On and off: Part 1: On (part 1a)

We are in Saint-Tropez, half way through a 2 week trip with one of the owners aboard. Wife, friends and kids in their early twenties all in tow. All seems to be going well so far. I haven’t been fired…yet.

I wake up before my alarm at 5.30am. I’m into the routine now so the alarm rarely goes off to wake me up. This, I think, pleases my cabin mate greatly as he doesn’t have to get up for another couple of hours (the bastard).

I am, I think, a very good and conscientious cabin mate, even if I do say so myself. I don’t snore, unless I am blind drunk and fell asleep standing on my head. I rarely fart, and when I do, it sounds like morning bird song and smells like roses and freshly mown grass. I will have laid all my uniform out in the bathroom the night before so as to cut any potentially disturbing hanger jangling, wardrobe opening noises.

I hop down from the top bunk, very much like a youthful gazelle, trying not to tread on my cabin mate’s face and practically float, soundlessly into the bathroom. This, in itself is actually no mean feat, as our bunks are staggered so in the pitch black if I were to step straight down, my cabin mate would be rudely awoken by my big toe going up his nose. So the dismount actually involves a committed leap not unlike the cliff jump Chris O’Donnell heroically made in Vertical Limit.

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I even sit down to pee in the morning so as to create less of an Austin Powers style comedy urinating sound track.

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Eleven minutes later and I am washed, brushed and ready for another exciting day in yachting.

I soundlessly close my cabin door behind me and promptly fall down the small flight of steps in the crew corridor, letting out the kind of high pitched shriek that a seven year old little girl might make if a large dog ran up to her in the park, and in the process wake up the entire crew in one fell swoop. Mission accomplished.

Feeling a little sorry for myself, I quickly make myself a cup of tea in the crew mess. I am startled to find a boson shaped lump lying on the crew mess seating underneath a duvet. It is Sophie, she has been the victim of a serial snorer and has had to leave the relative comfort of her cabin to try and get some rest in the crew mess. I always think that this is very unfair. Surely it should be the snorer who is banished from the cabin and not the snoree. I resolve to bring this matter up at the next EU assembly in Brussels. I grab my radio from the charger and plod moodily up to the galley.  

Over the course of a two-week period, all the teaspoons disappear from the crew mess and migrate to the galley. As I generally like to stir in my three sugars as I plod moodily up the stairs to the galley. The teaspoons are then put in my special spoon pot until one of the stewardesses comes to the galley and yells at me. She very diplomatically and calmly explains to me that if she has to come up to the galley again, hunting for tea spoons, she will take my special spoon pot and shove it up my special…. well you get the picture.

I think this is the nicest part of my day. Its 5.45 and there won’t be anyone up until 6.30 when the first deck hand gets up and the first stew.

However, this morning I am in for an unpleasant surprise as it appears, as I walk into my normally pristine and shiny galley, that either a herd of drunk and spirited young wildebeest have decided to have a party in my galley or a herd of drunk and spirited young guests have decided to have a party in my galley. I suspect the later as after careful thought it seems more probable.

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The galley has been destroyed, a scene of unbelievable carnage unfolds before my eyes. It looks as though the guests have rooted through every draw and cupboard, emptying them along the way, in search of ingredients with which to attempt to make every Asian dish known to man. They have then given up and decided instead to eat 37 pot noodles instead. This is not supposed to happen. Somehow, somewhere, the system has broken down. If the guests are up and awake then there is also supposed to be at least one crew member up as well to serve them and generally keep them out of trouble. It doesn’t matter how late at night it is as once the guests go to bed, the crew member also goes to bed and is left to rest for at least seven hours before starting work again. Clearly this has not happened. Reading the handover note left by the late Stewardess, it appears that half the guests went out clubbing at 1230 am and the remaining half told the stewardess that they did not need anything and to go to bed. Still, someone should have still waited up. But that’s easy for me to say when I am not the one having to wait indefinitely for the guests to come back to the boat.

It takes me half an hour to clean the mess up and finally order is restored. I am not angry, just a little bewildered that people would treat a friend’s yacht/home with such disrespect. I have long ago accepted that anything can happen in yachting and so very little surprises or bothers me now.

I put some music on, Queens Of The Stone Age and The White Stripes seem to be the most popular galley tunes at the moment. The laundry, dismayingly, seems to favor the warbling’s of Katie Perry and Leona Lewis to pass the time and the deck department swing wildly between early Led Zep and hardcore industrial German folk techno. Although while we have guests on, they must work in silence.

