Imagine this routine: Rise at 5 a.m., begin baking in a galley barely big enough for just you, prepare breakfast for two young children and five crewmembers, clean up, entertain the kids until the owners awake, make their breakfast, clean up, start the crew’s lunch, make the kids’ lunch, clean up, prepare the owners’ lunch, clean up, bake nibbles for the afternoon, clean up, cook the crew’s dinner, make the kids’ dinner, clean up, prepare the owners’ dinner, do one more clean of the galley, then go to bed shortly before midnight… only to start it all over again tomorrow. And oh, yes, the vessel that is simultaneously your home and your workplace is a 130-foot, magnificently decorated megayacht, the only floating craft you’ve ever been on besides a kayak. And when you take the job, you’re not even sure if you get seasick.
Thus began Victoria Allman’s life as a chef aboard a yacht. And she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Allman relates this and other stories in Sea Fare: A Chef’s Journey Across the Ocean. Part autobiography, part travelogue, and part cookbook, Sea Fare is an engaging look at how this self-described stubborn and adventurous young woman from Washago, Canada (just north of Toronto) landed work aboard yachts and learned to adapt to the yachting lifestyle. Already confident in her cooking skills thanks to a stint at the River Cafe, a famous restaurant in Calgary, Allman sets off for the yachting capital of the world, Fort Lauderdale, and immediately gets hired aboard Pari, the 130-footer mentioned above. From figuring out how to provision for a three weeks’ trip around the Bahamas, where no produce would be available, to adapting to selective palates, Allman becomes a quick study. She also quickly falls in love with the lifestyle and learns the lessons many a yacht chef has – like how it actually is possible to make multiple meals over the course of three weeks without the bread and rolls she’d bought ahead of time, seeing as they got squished by rolling and shifting cupboard contents on a rough passage.
In between taking readers along on her first-ever trips to cities as close as Savannah, Georgia, to countries as far as Vietnam, Allman offers up 30 recipes that will leave you wiping the drool from the pages of the book. If her Caribbean spiced pork, shrimp with haricot vert salad, lobster tacos, and fish with cashew paste (above) don’t tempt your palate, I defy you to read the ingredients list for her chocolate lime rum cake (below) and not make a break for your local supermarket.
Of course, not everything Allman experiences goes perfectly. Her first night in the Bahamas, for example, she’s stung head to toe by jellyfish. Another time, on another yacht in Papua New Guinea, she and her fellow crewmembers are practically dined on themselves by mosquitoes, have to navigate a river with shifting currents and varying depths without any charts, and find river sand and silt constantly being sucked up into the engines. “Each night we felt like we were in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” she writes, as they were concerned about locals trying to board the boat.