Since we began living at anchor on our Hans Christian 33T, the diversion of television has diminished significantly. Occasionally though, when the Wi-Fi’s robust, power’s abundant, and the weather’ bleak, vegging out to the tube sounds good. I’m not a fan of most reality programs, but I do enjoy the cooking contests such as Cutthroat Kitchen, Top Chef, Chopped and the like. I’d argue, however, these contestants have got nothing on me.
There’s no greater challenge than cooking haute cuisine, or indeed any cuisine in a modest galley.
I’d like to pitch a script for my rendition of a competitive cooking show titled “Cook on a Hook.” The premise: Provide a week’s worth of palatable meals for two sailors on a shoestring.
In Round One, “Shopping Survivor,” participants are boated onto the island, for groceries. Launched from a far-flung anchorage, they race their tenders toward land. The vast choice of alluring Caribbean islands bestows an engaging assortment of situations onshore.
Best case scenario is a dinghy dock with room to tie-up. Odds are it’ll be a small pier fringed with inflatables three deep. The nimbleness required to navigate this wobbly, waffling obstacle course provides viewer amusement, particularly when our galley gladiators are burdened by their booty.
Otherwise, entrants suffer the mirth of wading through surf, hauling a bulky dink onto a beach, and lashing it to a palm tree. In this scenario, everything will inevitably acquire a distinctive seasoning of sand.
Once landed, additional predicaments are confronted. With luck, a market’s nearby. Or within a short hike. Or along a bus route.
With luck, the supply-ship recently arrived. And has been unloaded. And the goods survived the passage.
With luck, the store’s larger than a 7-Eleven. With stocked shelves. With recognizable products. With unexpired sell-by dates.
You’ve gotta ask yourself one question. “Do you feel lucky?”
Any meal strategies participants made are scuttled once they discover procuring gourmet fare on an archipelago is dubious. Substitutions transform a Pecan-Crusted Duckling on Chanterelle Couscous recipe into a Raspberry-Glazed Hen on Parmesan Risotto dish. Availability notwithstanding, when locating non-native, out-of-season imports, they’ll further find the price isn’t right and alter their ingredients yet again. Chicken on Cream-of-Mushroom Soup Rice it is!
After schlepping everything back to the dingy and getting the ornery outboard going, competitors weather a return journey; wind, rain, or shine. En route, ingredients transform once more as tropical temperatures liquefy frozen food, waves douse dry goods, fragile items fragment, and soft ones squash.
Anyone left with budget to buy a vowel proceeds to Round Two and “Food Stowage Wars.” Before boarding, all produce must be cleansed of Fear Factor-esque garnish; spiders, grubs, frogs, etc. Boxes are banned below decks. They’re egg cartons for cockroaches. Cans must be protected from corrosion, bottles from breakage, and sea creatures from plastic. The real race is against rot because in an uncontrolled environment, mold thrives.
With numerous, diminutive lockers located everywhere, mental-mapping is crucial. Otherwise, prep time is squandered by a vexing game of Hide-and-Seek. Dark places abound, but cool and dry – HA.
The fridge face-off is formidable. This contraption’s only efficient attribute is draining the boat’s battery bank. Its irregular interior makes spill-proof packaging imperative. Edibles demanding fewer degrees need to snuggle the cold-plate. It’s vital that vittles inhabiting the back recesses be detectable by touch. Once its paltry capacity is exceeded, cautions to “Keep Refrigerated” are daringly disregarded putting digestion in real jeopardy.
Competition heats up in the Final Round of “Let’s Make a Meal” or 21 to be exact.
Space and power conservation thwart the thought of small appliances. A microwave would zap the amps faster than the appetizers. There’s a propane stove with two cantankerous burners and a menopausal oven that randomly hot flashes between 250° and 700° Fahrenheit.
Locker lids and the icebox-top constitute counter space, so savvy chefs collect all ingredients before cooking commences. Predictably, an exasperating round of Musical Chairs will break out as cookware, cutlery, and condiments are shuffled around to retrieve some overlooked component.
Then it’s T-Minus-Zero to stove ignition. After countless, futile clicks, the utility lighter sparks and POOF! Forget Hell’s Kitchen! The entire cabin becomes hot as Hades! Timing’s crucial as pots and pans share their turn on a burner. Obscenities overwhelm censors when sweaty contenders dial the flame down to the point of extinction – yet again!
Though the contest kicked-off in a calm harbor with meals prepared and served in relative stability, as the series progresses, sabotage ensues. Because we actually go sailing! On a 15 degree heel over lumpy seas, the gimbaled stove swings level. The cook, however, is violently pitched at odd, opposing angles and entrees must be gobbled up by judges grappling the helm and sails. During these episodes, extra points are earned for the dish’s wind resistance and suitability for single-handed consumption.
Although taste and presentation should determine winners and losers, in due course self-elimination will undoubtedly occur. Motion sickness; boat bites; rations on water, space, sleep, rum – there’re innumerable circumstances that’ll provoke a mutiny.
These scenarios portray my cooking reality. It took years to learn how to function in my galley. Fortunately, my judge is an understanding person who’s willing to try most anything I concoct. And my grand prize is an extraordinary life cruising upon beautiful Caribbean waters to so many amazing destinations and living the dream.
Since 2005, Diana and her husband Don Reynolds have lived aboard their Hans Christian 33T Re Metau, and cruised Florida’s Gulf Coast and Keys, the Bahamas, and the Eastern Caribbean. Visit their website at www.remetau.com