous life, growing, trading and then buying produce globally and selling it to supermarkets provided me with a technical interest in the raw materials,” says Miles. “I often hired celebrity chefs to promote different products and worked closely with them on roadshows and at exhibitions. This was an interesting experience and a chance to see true creativity at work. It has influenced the way I work with food.”
He continues, “I feel a bit of a fraud in that I’ve never worked shoreside in a ‘proper’ restaurant, and I honestly make this point clear to our guests. Their expectations are easier to surpass than if you brag about working in so-and-so’s big famous restaurant. In those situations, the reality is that you probably spent your career making béarnaise sauce all night every night and nothing else, not an especially relevant experience to a small charter yacht. Yet, the best thing for me is surprising people, exceeding their expectations about what might come out of a 2-foot by 3-foot galley.”
Miles’ menu repertoire is based on what ingredients are available and freshest when he provisions. This impromptu style isn’t easy, but as he says, “I hate having to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear”.
A common joke in some places is that ‘catch of the day’ is really ‘freezer shelf of the day.’ In other words, disguising what’s available in the bottom of the freezer locker with pretty sauces and fancy plate decorations.
“Everybody knows it, everybody puts up with it. I won’t. I’d rather say, ‘Hey guys, you know you wanted one-night eating ashore? Well tonight is the night because to be honest, I’m not happy with the quality of the fillet mignon I was going to serve. Let me see what we can pick up for tomorrow, something that won’t disappoint,’ Miles tells.
This ability to adapt rather than sticking unflinchingly to a particular menu is key to be a successful charter chef, Miles says. Another good example of this versatility is when he makes a dish for the first time on charter just because a certain combination of ingredients ideally presents themselves.
“It takes a bit of nerve, or rather a relaxed laid-back approach. How do you make a pavlova? Start with two rum and cokes,” he jokes.
It’s certainly a recipe that works. Miles won first prize for Best Chef overall at the St. Thomas Charter Yacht Show for his meringue-based pavlova, topped with whipped cream, fresh mangoes and strawberries, and an orange-mango sauce. Additionally, he earned second place in the Sail and Motoryacht Under 90-foot category at the Antigua Charter Yacht Show’s Concours de Chef Competition with a Caribbean-themed brunch that included homemade plaited bread with nutmeg jam, red snapper eggs benedict and sweet potato and bacon rissoles.
Finally, what does Miles recommend to other men who would like to chef on a charter yacht?
‘On smaller yachts, it is important to be aware that you don’t just do the cooking. Often you are involved in moving the ‘restaurant’ ten miles down the road, and then heading into the galley to serve the perfect dinner an hour after dropping the hook. That takes patience, a cool head, and planning,” says Miles, whose versatility and creativity extends to the literary world, where he writes when not on charter. His first book, a spy thriller called Shelter Rock, releases this month from UK publisher, Troubador.