Corn dogs, those cornmeal-battered deep-fried hot dogs on a stick that are state fair and carnival staples, might not seem like charter yacht cuisine. Yet it’s a dish deliciously upscaled to a coconut oil fried lobster corn dog served over a bed of Asian coleslaw with a lemon-wasabi aioli, that won chef Tyler Dunn a culinary award at the U.S. Virgin Islands’ yacht show competition in 2015 and has since become a menu staple and guest request aboard the 56 Lagoon, Playtime. Dunn is one of a growing number of men in the galley in the Caribbean crewed charter yacht industry.
“I think men who are charter chefs help to break down the idea that ‘men drive boats and women cook in the galley’. We certainly see it on almost any charter we do. People assume I’m driving the boat and my wife is making the food. It’s the exact opposite for us and it makes a great conversation starter. I think this is something important men can bring to the table in this industry. Pun intended,” says Dunn, who, with wife Kelsey, transitioned from the day charter and dive industries to term chartering as a team four years ago. The choice to assume the roles they did was born out of necessity. “My wife had her captain’s license and a sailing background and I had a food background.”
Dunn grew up in North Carolina where he learned to sail at a summer camp. One of his first culinary jobs was in the camp’s kitchen, while helping his mother host dinner parties throughout the year instilled in him the importance of good food graciously served. It was later as a line cook at a couple of restaurants that Dunn learned about the finer side of dining such as the art of plating and presentation.
“When I first knew that I would be cheffing onboard a yacht I thought in all honesty that I was unqualified. So, I took a few culinary classes at local universities, found local cooking groups and classes, and sourced recipes to sample on my friends. That led to a massive recipe database and a network of people to call to ask how to make things, fix dishes, fine tune sauces and more. While it is stressful, it is very rewarding to have people try a dish you have never made before and ask you for the recipe,” he says.
On charter today, and as a rule, Dunn serves a deliciously varied menu. This is a guest-pleaser as well as prevents him getting into a culinary rut. As a result, his repertoire is vast and spans from Dorito encrusted chicken fingers for kids on charter to elegant dishes like duck confit for the adults. Other selections may be almond flour Belgian waffles sweetened with local Virgin Islands honey for breakfast, Caribbean chicken rotis or shrimp Caesar salads for lunch, red capsicum and walnut dip with roasted pita wedges as a pre-dinner hors d’oeuvre and seared Ahi tuna or BBQ NY strip steaks for dinner. Tiramisu, crème brûlée and Caribbean chocolate rum cake are among Dunn’s to die-for desserts.
Planning is key
“Planning is key. You have to plan your menu based on what will spoil the fastest. Also, most yachts will have sufficient storage but your Tetris game has to be strong in order to fit it all into the fridges, freezers and cabinets. You have to manage your beverage storage as well. Provisioning is a time-consuming part of this job and it takes trips to many local grocery stores and roadside stands to get exactly what you need for your menu. Developing a relationship with these businesses is a necessity,” he says.
For those who want to be a charter yacht chef, Dunn recommends doing a little research to find out what certifications are required. This may be a STCW certification, heath department certification and/or sommelier certification/degree, for example.
“Get a grasp on these and then start making some good food! Try things out and don’t be afraid to burn something. Nobody comes out of the womb knowing how to use a five-burner stove top.”
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