Who is your food hero: My Nan
What three ingredients could you not live without: Salt (obviously), lemons and a great quality sherry vinegar. I’m also a chilli addict.
Three favourite cookbooks and why: I love all of the River Café cookbooks – Ruth and Rose’s approach to treating great ingredients with maximum respect and minimal fuss really resonates with me. My most used cookbook at home is Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice because I love the fiery flavours of Sichuan food and the way that Chinese cooking tends to use meat as a way to season vegetables rather than it being a centrepiece itself. Nigel Slater’s Tender was the first cookbook I truly loved. Before I was a chef I read it cover to cover so many times. I love his aesthetic approach to feeding yourself – like every meal has its own narrative.
What three kitchen gadgets could you not live without? I LOVE my Thermomix. I use it several times a day – it’s my sous chef. Custard is my favourite liquid (yes, more than wine) and the Thermomix makes it so easy. Equally important are my knives. I’ve amassed a small armoury of Japanese knives over the years and each one has a special place in my heart. As an unashamed Harry Potter fan, knife shopping always reminds me of the scene when Harry buys his magic wand. And yes, the knife does choose the chef. Thirdly, I could not live without several different sized maurices or rubber spatulas. Food waste is a crime and these are on the front line of preventing it.
What piece of equipment should every yacht have in the galley? I’m team Pacojet. Is there anything better than freshly spun ice cream in any flavour you can dream of? Eating ice cream leftovers is what gets me through those busy charters.
Most overrated ingredients: I don’t like using flour to thicken sauces.
Most under-rated ingredients: Great quality vinegars are such a game changer. I also really love to keep rendered chicken fat and bacon fat to use to dress veggies or to cook croutons in.
Most popular or requested dish by a guest: My fresh pasta always goes down a treat. And I do love getting imaginative with lunchtime salads.
If you were a guest on a yacht who would you want to cook for you and why? I’d probably recruit a supergroup of chefs from my last restaurant, Artusi, because I know their food is banging and we’d have a great post-service party.
What music do you listen to in the galley and why? Radio 4 in the morning for my news and current affairs fix, disco and northern soul in the afternoons and UK garage for clean down.
Best Galley tip/hack: Cooking a big batch of mirepoix veg every few days. I’m a strong believer that you should never rush your onions and staying ahead means you never have to. Also, having a big old organise before provisioning is a sanity-saver.
What is the most difficult location you have ever had to provision in and what bit of advice can you give to figure out where to go? My first ever chef job was on a sailing yacht in the Caribbean and some of those islands were very challenging. I think the most important thing is to adapt your menu to the produce rather than trying to force it the other way around. If it hasn’t been flown half way across the world then it will taste much better.
What is the hardest part of your job? Probably being away from friends and family back home. I also miss having a kitchen team to bounce ideas with and to share the kitchen delirium with during busy periods.
What do you see as being the biggest challenge for chefs in the industry moving forward? It’s not specific to yachting but he health of our soil is something that worries me a lot. Luckily, we are starting to see more farmers working regeneratively but it’s difficult to provision responsibly when you’re moving around a lot on a yacht.
What would you say to people who stereotype chefs as being prima donnas with big egos? I’ve been really lucky and have only worked with really lovely chefs. I think if you care about your work and are keen to learn then you tend to get treated with respect.
What is your attitude to crew with dietary requirements? I’m happy to cater for dietary requirements and will always try my best to cater even for likes and dislikes of crew on board. I just also expect a little leeway in return during busy charter periods. Fairweather vegans can stay on the dock though!
What is the weirdest most bizarre thing you have been asked to cook? In the past I’ve had stewardesses bring down guests’ phones with Instagram pictures of random dishes they want me to recreate there and then which was pretty odd. My old boss used to insist on having burnt toast every morning.
Name something you have cooked for guests that you are most proud of? Probably myfirst ever meal I cooked as a professional chef which was Christmas dinner for charter guests in St Lucia. It was a bit of a baptism of fire as I was totally green and had never even cooked Christmas dinner for family before, let alone paying guests but my roast potatoes turned out great and it felt like a great way to launch my career. I did smuggle in a Marks and Spencer’s Christmas pudding in my luggage though!
When you are interviewing a chef to work for you, how do you know if they are any good? For me, attitude and personality are so much more important than experience or skills. You can teach anyone how to cook but you can’t teach them to care about food or to love to feed people. Also, I’ve only ever worked in small kitchens so standing next to someone you can have a laugh with is essential for morale.
What one thing can chefs do to limit food wastage? Plan your menus around what needs eating first. The Head Chef on my last yacht used to call it “rotting menus” which really tickled me.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you want to be? It’s a weird one but I always think I’d enjoy being a midwife if I stopped loving being a chef. Normally I’m an unemotional person but the miracle of birth gets me every time.
Name: Emily Sansom
Years’ experience as a chef: 9 years