The first hour in the galley for me is spent preparing bits and bobs for guest breakfast. A cold meat platter which is going down very well with these guests. I am particularly proud of the whole Wiltshire ham I can hand slice rather than the water logged Carrefour sliced stuff you will find in a lot of other galleys. Also, my provisioner gave me a sample of some Wagu ham which has gone down so well that the bosses wife has asked me to get her four kilos to take back home with her at a cost of over €1000 plus another hundred for someone to drive it from Nice to Saint-Tropez. That should be turning up a bit later. The cheese plate has been abandoned unless requested, as one of the guests nearly started voming after a whiff of the Epoisse. These guests don’t appear to be ‘cheese people’. These are glad tidings indeed as the crew will get to enjoy the fifteen or so smellerific cheeses I had bought for the guests. I’m glad my crew like cheese, I don’t think I could trust them if they didn’t.

Sausages and bacon are in the oven now to precook. On to the fruit platter. Half way through the charter, things can get a little stale so I decide to break out a fruit carving to keep it interesting. The watermelon snake is always a winner.

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The fruit left over from the previous days platter is quickly whizzed up into a smoothie for the crew if it wasn’t whizzed up into a daiquiri the night before for the chef. Bowls of blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries are prepared. Congee is put on in the rice cooker, the guests have asked me to use some of the left over Bream from yesterday’s lunch along with some Dashi and ginger. It’s the first time I have catered to guests that eat congee every morning. It’s very easy to make but when they come in the galley and compliment me on how delicious it is I can’t really understand it as to my Western palate it is very bland indeed. A plate of smoked salmon is prepared and that’s pretty much it. I still have fifteen minutes before going to get the bread as the fish guys won’t have properly set up until seven, so I make a start on a dessert for tonight. They like light and fruity and not too sweet so I opt to make an apple trifle. Fairly straight forward but it does take all day as you have to wait for each layer to set before adding the next. A caramel custard, a genoise sponge, a course apple jelly, a sauternes jelly and a vanilla cream. Quite time consuming but super tasty.

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6.45 and I let the Stew know that I am heading out to get the bread, fish and a few other bits and pieces. The guests won’t be up for another couple of hours probably but I tell her to radio me if she needs anything, and remind her that if the guests ever ask her what the days breakfast special is, she is to say “toast” and not to say “the chef makes an awesome eggs benedict!”. I tell her I’m kidding….but not really.

I can bake bread, pretty well, but why bother when you have freshly baked artisanal breads on your doorstep. That’s one of the bonuses of being in the Med, you can hit the bakery and markets every morning and get the best of the local produce. In the South Pacific I had to make all the breads and wouldn’t see a shop once we left the dock in Tahiti, so I was cooking with 10 day old fruit and veg by the end of a trip. In the Caribbean it wasn’t much better.

I grab my Granny trolley and a couple of shopping bags and head off to the bakery. I like to get there quite early, maybe 6.50 as later than that and the French workers are cueing up for their single baguettes. They get a bit pissed off if they have to wait behind me ordering, 12 coissants, 8 pain au chocs, 6 raisins, baguettes, pain cereals, and a whole host of sticky buns for the crew to munch on and then paying with a €100 note. I prefer the bakery in Cannes where I get given a free espresso to sip on and a cheeky wink from the girl behind the counter while she prepares my order.

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The bread got, I head on to the fish market but stop at the butcher on the way. He opens at seven and I am his first customer. I like this butcher, he is always very friendly and always forces me to have a glass of something with him no matter what time of day.  A cold beer at four in the afternoon is always welcome but a luke warm Pastis at seven in the morning less so. He chatters to me vigorously in French while continuing to set up shop. At every pause I smile and nod and at every explosion of laughter I do the same. I have no idea what he is saying as my French is limited to:

 “Bonjour”,

“Cinq Heineken s’il vous plait”

“vous etes belle”

“trois Heineken s’il vous plait”

“vous etes tres belle”

“quatre Heineken s’il vous plait”

“Je t’aime”

“deux Heineken s’il vous plait”

“veux-tu m’epouser”

“taxi pour une s’il vous plait”

But we seem to get along. He has a fake arm. I can’t help glancing down at it and wandering how he lost it. Was it a tragic slip of the knife while delicately boning a quail? Or was it a slip on the band saw while halving goat?

Anyway, I focus and enquire about some spring chickens that the boss wants for his lunch. He says no problem but they will arrive at 10am. Ok, I’ll be back.

Or will I? Dun, dun, duuurrrr!

Cliff hanger or what!?

TTFN

achefabroad

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