PROVISIONING- NIGHTMARE OR CHALLENGE?
There are so many factors to take into account when provisioning:
• Do I have transport?
• Diets both healthy and religious
• Do I know this town?
• How long until the next stop
• Guest preferences
• Nationality of crew
To begin with the chef will often arrive in an unfamiliar port with charter guests who have hopefully sent in their preferences.
The first thing to do is look for shops that provide the required ingredients and often there is no car to help carry everything. That means the nearest places to shop are generally within two streets of the quay and are well known for overcharging, especially to crew in uniform.
Often there is no way round this as time is normally tight between breakfast and lunch which means there is no opportunity to search out, or get to the large supermarket. Of course there are agents ashore who can get everything but with a hefty percentage on top and often the guests don’t mind paying.
For example St Tropez all but closes in September until May and most of the shopkeepers head off to Thailand for the winter having made their money during the summer months. I have worked in a villa there for the past 4 years and developed a relationship with the fishmonger. They are quite surprised that most chefs don’t ask for a discount so they get away with murder when it comes to charging ‘yacht prices’ as they call it.
It’s not the easiest thing in the world lugging carrier bags or a trolley through busy streets in mid tourist season but often shops are happy to deliver if you are moored for a few days and it will bring them extra income and develop a relationship with them.
Things get harder when guests have special requests such as Halal or breads, flours etc. It’s not always the easiest thing to find some items so advance warning and a canny use of freezer space can overcome this.
Of course fresh produce presents it’s own set of problems on longer trips and in certain locations. M/Y Latitude has just done two back to back trips through the NW passage and Markus Gary the chef on board was certainly put to the test when it came to fresh food. Planning in advance is imperative but what happens when you get stuck in ice for an extra 5 days? Always being ready for the unexpected is a trump card for a yacht chef.
I’m sure most chefs are always planning ahead and are ready for anything but it all depends on the guests as more often than not things change at the last minute. ‘We are dining ashore tonight’ often means we will come back on board with extra guests and want dinner. I always work two days ahead with my prep so that I’m covered for these eventualities but it can work in reverse and when you have spent hours preparing the dish they requested they will then go ashore to eat. There is always a good meal for the crew on those days.
More often than not the chef is the one who doesn’t get to the crew mess and have time to sit down and eat. There is always another job to do or cleaning to be done but a good relationship with the Stews makes the world of difference. They will be the ones who have the most contact with the chef and can see when it’s best to keep quiet but also when to offer to make a coffee or offer support. By the same token a good crew menu makes the world of difference to crew morale. On a hard charter the food is often the highlight of the day, assuming anybody has time to eat.
I often give each member of crew a day to choose the menu so that it rotates and over a period they all get to eat their favourite dish. It also makes my life easier as I don’t have to decide crew food and if they don’t like it they know their turn will come round soon to choose. There is seldom time to make 4 different meals for crew as we have to do this for guests and crew should not expect this.
A team list will make provisioning so much easier and over the years it’s good to build up a dossier of each port and speciality supplier. If the chef works closely with the chief stew there should be no need to double up on ordering and shopping together makes life so much easier and hopefully more enjoyable. The chief stew should be well aware of any guest foibles and have picked up conversation over dinner when they are discussing food between themselves. It’s always nice to surprise them with a dish they did not expect but really enjoy. Something worth considering when it comes to ‘tip time’