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altIn the ongoing and fabled fight for truth, justice and a better life for yachtsmen, Galley Guys recently had the opportunity to be in St. Maarten and to enjoy a great culinary delight – a catered dinner aboard a Swan 48, in one of the nicest settings imaginable.

The word “catered” on one hand – implies that the food is prepared, packed up, and delivered warm or cold, to a social engagement, more often than not – a bit of a compromise. This would however be a catered event with a difference. And while we were guests on the Dutch side of the island, it would take a decidedly French twist.

The boat in question was our home-on-the-water during the running of the ever-popular 28th St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. The owner Hank Schmitt had graciously afforded us passage aboard Avocation in the Round the Island race, just a day or two before. The Swan 48 is a 1997 Frers-design particularly noted for her blue water capabilities. Our racing experience aboard Avocation was nothing short of exhilarating.

“Post-race”, the Galley Guys considered some of the traditional ways of saying “thank you” for the opportunity afforded us, yet none seemed quite original enough.

Then a plan was struck. Quite simply – the Galley Guys would endeavor to arrange an onboard dinner experience for a group of four that would rival our racing experience. The dinner guests were confirmed, the Galley Guys, the boat’s owner Hank and Todd Willis a crew member/yacht broker from Huntington, New York.

So in the international spirit of St.Maarten – the gastronomical capital of the Caribbean, we contacted a highly regarded local classically trained French Chef – who we would welcome aboard to prepare a beautiful dinner for our team.

The Ultimate Galley Guy?

Chef Laurent Conte might actually be The Ultimate Galley Guy. He studied at a culinary school in the east of France, and then spent several years in England working with European chefs in the finest luxury hotels. More to the point though – he further perfected his skills while working aboard the Queen Elizabeth II. What a thrill it would be to have an actual chef from aboard The Queen Elizabeth II at our service. Indeed, in time, it would be revealed that Chef Laurent is a real Galley Guy’s Galley Guy if ever there was one! A few quick calls, a few short e-mails and just two days in advance, we worked out a menu plan for what can only be described as a modest budget. Together we decided on a menu that showcased some of his unique dishes and his unrivalled skill.

So with visions of re-heating pre-prepared dishes that he would bring along – we asked him about his needs for the galley. “Would one small oven be adequate?” “Could he bring his own utensils?” “Would we insult him if we used the plastic plates on board?”

Laurent’s answer was simple, “one small surface and a stove that works”, he said. He would take care of everything else, just as long as he had those two things. To our surprise and delight, his plan was to cook everything on the spot from scratch, using only the finest ingredients available on the island. Wow!

Fast forward to two days later, and with the official meet and greet out of the way – we walked through the gates and down the dock with Chef Laurent, into the Simpson Bay Marina and headed for the boat. Everything he needed was packed in one medium-sized cooler on wheels. Simple.

Once aboard we decided that the setting sun would make “on-deck” the perfect setting for our meal. Chef Laurent disappeared below deck – and decried “it’s perfect yes - this galley will do just fine!”

Then the magic started – and the tantalizing menu was put into play:

Chorizo melon dried tomatoes brochettes

Salad with fresh herbs, nuts, crispy bacon wrapped sea scallops and sun-dried tomatoes.

Sea Bass with ginger /orange sauce

Vanilla panacotta with a raspberry coulis

There’s something about an intimate gathering on deck, in the setting sun of the Caribbean enjoying a post-regatta meal that just seems so right! After enjoying a couple of the aforementioned Heineken’s, we popped the cork on a delicious white wine, a 2005 Chablis Les Vieilles Vignes. This white wine from the burgundy region is quiet on the nose, light and simple on the palate but with a nice mineral/acid streak. Glass in hand it was also about the time we sank into the comfortable cockpit for good - and traded stories of the regatta and our time on the island.

Within minutes it seemed the appetizers were handed up to the cockpit – artfully presented, the Chorizo, melon and sun-dried tomato brochettes were an instant hit! In cooking terms, en brochette refers to food prepared, and sometimes served, on brochettes, or skewers.

Paired with the Chablis, the combined flavour of the melon, sun-dried tomato and the gentle heat of the Chorizo sausage, this was shaping up to be an event to remember. Chef Laurent works with a local wine and vegetable merchant who suggested the pairing. Throughout, Chef Laurent demonstrated great flair in finding the best recipes and ingredients for our event, and mentioned that while great products are available island-wide, much of his shopping is done on the Dutch side of the island.

Then it was onward to the next delightful dish – the salad with fresh herbs and nuts. This salad combined the fresh taste of beautiful greens, with candied nuts and sun-dried tomato. Oh yes – and it featured the timeless classic “match made in heaven”, bacon wrapped fresh sea scallops.

The main course was nearly ready as we finished our gourmet salads – sea bass with ginger/orange sauce and fresh market vegetables. The vegetables included root veggies, carrots, asparagus and the most remarkable small yellow and green zucchinis that we’ve ever seen. The fish was as fresh as one could ever hope for, beautiful in colour and delicate in both taste and texture. Sea bass is a firm fish, dense and slightly oily, with a clean sweet taste and melt-in-your-mouth texture. Add to that a Riesling "Les Murailles" from the Alsace region of France which features an apple and lemon hint, a lot of mineral characteristics and a nice finish and we had a big hit on our hands!

As the sun finally set we leisurely finished up the wine on hand, and then were treated to an incredible dessert of vanilla panacotta. Panacotta is an Italian dessert made by simmering together cream, milk and sugar, mixing this with gelatin, and letting it cool until set; it is an Italian phrase which literally means "cooked cream". A raspberry coulis was drizzled over the panacotta adding a wonderful fruit flavor.

Aside from the obvious delight of having such fresh food prepared aboard, the entire time that Chef Laurent was working in the galley he invited us in to see what he was working on, and to share with us the methods and techniques and principles that he employs. That alone was memorable. But to spend time with a professional of his caliber, who is passionate about his trade – is inspiring. Laurent is a man of passion, who shared with us his ideas about cuisine. His passion is cuisine; and he loves to share the finer points of his culinary art with his guests. One of the primary reasons for choosing a career catering to yachts and villas Laurent explained “is because it gets me into the front of the room” as opposed to the limitations imposed by working in a restaurant.

As a host on your own boat – or even as grateful guests, hiring a local chef to work for a couple of hours onboard your boat – or that of your hosts – is one of the great surprises that you can definitely afford to indulge in once or twice every year.

You too can experience a gourmet meal on your own boat, or on a friend’s boat. Imagine the surprise of your hosts or guests, when you tell them that you’ll take care of everything, and you deliver perfect wine pairings, and the most beautiful presentation possible...it will be a truly wonderful and memorable experience!

By Tom Kjaersgaard and Kathleen Mackay