Read Mediterranean Summer Online
Authors: David Shalleck
Nathalie made a point to walk the market and survey the stalls before making any of her purchases. During this first pass she would start to plan her menus, based on what caught her eye in the various stalls. She also had a short list of vendors to whom she always gave business: the cheese maker who sold chèvre—goat cheese—in various stages of ripeness; the young fellow of Cambodian heritage who introduced himself as Louie and made endless varieties of
— salami; the couple who sold perfumed herbs and seasonings, had a company called Provence Vie et Santé, and foraged the local hillsides for the aromatics that would compose their different blends of herbes de Provence.
It was the same time of year as when I arrived in Antibes, and I remembered my first glimpse of local agriculture. Perfectly handled, displayed, ripe, and scented produce—peak-season asparagus, artichokes, leeks, strawberries, cherries, and melons—were piled high in pyramids or prepackaged in small crates and wooden baskets. Shiny Mediterranean fish were lined up next to each other on ice tables under colorful makeshift canopies. Bakeries brought different kinds of breads displayed in large wicker baskets lined with traditional Provençal printed fabric, each crust looking crispier than the last. The
vendors with their edifices of cured meats were never shy about offering a sample. And the cheese sellers in their customized trucks had so much variety it was hard to choose.
I’d follow Nathalie through the markets as she looked, sniffed, lightly pressed, and rejected, until she settled on the firmest green vegetables, evenly marbled meats, handcrafted local cheeses, and sun-ripened fruits that had to be consumed within a day or so. She gently handled all of the purchases, paying respect to the hard work of the farmers who nurtured such wonderful foodstuffs and proudly brought them to market for the enjoyment of people looking for quality.
One day, I was immediately drawn to a table covered with piles of white asparagus and purple-tipped artichokes. When I picked up an artichoke, the woman behind the table said, “
Tirez une feuille
.” Nathalie explained that I was being invited to pull a leaf off to see how fresh they were. I obliged. It squeaked when it snapped off.
“I have never seen anything so perfect in my life,” I said, and bought a dozen for us to eat that evening, so tender we ate them raw with Dijon mustard vinaigrette.
“It starts with choice,” Nathalie said as we walked past a table laden with big ceramic crocks full of different varieties and blends of olives. “When the ingredients are optimum, the cooking can be simple.”
It struck me that this same food had been feeding Provençal citizens for hundreds of years.
In just two days, Serenity
was going on a short trip to nearby Cannes and back before dark. This would be the first sea trial with the owners on board—a finish inspection, test of the systems, and check of the sailing apparatus to make sure the rig was set up properly. As we walked past the local produce vendors, I struggled to come up with a menu for that day’s lunch. A slightly heavyset farmer with bold features popping out of a round face topped with a captain’s hat was offering high-quality local produce, mostly different blends of mesclun salad greens, bunches of fresh herbs, and piles of red tomatoes.
” he greeted me. Rick and I wore our gray
polo shirts and dark blue cargo shorts, the working uniform when the owners were not on board that clearly identified us as yacht crew. To this day, I don’t know what made him think I was a chef, but I found myself inwardly pleased that one look at me and he immediately jumped to that assumption. Even if he was just blowing smoke at me in promoting me to chef, he at least saw me as a cook and chef wannabe. He owned a small farm in Biot, he told me, just off the coast behind Antibes. These were his homegrown vegetables. No wonder he displayed so much pride in his wares.
“Look at these zucchini blossoms, perfect for delicious beignets!” he assured me. Crispy beignets. Might be a great idea, but I was not about to deep-fry anything on my first day at sea. Then the farmer directed my attention to a small table covered with tomatoes. “Take this one, go ahead, feel it. In one day, they’ll be perfect for salad.” It was late spring, and his vegetables were bursting in color. “
”—come here—“look at this beautiful early-season green garlic.”
I was so locked onto thinking about what I would be preparing for that first lunch at sea that I was barely able to follow his stream of chatter. I reminded myself what a friend of mine, a chef in San Francisco, once said to me: “Whenever you find yourself in a can’t-fail situation, do what you know!”
I thought of a
a Provençal dish made with poached salt cod and periwinkles served with an assortment of cooked, usually boiled, vegetables and aioli—a heady garlic mayonnaise. It’s a pretty rustic dish, so I decided to do a slight variation. I’d make the aioli much more subtle by using the young green garlic before the bulb starts to form, thrice blanched, and local extra virgin olive oil. And by making it a day ahead would give the flavors a chance to fully bloom. In lieu of the cod and snails, I could poach some nice fish fillets like
a popular rockfish found in the Mediterranean, along with some shrimp. Then I’d arrange small new potatoes, tender leeks, green beans, and a few hard-cooked eggs for tradition around a bowl of the aioli. I’d offer another platter with sliced tomatoes and a cluster of lightly dressed field greens. To finish, tart and juicy strawberries, crunchy deep red cherries,
—a Provençal confection made with almond paste—and maybe some madeleines, too. This should keep the folks in the cockpit happy on this first day under sail and give me a chance to get used to serving meals on platters.
Not knowing exactly how many guests would be on board worried me, and I found myself thinking back to a small piece of culinary lore that Jacques, the proprietor of the inn in Provence where Nathalie arranged for us to cook, used to recite to me: “However many people you must feed, always add a portion for the
”—the shepherd—“who may pass by.” While we weren’t going to be running into any shepherds on the Mediterranean Sea, prudence told me that in my first chance to flash my skills to the owners, I couldn’t risk not having enough food. With three confirmed guests and a possible fourth, I took Jacques’s advice and doubled it, meaning that I would prepare enough for six.
