Ever wondered what it's like to live or work aboard one of those fabulous luxury yachts you see at boat shows or docked outside mansions on the Intercoastal in Fort Lauderdale? If so, you would enjoy reading "Sea Fare, A Chef's Journey Across the Ocean" by Victoria Allman, a wandering young chef who followed her love of food around the globe.
Allman, who originally hails from Canada, has written a book that is part memoir, part romance, part travelogue and part cookbook. It was published by NorLightsPress earlier this year and tracks 10 or so years of visiting exotic places through its food. Each chapter deals with one of her visits and often she shares the recipes that are the focus of her account.
She has been doing this since she was in her 20s. And when she isn't writing about food, she is still living out her dreams of adventure. When I contacted Allman this summer, I reached her in Cannes, in the south of France, where she and her husband were working aboard a yacht. More recently, she wrote to me from Fort Lauderdale, where the yacht is presently berthed. It's all about chasing the sun.
Culinary-trained at the Stratford Chef's School in Canada and the Culinary Institute of America, her pursuit of food knowledge has led her to kitchens in places like Hong Kong, England, Vietnam, Tahiti, South Africa, the Caribbean and Nepal.
From misadventure -- like being tossed about in storms and an on-board fire -- to fun, new friends and romance, her travel stories provide a perspective and depth of understanding that can only come from someone who's actually been there.
Allman begins her memoir with her applying for a job as chef of a yacht in Fort Lauderdale owned by some wealthy Europeans. She was told she would start immediately, with hors d'oeuvres for 100 people coming to look at the boat that afternoon (with a view to chartering it), and lunch and dinner for the crew of six, all with just a few hours to get it ready.
She quickly learned to provision a yacht for gourmet cooking. Once the owners arrived and the yacht was underway, she also found out how to make local specialties from foods available in the various ports -- and to adapt her menus when ingredients were not available, as was sometimes the case in the Caribbean.
Allman also had to learn the food preferences of the people she was working for and those of their young children -- never easy, as most of us know.
During downtime, like when the yacht was being painted or serviced, she would work for restaurateurs such as Norman Van Aken in Miami, who was once chef at the Marquesa, Louie's Backyard and elsewhere here in Key West. She enjoyed the stimulation of working in a fine restaurant again and used the time to learn and research new menu items.
Working aboard a yacht isn't all fun and games. While at European ports like Sardinia, the owners lived aboard during the summer and Allman put in 16-hour days, seven days a week, usually cooking for 10 people, owners, guests and crew.
When the yacht was sold, Allman switched to an even bigger boat, the Blue Moon, a three-deck Feadship, considered the Mercedes Benz of the cruising world. The six-month-old craft was 165 feet long, with a state-of-the-art galley. The fridge and freezer were so large they could store enough food for two weeks without provisioning.
This floating palace, worth more than $35 million dollars, was owned by adventurous eaters who loved light and fresh flavors and enjoyed new taste sensations. Oh yes, and there was now a crew of 10 to feed as well.
And we're not talking peanut butter sandwiches. Allman recalls placing $22,000 meat orders from ranches in California and huge fish orders from Boston, all delivered by FedEx. The orders became part of her three-course gourmet meals, served on Bulgari china by an attendant in black pants, white shirt and black bow-tie, at tables adorned with fresh flowers.
Allman recalls with joy supplementing existing supplies with produce from markets in places like Provence and Sardinia, fishing in the Florida Keys and shrimping in Savannah.
Anyone who enjoys travel writing and exotic cuisine will love "Sea Fare." Here are a few recipes Victoria Allman allowed me to reprint. You can contact her at email@example.com or through her publisher at NorLightsPress.com. Her book is also available through Amazon.com.
Shrimp and Haricots
(Serve as an appetizer, salad or a light lunch)
2 pounds haricots verts (green beans)
1 tbs sea salt (for the water)
1/2 cup olive oil
8 cloves garlic, chopped
2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 red onion, diced finely
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1/4 cup chopped basil
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the tablespoon of sea salt. Slice haricots verts in half on an angle. Boil in water for four minutes. Drain and place in ice water to retain bright green color. Drain and reserve.
Heat a heavy-bottomed sauté pan on high heat. Add two tablespoons olive oil and two cloves of garlic. Add one quarter of the shrimp and season with some of the salt and pepper. Sauté for two minutes on each side until they are just cooked through. Don't overcook. Scrape the pan into a large salad bowl with a rubber spatula and repeat process, working in batches for the rest of the shrimp.
Add two tablespoons of the olive oil to pan and sauté the red onion for one minute until soft. Add lemon juice zest and basil. Taste for seasoning and acidity.
Serve warm as a salad with crusty bread to dip in the residual lemon vinaigrette. Any leftovers make a great salad the next day. Serves six.
Thighs with Island Sauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
8 skinless chicken thighs
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp allspice
4 cloves garlic
1 large onion
1 green pepper
1/2 scotch bonnet or habanera pepper
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup chicken stock
1 tsp thyme sprigs
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tbs freshly squeezed lime juice
Chop the onions, peppers and tomatoes into small dice. Thinly slice the garlic. Chop the thyme coarsely. Mix one teaspoon sea salt, pepper and allspice and sprinkle evenly over chicken thighs. Heat a heavy-bottomed stockpot on high heat. When hot, add vegetable oil and four of the chicken thighs. Brown for one minute on each side and remove from pan. Repeat with other four thighs and remove. Turn the burner to medium-high heat and sauté the onions, peppers and garlic for five minutes until soft. Add the tomatoes, scotch bonnet, sea salt, chicken stock and thyme. Bring to a simmer and add chicken back into pan. Simmer over medium-low heat, uncovered for 30 minutes until the chicken is tender and falling off the bone. Stir in the cilantro and lime juice and taste for seasoning. Serve with pigeon peas and rice. Serves four.
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbs lime juice
1/4 cup dark rum
2 tbs water
1/4 pound bittersweet chocolate
3 sticks butter
2/3 cup dark rum
2 cups milk
2 cups sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Heat oven to 325°. Grease one loaf pan.
First, make the sauce: In a heavy-bottomed small sauce pot, boil sugar and lime juice. It will change from a clear color to golden brown. This caramelization happens quickly, so watch the pan and remove from heat once a golden color appears. Carefully add the rum and water. The liquid will sputter and spit, so stand back. Return to heat and simmer 30 seconds until the sauce is smooth. Set aside.
Make the cake: In a bowl over simmering water, melt chocolate and butter. Remove from heat. Beat in rum, milk and sugar. Beat in dry ingredients about half a cup at a time, incorporating until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Pour into loaf pan. Bake for an hour, rotating the pan after half an hour. Check doneness by inserting a skewer. If it comes out clean, the cake is finished. Using the same skewer, poke holes through the cake top to the bottom, every centimeter. If the sauce has thickened with cooling, return to heat for about one minute. Spoon sauce evenly over the cake. It will run down the skewer holes to keep the cake moist. Cool and slice. Serves 12.