What size is your kitchen?
My kitchen, or galley as it is called on a boat, is about 35 square feet. That may sound small, but it is efficiently laid out which helps with keeping it organized. Speaking of small, I’ve actually lived in apartments with smaller kitchens in New York City! Manhattan is not known for spacious apartments and large kitchens.
I find the real challenge to cooking on a sailboat is the size of the fridge. The fridge is not your standard, full size fridge, rather a compact fridge that would fit better in a college dorm room! The advantage to a small fridge though, is that it requires one to shop more often, keeping ingredients fresh. It’s like the European way of food shopping.
What type of cooking utensils do you use?
Obviously with space being at a premium on a sailboat, it is a constant struggle to find the balance between having enough cooking utensils and cookware to prepare the meals I like to cook, but also not to overwhelm the boat when I like to go sailing. One of the rules I set for myself early on was that everything in the kitchen should be able to be put away, or stowed safely, within 15 minutes. After all, the purpose of a sailboat is to sail, which besides cooking is one of my other passions. That requires some thought into minimizing the type of cooking items which will not clutter counter-tops.
Food processors and standing blenders are out, but a compact immersion blender is fine. A jar or crock full of wooden spoons, spatulas, potato mashers, zesters, etc is also out. I have one drawer for all my kitchen utensils, so I think very carefully on what utensils I will actually use on a regular basis. Potato masher? Not necessary, as a large fork or slotted spoon makes a great substitute. Cheese grater, zester and garlic/ginger masher? I have one compact multi-grater that combine all three. I do not skimp on good knives though, and I happen to like Global knives in a functional knife block. It’s just one of the few things I put away when I go sailing.
What is it like cooking when you’re sailing?
Ah, good question! At times its like cooking in a regular kitchen – at least when the boat is sailing flat. But, sailboats often sail at an angle (heel) when they sail, so it can be real challenge to cook when the floor and counters are at a 20-30 degree angle. At least the stove – because it’s gimbaled – stays horizontal or level.
I do have to admit though, that the physical concept of mise en place is difficult without a level counter-space. Having bowls with rubber rings on the bottom helps, but there have been a time or two when things have gone flying! Being creative and flexible with prep is really important, and sometimes prep is best done early while the seas are calm or even at the dock before heading out. Then again, people have been known to sit on the floor with a bowl in their hands while mixing the ingredients for meatloaf.
But, as challenging as it can be cooking on a sailboat, there is nothing like having a delicious, hot cooked meal in the evening while you’re chasing the sunset.
What’s the worst meal you’ve cooked?
You want me to answer that question? Well, the worst was probably freeze-dried cod and potatoes that had a best before date from seven years earlier. It was just awful! Why did I eat it? Freeze dried food can last more than a decade after the date, although the taste may go bland. When I sail by myself (single-handed), I find it safer and easier to quickly boil water and put it in a pouch of food, then spend time down below in the galley cooking a hot meal. Being inside the boat while sailing means you cannot maintain a proper lookout for other boats or other things that could pose a risk of collision.
Other than that awful cod and potatos, the worst dish I made from scratch was probably my first attempt at pommes duchesse. I didn’t have a large star tip for the piping bag, so I just squeezed it out in the obligatory spiral. When it came out of the oven, the shape looked … how shall I say this delicately … like something my dog left behind on her daily walks. Not pretty! On top of that, I was way too heavy on the egg wash, and those steaming pile of, er, potatoes had a really strong eggy taste.
What’s your favorite dish?
Hmm… I don’t think I have a favorite, but there are several dishes I really, really enjoy! For breakfast it is a morel and ramp omelet, with migas a (semi-) close second. For dinner, it depends on my mood, but a traditional pot roast with Yorkshire pudding is tough to beat. Perhaps it’s the nostalgia of growing up with that as a Sunday dinner. Slow cooked chicken in coconut milk with lemongrass over a bed of jasmine rice definitely rates as one of my favorites. So does shabu shabu. As for dessert, well, I am from Western Canada, so hands down it would be Nanaimo bars. So decadent, but so good.
Have you received any cooking awards?
I don’t know if this counts, but I was awarded the prestigious Cook’s Plate one year on the Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race. It is a prize given to the cook on the last boat to finish the race. Presumably it’s an award, or consolation prize, for the cook who has to work the longest. Sadly, it has nothing to do with the quality of the meals.