Cooking on a crewed charter yacht isn’t easy. On one hand, guests expect three to five mouth-watering, never-repeated, restaurant-style meals daily for the duration of the charter. On the other hand, unlike their land-based counterparts, charter chefs work in tiny galleys, often in rough seas and in off-the-beaten-track places where there’s no chance to run ashore for ingredients. It’s a rigorous role. That’s why Melissa Neidlinger started her training-intense Ten-day Yacht Chef Boot Camp.
“Over the last several years working as a charter chef, I realized I wanted to share my knowledge with others who might not have had my experience,” says Neidlinger, a graduate of the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago and who, with husband Matt, chartered for nine years in the BVI aboard a variety of yachts including the couple’s Leopard 45, Free Ingwe.
“When I started Island Eats Culinary Adventures last December I had the idea to create day-long seminars. Yacht chefs that attended brought a wide variety of experience. It soon became clear that what was missing in this industry was to teach the basics of cooking and working on charter boats in the Caribbean. While captains are required to present certifications and experience to get a job, often a yacht chef is not. And many of the chefs feel they have much to learn when working in an industry where food is becoming more important to the charter business.”
Boot Camp is an apt name for Neidlinger’s ten-day course. She has put together an intensive program that starts with basic cooking techniques, skills such as searing meats and fish, simple knife skills, cleanliness and organization. Then, lessons move on to provisioning, including a field trip to the supermarket, menu planning and plating. Neidlinger breaks the syllabus down to cover a few topics each day.
Learning how to prepare over 100 recipes – everything from sushi, sauces and vegetable sides to appetizers, breads, soups and desserts, is what Ashley McGowan liked best about being a student at Neidlinger’s Yacht Chef Boot Camp. McGowan, who grew up and worked on boats all her life, says she was comfortable with all aspects aboard, except when it came to the galley.
“What we learned really helped us feel confident in being able to create and cook a high-end menu for charter guests. Some of my favorite dishes were Curried Shrimp Skewers with Pineapple Chutney, and Coq au Vin and Spiralized Zucchini ‘Spaghetti’. No corners were cut and everyone got to tackle everything,” she says. “Plus, we learned substitutes and key staples to have aboard to accommodate for guests’ allergies, dietary needs, special requests and last minute changes, which are almost inevitable on a boat.”
Plating and presentation were among the Boot Camp skills taught that Sherry Moore, chef aboard the 50ft Voyage catamaran, Sirius Escape, appreciated.
“Food must not only taste great, but it should be plated with an appealing creative touch. In this vein, I found the prosciutto wrapped green beans to add a delicious, impressive, touch to the plate,” says Moore, who entered Neidlinger’s Boot Camp to ‘up her game’ by filling in knowledge gaps and honing culinary skills. “For me, it was a confidence builder to realize my challenges are pretty much the same as other chefs. It was fun to share our experiences, ideas and helpful tips and these enabled me to further develop my repertoire, creating more flexibility in my menus.”
Neidlinger offers her Yacht Chef Boot Camp during the off-season in late summer and early fall. Classes are held in St. Thomas, with class size limited to six so there is plenty of space to work and personal instructional time.
“As Boot Camp continues to grow, there have been more requests for an extension of the course in the future. Those more seasoned in the business request menu consultation and more complex recipes, and those with less experience want more hands-on, one-on-one work in building a cooking repertoire,” says Neidlinger.
For more information, visit: www.islandeatsvi.com/yacht-chef-cookery-course