In the Mood for Food photo.
Diverse and indigenous cuisine brought by the many ethnic people to St. Maarten from all over the world piques our interest. To this end, we are on a quest to find where it comes from, if it is used for celebrations, if it is exotic to some but everyday food to others. Anything to do with keeping the body and soul nourished with that which is produced from good old terra firma, is what makes the world go around.
Two’s company, three’s a crowd! Generally speaking, a crowd is defined as a group of people that have gathered for a common purpose or intent – including sitting down to a table for a meal.
Over the festive season, the “crowd” needs to be fed delicious and special dishes often eaten only at this time of the year. The shops have been going crazy with shoppers taking from the laden shelves. Some of the items on the shelves are not seen all year round, in some cases. Trollies are filled to overflowing and name tags are often seen on these trolleys – just what is all this about? In one particular industry, it is all about provisioning!
Years ago, provisioning was done for smaller yachts, mostly sailing vessels, the charter companies of which had bases at many marinas around the world. In St. Maarten/St. Martin, there were a number of these bases. In those days (25 to 30 years ago), there were two particular types of charters taking place – “Bareboat” and “Crewed”. These were offered way before the first Mega yacht appeared over the horizon. The other major provisioning was done for the cruise ships, but this did not take place on a large scale visible to the public here on St. Maarten.
Years ago, the charterers were sent a “preference sheet” to fill in about what they particularly enjoyed eating and – importantly – what they may be allergic to. The charter base generally had provisioning rooms filled with fairly straightforward items that were put on the “Bareboats” – a choice of cereals; bottles of general condiments like tomato sauce; fresh fruit; proteins; and plenty of water bottles and alcohol; nothing over the top at all. Basic meals were catered for if the charterer requested the boat to be provisioned. A chef was sometimes asked to join the yacht when the guests did not want to cook at all.
Many charterers arrived with their own meat and fish in cooler boxes that were flown here along with their luggage.
On “crewed” yachts, preference sheets were filled out by the guests before they arrived to pick up the yacht. The chef on the yacht endeavored to cook up a storm with exquisite plating in cramped galleys with few fancy appliances. The chef was usually given a “kitty” to buy “fresh” and get croissants for breakfast at the anchorages that had bakeries nearby. The guests often quite liked wandering up to a local store with the chef, getting a taste of island life – slow paced and laid back.
There was something so special getting up before the guests, taking the dinghy into town and shopping at the bakery in the early dawn. Getting back to the yacht with the sweet-smelling breakfast wooed the guests.
The chef’s life was fun. Living onboard the yacht with the captain and sometimes a crew (depending on how big the yacht was)! At various bases, competitions were held amongst the chefs. Table decorating was part of the fun. Ideas were exchanged and recipes shared and improved upon. Then along came the Mega Yachts and Super Yachts – and the industry changed to the very fast pace we see today.
Guests still fill out preference sheets, they also ask for certain themed parties, which may include a specific type of beach party. Many parties are OTT (over the top) in the way the crew and the chef pull them off. It is simply amazing the way the crew go all out to decorate according to the theme. They even add a touch of the theme to wear with their uniforms. The chef needs to do his/her bit in providing a meal that is right in keeping with the theme too! The preference sheet often asks for “extravaganza” type occasions – party time, folks! (This could mean serving two to eight guests for the most part.) On top of the food prep, the chef needs to prepare good, exciting fare for the crew too. A chef’s work is never done!
Most chefs on mega yachts, these days, have been to cooking schools. Many have done cooking courses in more than one kind of cuisine, in more than one country. They need to know more than the average person does about allergies, where one can source certain ingredients, how to prep and cook the weird and the wonderful requests some guests put on their preference sheets. They need to wow the guests with their plating; they need to wow the guests by sending out dishes prepped in small galleys; in rocky, windswept anchorages; or when underway! They are basically at it 24/7 when guests are on board. No matter how big and fancy a yacht is, if one is prone to feeling yucky to movement, this is not the life one imagines!
A big difference between a chef at a restaurant sending out extraordinary dishes and a charter chef is that, except for the few specials of the day, the restaurant chef makes the same dish daily – the same dish should taste as good a year later when guests return. The charter chef, on the other hand, has to produce different meals three times a day, plus snacks, for every day the guests are on board – and they can’t pop out to shop for a forgotten ingredient. Their provisioning list needs to be a well calculated part of their job.
Provisioning needs to be on point! This is not as easy as it sounds, as living on an island has its pitfalls with late deliveries from the source of the goods being sent either by air or by sea (as we all know). However, the provisioning companies pull out all stops and this island offers some of the best provisioning services to be found anywhere, with ingredients that come from around the globe. Local agricultural companies are also stepping up to the mark providing fresh produce; accolades are paramount here, as we all know that growing things is not that easy on an island that has no rivers!
Who remembers way back 30 years ago (or so) how milk was shipped to St. Maarten and then transported to the supermarket on the back of an open truck – no refrigeration trucks back then! And when buying a bottle of milk, one always had to sniff for telltale sourness! Who remembers going to a local place, a table set under a tree, to buy fresh pig or goat that had just been slaughtered at said table. Chickens were bought directly from the farm; and the fish (plenty of fish in those days) from the boats pulled up on the shoreline!
Hats off to St. Maarten/St. Martin supermarkets, smaller provisioning stores and local farmers – from the shipping agents to the delivery folk – for the service provided. We are indeed fortunate to be able to procure and offer such an amazing variety of items that keep the yachts coming back to our island!
To the chefs, well done on the miracles you pull off daily. Happy guests, happy chefs.
Baked feta with roasted grapes – Start this the day before.
200g block feta
200g red grapes
2 rosemary sprigs
2 TBL olive oil
Focaccia, to serve
Place two sheets of foil over one another on the work surface.
Position feta in the middle.
Add grapes around it.
Sprinkle with the rosemary broken into smaller sprigs.
Drizzle with olive oil and honey.
Season with black pepper.
Scrunch up the sides and seal the parcel.
Chill until ready to serve.
Heat oven to 400° F.
Bake feta for 30-35 minutes; grapes should have burst and the feta is soft.
Serve with warmed focaccia for dunking.
Chocolate Victoria Sponge – a simple and easy cake to layer with cream and fresh berries – perfect for a celebration. Variation ice with buttercream.
200g golden caster sugar
200g unsalted butter, softened plus extra for the tins
4 large eggs
200g self-raising flour
2 TBL cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 TBL milk
100g chocolate, chopped
200g butter, softened
400g icing sugar
5 TBL cocoa powder
2 TBL milk
Heat oven 375° F.
Butter base and sides of two 20cm round sandwich tins - line bases with baking parchment.
Beat 200g golden caster sugar, 200g softened unsalted butter, 4 large eggs, 200g self-raising flour, 2 TBL cocoa powder, 1 tsp baking powder, ½ tsp vanilla extract, 2 TBL milk and a pinch of salt until pale.
Divide mixture between prepared tins.
Bake 20 minutes – test with skewer.
Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes.
Turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Whip fresh cream till soft peaks form.
Spread a layer between the two cakes.
Top with cream and fresh berries.
Place 100g chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl, melt in microwave, stirring every 30 secs. Leave melted chocolate to cool for 5 mins.
Mash 200g softened butter and 400g icing sugar together with a fork.
Beat with electric whisk till pale.
Sift in 5 TBL cocoa powder, pinch of salt, then pour in melted chocolate and 2 TBL milk.
Mix again until smooth.
Sandwich cakes together with half of the buttercream, spread the rest on top.
Decorate with shaved chocolate and nuts or however you fancy.