I left the USA last May and found myself back in France once again. Although the Mediterranean season starts when the spring air blows, melts the snow and Easter is on its way, I was still in Florida (and then New York) with my last boat. I kept my word to my last Captain and did not leave until we took the boat up north. I was a bit anxious the first few days since most jobs that had been offered in early spring were already taken. But I knew, somehow,there would be a job for me. It was just a matter of time and patience. Lucky for me, one of my former captains and his wife adopted me until I found something. I let another of my former captains, Hubb, know that I was back in Europe, hoping we could catch up.
I met Huub a long way back when I had just started in boating. I was a junior stewardess on that boat. Years later, we were again working together on another boat and I was the chief stewardess. One day, he told me he was going to see another boat in Hamburg and asked if I wanted to come along to work with him if he gets the job. He got the job, but I chose to return with my old boat.
Yes, it would be great catching up.
A few days later, he rang me up to see if I would accept a job on his boat, not as a chief stewardess, but as a chef.
Chef? Cooking for the guests and crew? I told him I was not too sure about this. I have cooked for some previous bosses of mine and for a small crew of 10 or so, but Chef? He explained the owners do not want a culinary trained chef. They only want simple home cooking, clean and healthy.
“What makes you think I am capable of that?”, I asked.
“Because I have tasted your food!”, was the reply.
I had two days to think about it. My last Captain, Axel, told me that I should be a chef. I sat down with Captain Benjamin and discussed the prospect.
Could I see my hobby and passion turning into a job? A few days later, I was checking in at the airport for Valencia, Spain. Who would have thought that years later I would re-join Huub as a chef?
When I arrived, his first word was, “Finally!”
A few days after joining the boat, we left Valencia for Italy with a pit stop at Mahon, Menorca, seemingly endless days on sea while the guests fished. One afternoon, while I was soundly asleep on the foredeck, the boat suddenly rolled. Odd. I dashed to the bridge to know what was happening. One of the guests caught a tuna. The boss asked if I needed help to fillet it. I said don’t worry I can handle it…
That was before I found out it was 11 kilos of tuna! A few hours later, we caught another one…23 kilos! The crew looked at me, horrified, wondering how I was going to clean that one up! But I successfully filleted it and the next day served sashimi!
That huge tuna felt like my initiation to the cooking world. Other than the cooking itself, I also dealt with shopping at different places with my very basic Italian, little sleep, cut fingers, scaldings…I even poured a quiche mixture onto the tin with out the pastry. Despite a few disasters, new recipes to test, and different guests coming my way, I have successfully made a lot of bellies happy. Without my vast network of chef friends, from whom I ask advice and beg for recipes (especially Victoria), I don’t know if I could have survived. Yet here I am, still standing and enjoying every moment of it!
In less than a month we will head back to Spain. I still need to pinch myself, still wonder at the end of every day how beautiful it is to cook. I’ve turned into a baking fairy as well. One treat I made that the guests really enjoyed is a fig, prune & mascarpone tart recipe that I found in a Jamie magazine I picked up at the Nice airport (Jamie now has a monthly magazine). The recipe is from the Pam Tal cookbook, A La Greque, and is a perfect summer tart when figs are in season, scrumptious and easy to make.
330 g plain flour
110 g caster sugar
220 g chilled unsalted butter, diced
4 egg yolks
6 dried figs, sliced
12 pitted prunes
80g caster sugar
250 g mascarpone
250 g pouring cream
1. Heat the oven to 180C and grease a 23cm loose based tart tin
2. Combine the flour and sugar in a food processor. Add the butter and whiz until it look like breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks and whiz until the pastry just come together to form a ball. Wrap in a cling film and rest in fridge for an hour.
3. Dust the tart tin lightly with flour. Roll the pastry out to 5mm thick then lift it onto the tin and ease into the edges and up the sides, leaving an overhang of about 2cm. Refrigrirate for 20 mins.
4. Remove from the fridge and roll over the edges of the tin with a rolling pin to trim the edges neatly, Prick the pastry with a fork then line with a baking paper and dried beans.
5. Bake for 20 mins then remove the paper and beans and cook for further 10 mins until the pastry is just cooked.
1. Combine the figs, prunes and port in a heavy based saucepan and simmer gently until the fruit is soft and all the liquid been absorbed. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
2. Spoon evenly to tart shell
3. In an electric mixer , whisk the eggs until light and fluffy.
4. Whisk in the sugar, followed by mascarpone and then the cream.
5. Pour mixture over the fruit in the tart tin and bake for 45- 50 mins until set and golden.
Thank you to Stephen my ex crew mate on Mitseaah, my fellow foodie for reminding me that the readers might think he has not cooked for a while… and to Karl for proof reading my post.