Superyacht chefs bring Asian flavours on board

South­east Asia based superyacht chefs take a crack at lo­cal del­i­ca­cies while en­ter­tain­ing high net worth guests from around the world.

The Peak (Hong Kong) - - Lifestyle - STORY RYAN SWIFT

Char­ter a superyacht in the Mediter­ranean, and you’ll get a spec­tac­u­lar din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, cre­ated by top-tier chefs who have ac­cess to rel­a­tively small, but fully equipped kitchens. They’ll pre­pare fan­tas­tic Mediter­ranean cui­sine, to be sure. But char­ter a superyacht in South­east Asia, and you’re likely to en­counter some­thing quite dif­fer­ent: western chefs ex­plor­ing the wild tastes to be found in lo­cal South­east Asian wet mar­kets.

“I im­merse my­self in the lo­cal cui­sine when I ar­rive in a coun­try and look for tra­di­tional recipes for that area,” says Emma Shel­tron, the chef aboard the sail­ing superyacht Bliss, which is on char­ter in South­east Asia via Burgess. “Of­ten, I’ll go in a lo­cal restau­rant and ask to watch what they’re do­ing, and learn from them.”

Su­pery­achts of­fer their own­ers and char­ter guests the lo­cal fla­vor of re­mote beaches and is­lands – des­ti­na­tions that are of­ten far off the beaten track and out of range from lux­u­ri­ous ac­com­mo­da­tion. But with the help of an en­ter­pris­ing on­board chef, equipped with the lat­est kitchen tech, guests can still en­joy fives­tar din­ing off the back of the yacht.

For the western chefs who find them­selves working on char­ter yachts in South­east Asia, the dis­cov­ery process of­ten yields some tan­ta­lizs­ing de­lights us­ing in­gre­di­ents rang­ing from in­sects to ex­otic fruits.

Bliss, the 37-me­tre sail­ing yacht, has spent most of its time cruis­ing from Phuket to Bali and ac­cord­ing to Shel­tron, the on­board spe­cial­ties she’s cre­ated have re­flected the places and faces she’s met along the way. Among them are tra­di­tional Thai dishes, sal­ads made with the huge va­ri­ety of trop­i­cal spices and fruits, dishes fea­tur­ing all man­ner of mar­ket-bought shrimp pastes and of course, an Indonesian Sam­bal (hot sauce), which Shel­tron learned how to make while vis­it­ing a lo­cal is­land.

“Since cruis­ing Asia, my style has most def­i­nitely changed,” says Grant Bent­ley, chef aboard the 60-me­tre pri­vate yacht, Event, re­port­edly owned by Ever­grande Real Es­tate chair­man Xu Ji­ayin. Bent­ley has worked in restau­rants since age 15, with time spent in Miche­lin starred kitchens of Gor­don Ram­sey, Al­bert and Michel Roux, and Michael Caines MBE. “Fresh­ness of in­gre­di­ents is fore­most here, which is good for a chef be­cause you can let the in­gre­di­ents shine with­out mask­ing them with heavy sauces. I took in­spi­ra­tion from the use of umami, cre­at­ing a whole new depth of fla­vor.” Bent­ley says that he was trained in clas­sic French cook­ing style, with a reliance but­ter and heavy sauces, but that cook­ing has moved to lighter, health­ier fare, which suits his ex­pe­ri­ences in South­east Asia.

An­other adapted treat is in­sect-based food. Shel­tron says such dishes are more com­monly found in Thai­land and though not for ev­ery­one, worth a try at least once. For Chef Richard El­don, who runs the kitchens aboard the 58-me­tre clas­sic mo­tor yacht Mar­ala (built 1931) and the 50-me­tre North­ern Sun for the same owner, be­ing a superyacht chef in Asia meant get­ting back to Asian cook­ing af­ter nearly 25 years away.

That reac­quain­tance has meant some rather ex­otic dishes passed from El­don’s gal­ley. “For the more ad­ven­tur­ous, I have found sand worms south­ern curry, bub­ble sea­weed with nam jim, south­ern sour curry soup and horse­shoe crab egg salad. Other del­i­ca­cies might in­clude wood cock­roaches used in mush­room soup, small worms used in mango salad, cook­ing in bam­boo as well as sil­ver ear mush­room salad.”

While superyacht chefs are able to come up with pretty much any­thing, most guests, es­pe­cially from western coun­tries, keep to the com­fort food. “Most of our clients re­quest Thai food, or (food from) the

re­gion we are sail­ing in. I adapt to all the guests’ needs when nec­es­sary, but hope­fully they still come away with an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the food,” says El­don. “Most of our clients are con­cerned with di­ets, so I tend to do healthy food as a rule,” says the Bri­tish-cana­dian chef.

For Shel­tron, her Thai clients will want Thai food, which suits her. For clients from the rest of the world, it can be a rather mixed bag of re­quests. “For western clients in South­east Asia, I al­ways have a day dur­ing a char­ter where I will pre­pare dishes from the re­gion we are in. This way, they are able to sam­ple the lo­cal cui­sine. Of­ten, I just put a lit­tle less chili in.”

Chef Bent­ley says that some of his new fa­vorite in­gre­di­ents are man­tis shrimp (“beau­ti­ful texture and sweet flesh”), chou dofu (stinky tofu) and sea cu­cum­ber. Dried in­gre­di­ents were an­other big dis­cov­ery: “I find the use of dried in­gre­di­ents in Chi­nese cui­sine fas­ci­nat­ing – my per­sonal fa­vorite is to make an Oil from Dried shrimp which I then use to cook all my seafood – de­li­cious!”

