Fine Dining Afloat

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 17th June 2005.

Many years ago, when I was young, my parents chartered a little cabin cruiser at Tarbert, on Loch Fyne. We arrived in lashing rain to find that the boat was old and hopelessly equipped, and by supper we were hungry and fed up. My mother could only find a battered pan in which to cook, but the fish stew that she rustled up, using seafood bought directly from the trawlers on Tarbert’s quay, seemed the most delicious meal we had ever eaten, and the memory of it lingers even now.

Since those distant days, I’m happy to report, the vessels on which I spend my leisure time have improved out of hand, though one thing remains unchanged: good cooking afloat tastes sensational and great cooking tastes out of this world. And if you charter a Nigel Burgess yacht, the finest dining in the most sensational locations – and lasting memories – are assured.

Take my cruise in the Mediterranean aboard Mosaique, and in particular the day that the luxury motor yacht’s chef, John Harris, proudly shared his gleaming stainless steel galley with a culinary lion: Eric Chavot, head chef at London’s Capital Hotel, ennobled with two Michelin stars, who had flown in, courtesy of Nigel Burgess’s concierge service, to create a special celebration lunch for Mosaique’s guests. A feeling of blissful contentment stole over me as I basked in the noonday heat on Mosaique’s fabulous sun deck, idly twirling a flute of Gosset Célèbris 1998 Rosé Champagne in my hand while I watched Matt Wilkins, head sommelier at the Capital, decant the bottle of Sassicaia 2002 we were to have with our lunch. Somewhere beneath us, our celebrity chef was at work in the galley, whipping up a symphony of Mediterranean flavours at lightning speed.

First Eric needed to do the shopping, and he was happy for guests to join him early that morning in old Nice’s atmospheric Cours Saleya markets. A native of Juan-les-Pins, he was in his element. A lean fellow in baggy cut-offs and sunglasses, he darted about, sniffing, prodding, chatting. He quickly sussed the best stalls and picked out fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, preferring red mullet to the tuna on offer for his wonderfully inventive take on Salade Niçoise. When lunch was announced, we descended expectantly from the sun deck to the beautifully laid table, strewn with flowers and coloured gemstones. We were not disappointed: Eric’s food, every mouthful, was a triumph.

Where else but on a superyacht can you summon, should you wish, a superchef and a master sommelier for a special occasion? And where else but on a superyacht can you eat so brilliantly, diversely, memorably every single day of your holiday? A yacht charter offers the rare opportunity to be served by a talented chef dedicated solely to your palate and that of your companions. Whether it’s Marmite you want aboard, or your favourite caviar, it shall be done. Your culinary preferences are mapped out in advance, and fine-tuned with you by the chef and chief stewardess when you arrive. As for wine, Nigel Burgess has a comprehensive selection of fine and table wines from which you can choose, or you can order your personal favourites.

Flexibility is the key. These chefs are unfazed by sudden changes of plan, whether it’s throwing together a gourmet picnic for you to take to a tiny paradise island you’ve just spied in the Bahamas, or catering for friends you’ve invited to join you on board at the last minute in St Tropez. And they are adept at creating menus from whatever ingredients are best and freshest in the market that day, be it langoustines served with a pungent aioli in Cap Ferrat, or a whole snapper baked in rock salt in St Barths. And when it comes to more challenging culinary areas, such as Croatia, the chefs’ inventiveness and varied repertoire (Australian and British cooks stand out) come into play. John Harris’s dry store on Mosaique, filled with exotic and hard-to-obtain ingredients culled from his two circumnavigations of the globe, was the envy of Eric Chavot.

And variety. How else could you dine, each night, in a different meltingly lovely location? How else could you retire to the same stateroom and awake in the morning to a fresh view? Watch the sun rise, then take a seat at the breakfast table temptingly laid with starched napkins, freshly baked rolls, juices squeezed from exotic local fruits, and pots of aromatic coffee. A word from the steward and you might discover a new taste from the morning market or settle for the familiar flavours of home.

“I feel so proud at the end of a season” says John Harris ,“that I manage not just to deliver expectations to my guests, but to exceed them”. And I feel proud to have been part of the Nigel Burgess experience. As I said, it’s a long way from that old cruiser on Loch Fyne.

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