For the crew, meat-filled ravioli tossed with great French butter, Parmesan, and a few turns of black pepper. A small variety of sliced meats from the charcuterie, some cheeses, baguettes for sandwiches, and, for local flavor, a celery root salad made with a creamy dressing using some of the aioli. This would add some heft to the meal and provide the deckhands with needed carbohydrates. Fresh fruits would be an easy finish, and Kevin, Scott, Ian, and Nigel—the commonwealth contingent—had already told me they wanted tea and English Hob Nob biscuits to finish their meals, especially at lunch.
I worked through the crowd, selected the items I wanted, waited to have them weighed, pulled a wad of cash out of my pocket, did the transaction, and moved on. It was going to be a pleasure having this market minutes from my galley. Rick was sitting on a vegetable crate watching the world go by, at least the female half, and for a brief moment I thought about telling him how relieved I was to have gotten so much done. But I held back, knowing that any sign of showing I was ahead of schedule might invite another hard-sell pitch to hit the Cap.
Rick and I turned down a pedestrian-only side street lined with
cheese shop; an
spice shop; a rotisserie; and one shop I expected I would need often. Called La Boîte à Pâtes—the Box of Pasta—it was an Italian-inspired food shop run by a young and enterprising French couple. I could get the ravioli here, and this would become my resource for many Italian ingredients when in Antibes.
I had to admit I was off to a good start. Although the overall provisioning would take a couple of weeks, I had enough on hand to make my galley a working kitchen. Once back at the boat, I lounged on the foredeck with Rick for a few minutes before going below to set up the galley. I looked around at the boxes and bags of pots, pans, small wares, and food spread out around the crew way and began to figure out where to put everything. I wanted to get started with my prep work before sea trial day. Rick joked at my meticulousness but knew he would soon have to be working just as diligently. Well,
as diligently. He took one look at the rest of the crew working on the rigging and decided he didn’t want to be spotted and pressed into service. Making himself as small and inconspicuous as possible, he sneaked aft along the scuppers, down the
and onto the quay, no doubt off to the beach.
Saturday morning came,
and Michele arrived early. He called a quick meeting with the crew at the mess table. His tone was all business.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” he said. “The boat looks beautiful, and everyone has done a great job. The owners are very proud and are looking forward to a grand inaugural season. As you know, we have a strong presence in Europe. It is very important that you understand how to act since you are their representatives onshore. There is a code of ethics that you must follow so that we can enjoy what working on
is all about.” He proceeded to list his rules and made clear there was no room for discussion or debate:
Always remember as crew, we represent the owners.
When onshore, do not mention the owners’ names publicly.
Any display of the boat’s name in public is to be respected as an extension of the boat.
Be aware of how to act onshore whether on boat time or personal time.
Be aware of personal hygiene; that is, stay clean and shaved.
Respect your fellow crew members and those on other boats.
Anyone that is discovered to have taken any kind of payment for information about the owners or the boat will be fired immediately.
“Does everyone understand?” he asked rhetorically. Everyone nodded. “Thank you and have a great season.”
At precisely nine o’clock, as scheduled, the owners’ helicopter arrived, circling a couple of times at low altitude before landing on the roof of the yacht club, not far from our berth. The entrance was exhilarating, and they made the door-to
transit look easy. Even though this was an “informal” visit, everyone seemed a little stressed and guarded. Patrick received the owners when they came up the
as if he were the captain of the
It felt like we had dignitaries on board. Only Rick seemed perfectly calm.
were very much at ease when they stepped on board. Judging by their casual dress—she in a just-above-the-knee skirt and a colorful printed silk blouse, he in pleated slacks and an open-collar button-down shirt—they looked as if they had casually boarded the helicopter in their backyard. Later in the day, Patrick told me that was indeed how they traveled. Michele greeted them on the aft deck as they removed their shoes. They were all smiles as they looked up the masts and around the deck, gazing at the restored brilliance of their new acquisition.
came up to every crew member to shake his hand, but
didn’t stray too far from the cockpit at the outset, saying, “
” to everyone from the distance while getting herself settled in. I hadn’t seen them since the interview, and I was hoping that she would approach me and ask how it was going, find out if the galley was going to be sufficient, and ask if I had everything I needed. But there was none of that. This sea trial was not only a test for the boat and crew; it was also the first time my new employers would taste my food. And I needed her confidence since I felt I had to prove she made a good hire. More so, I had put it upon myself to show there
good cooks from America, something many Italians I had met over the years found hard to believe. This second-guessing and insecurity kept me from approaching her, and as a result I found myself walking on eggshells.
The day became an education for everybody. From what Patrick, Kevin, and Scott said, everything seemed to be functioning properly as we sailed gently in a light wind. They tried to have all the work finished before the owners arrived, but there was still some tweaking to be done in the rig. My job description might have been cook, but it was quickly made clear that everyone’s first obligation was to help keep the boat afloat and operating, especially during docking procedures, sailing maneuvers, and if we, or the boat, faced any possible trouble. I realized quickly that working on a sailing yacht with a small crew meant double duty for the cook.
Up on deck, Kevin had his own ideas about assigning tasks while we were under way in the marina, including inflating huge fenders with an air compressor that protected the hull if we bumped into neighboring yachts when leaving and returning to our slip. Once beyond the breakwater, I was introduced to
’s new Dacron sail wardrobe—the huge mainsail aft, the foresail that filled the space between the masts, then the headsails, including the staysail just forward and the upper and lower jibs that were rigged at the very front of the boat, creating a sail area that covered about five thousand square feet—and learned the systems for untying, changing, and handling most of the sails while under way, then flaking and storing them. Patrick, the ultimate authority, indicated how lines were to be coiled and stowed—down to which knots were to be used where. A few of them were easy to remember since they were exactly the same as ones I used for tying meats and fowl before roasting.