For chefs of all stripes aboard su­pery­achts, sourc­ing is the big chal­lenge and of­ten a fun part of the job. While su­pery­achts sta­tioned in the Mediter­ranean have a host of ready-to-go food sup­pli­ers (of­ten found in the pages of a superyacht sup­plier phone book), in South­east Asia, chefs par­tic­i­pate in the ebb and flow of daily life at the vil­lage level.

Uk-born Shel­tron says she al­ways goes to lo­cal mar­kets, when­ever she is on­board a yacht in the re­gion. De­pend­ing on the lo­ca­tion of the superyacht, the mar­ket could be on a tiny Indonesian is­land that has just a few hun­dred in­hab­i­tants, “who gather their pro­duce once a week,” or the large wet mar­kets of Sin­ga­pore. “One of the best ex­pe­ri­ences I had was in Sorong, West Pa­pua New Guinea, be­fore trav­el­ling to Raja Am­pat for a char­ter. I pro­vi­sioned at the lo­cal mar­ket and I will al­ways re­mem­ber the look of joy on peo­ples’ faces as I ques­tioned them on what all these ex­otic look­ing fish and veg­eta­bles were and how to cook them, mainly us­ing sign lan­guage.”

For El­don, each mar­ket has its own sur­prises, but Pa­tong Mar­ket in Phuket is rec­om­mended for fresh seafood. The at­mo­spher­ics of the main mar­ket in Yan­gon, Myan­mar is also a fa­vorite. “I feel like I’m in a movie set, and it’s the peo­ple I meet at the mar­kets that I par­tic­u­larly love. You meet some real char­ac­ters.”

Fresh seafood is a sta­ple of the best in South­east Asian food, and so find­ing the best sources of fish be­comes a big part of a superyacht chef in the re­gion. Chef El­don reck­ons the best place to buy your fish (pro­vided you’re not fish­ing your­self) is straight off a fish­ing boat in the An­daman Sea.

For Shel­tron, the best place for fish was an “in­cred­i­ble” fish mar­ket in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. “I got up at 4am and went with the cap­tain to ex­plore. I thought I had ar­rived there early, but most peo­ple had


– Emma Shel­tron

been there all night long,” she re­calls. The boats were ar­riv­ing and un­load­ing at the mar­ket. “When fish is that fresh, there is no smell, the eyes are shiny and the flesh is firm. That’s when you know you are at a good fish mar­ket.”

Superyacht chefs are the key to a suc­cess­ful char­ter ex­pe­ri­ence, yet they can also be the most dif­fi­cult place on the superyacht to fill, says Liz To, Asia-pa­cific rep­re­sen­ta­tive for YPI Group, a superyacht char­ter agency. It’s a very per­sonal thing – chefs are re­quired to do top-level hands-on work, where their land-based equiv­a­lents will be run­ning kitchens staffed with a team. Yet, if chefs en­joy the hands on side of things, the al­lure of per­son­al­ized ser­vice in an ex­otic lo­ca­tion is enough to over­come be­ing away from friends or fam­ily.

On­board Event, Chef Bent­ley has ac­cess to a walk-in fridge and walk-in freezer, large dry stor­age space and a big gal­ley. “Com­ing from a restau­rant back­ground, where I am used to run­ning large teams in big es­tab­lish­ments, this is a nice change as it means I get to con­cen­trate a lot more on the cook­ing than I do the run­ning of a kitchen,” he says. For Bent­ley, be­ing a superyacht chef means be­ing able to push bound­aries, rather than hav­ing to push dishes out the door. “My fa­vorite part of be­ing a superyacht chef is the flex­i­bil­ity and the pro­duce. There are no bud­get con­straints and there is no com­pro­mise in qual­ity. Us­ing the best qual­ity pro­duce in all as­pects of my dishes makes my work more of a hobby than a job.”

It may also be that own­ers will come to trust a chef so much that they will do any­thing to keep a chef. Closer to home in Hong Kong, chef Kai Lui Wing, has been working on su­pery­achts for years, for the owner of a 40-me­tre Sun­seeker and Fead­ship Moon Sand. Re­cruited from leg­endary Hong Kong restau­rant Jimmy’s Kitchen, Kai spent years build­ing up trust with the yacht owner. In the first two years, Kai was only sta­tioned on the superyacht, but later found him­self be­ing called on to do the cater­ing at pri­vate house par­ties.

Kai reck­ons that Hong Kong chefs are bet­ter suited to working in a gal­ley aboard a yacht, as their work in restau­rants is of­ten in equally tight (if not tighter) con­di­tions.

When Kai goes sourc­ing in Hong Kong, his yachts stay in Hong Kong wa­ters, his pre­ferred spots are Sai Kung wet mar­ket ( best seafood) or for more un­usual in­gre­di­ents, the Ap Lei Chau wet mar­ket, next to the Tin Hau Tem­ple. On the ground floor, you can buy the fish, and then go up to the first floor restau­rant where ev­ery­thing is pre­pared. It is, he says, a se­cret fa­vorite among the “yachtie” crowd in Hong Kong.

So the next time you’re out on a superyacht char­ter in South­east Asia, be sure to see what your chef has found at the lo­cal mar­ket, and pair it with a nice wine. It might be spicy.

01 Superyacht Bliss at an­chor in Tahiti

02 The Gal­ley aboard Bliss.

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