Chef Anders Pedersen had just been interviewed by the New York Times when I arrived to see him on M/Y Altitude during the Antigua Yacht Show. He seemed a bit shocked by all the attention following his win of the culinary competition for the 160ft+ yacht category.
The challenge for this year's Concours de Chef contest, organised by Jan Robinson and judged by TV chef personality Chad Sarno wasn't an easy one: 4 courses of plant-based organic ingredients, all served within half an hour.
Anders sat down and spoke to OnboardOnline about his winning menu, the difficulties facing yacht chefs, and how far he's come since his first yachting job as a chef/deckhand back in 2002.
OnboardOnline: You said that The New York Times came to interview you?
Anders Pedersen: Yes. I didn’t expect all this - from one moment to another - all this publicity, I’m kind of a humble guy. I left my home country of Denmark about 12 years ago, with a thousand euros and a chef education and then it just took off and I started on my first boat in 2002. I even had to work as a deckhand-slash-chef for my first job, so I had to go and put the anchor down and make lunch for the guests after; there was only the captain, stew and me so the stew and I were sharing. And then I moved onto bigger yachts.
OO: Had you done vegan before or was this a completely new challenge?
AP: No, I had done a bit before, I had had a few vegan charters. So what I did was I came up with a menu and invited my friends home- I live in Palma Majorca and I just joined this boat (M/Y Altitude) a month ago. I came up with a menu, went home and invited 8 of my friends to come to my house and I cooked 4 courses for them - 2 of my friends were vegan so I asked them afterwards, ‘Can you give me any pointers here?’ They said, ‘No, not really, go with that, it’s great, you’ll win.’
OO: How do you feel about cooking for crew with allergies and intolerances?
AP: Yeah, I think it would be hard to have too many people who doesn’t like or can’t have certain foods- but we try to do a buffet- there’s always healthy foods and salads and soups and meats, but I try to separate so that those who want the healthy option can, and the deckies for instance can have something with more starches for energy.
People with allergies are a different thing- allergies, for example, my wife is allergic to fruit and veges with stones, and hazelnuts, so that’s a difficult one. She gets anaphylactic shock.
OO: How do you deal with that when going out to dinner?
AP: She always has medication on her, and an Epipen- but we did have a situation in Thailand, you know that smelly fruit you get in Thailand- jackfruit. She had a reaction and I ran off to get her some water-but they don’t sell bottles of water in Thailand, they pour it into a plastic bag with a straw- and then the guy couldn’t figure out how much to charge for the bottle and went off to ask his grandma. I was like- 'my wife is stroking here, have whatever!'
With allergies where people can die, this is dangerous. Plus I worked for 4 and a half years for a guy with diabetes, so I came up with a lot of recipes for ice cream without cream, without sugar, used a lot of soya yoghurt and things like that, and agave syrup.
OO: With all this special diet experience, as a charter yacht chef you must be in serious demand, and now with this award even more so- once you’ve been interviewed by The New York Times your career is pretty much made.
AP: Yes, I just wish I was 10 years younger and I had got this award earlier on- because I am only planning to be a yacht chef for another 4 or so years, because I have a young son who is 2 and a half- Jonas.
OO: It is a sacrifice, doing this.
AP: Yes, but at the moment he is so small that he that doesn’t understand time, he lives in such a small world that he doesn’t understand that Daddy goes away for quite some time.
I am just so happy that Skype and Facetime exist, they didn’t 10 years ago, I remember going into phone boxes. I remember having a pre-pay phone, really expensive. And now sometimes in places my phone plan doesn’t cover, there have been thousand euro telephone bills.
OO: I have your competition menu here in front of me, can you talk me through the competition?
AP: One is the ingredients list, it was quite a tough competition as we only had half an hour, as soon as the judges arrived on the boat they had to be escorted up here and treated like charter guests, and then I had to do a cocktail, which is not normally the chef’s job -and then I had to make an amuse bouche, starter, main and dessert. If you didn’t manage to serve the 4 dishes in that time then you wouldn’t be judged.
OO: I see a lot of Argan oil in the ingredients. What is Argan oil?
AP: It comes from the kernels of the Argan tree. It’s quite an expensive oil, but really really healthy for you- this whole menu had to be healthy.
So for my starter I made a low-carb sushi maki roll, so I couldn’t use rice. Instead I used parsnip, which I ground and cut it so fine that it looked like grains of rice, then I pureed argan with almond milk together and mixed it with the parsnip to make it sticky. Then sushi vinegar and agar syrup. I had tofu and Caribbean fruits like avocado and mango and brought it all together- and you don’t even feel like you are missing the rice. It’s very healthy because there’s no carbs in it.
Same with the ravioli; there’s no pasta because you can’t have pasta without egg- well you can, but I didn’t- so I sliced round pieces of beetroot and courgette very thin, so I laid a thin piece down, put the filling in and another piece on top...and it looks like ravioli.
OO: So how do you come up with these ideas? Is it something that comes to you when you are working on other things, or when you are about to go to sleep- what’s the creative process?
AP: I get inspiration from some books, but I pretty much develop a lot of food myself, because I started my chef’s education when I was 16 and I am 34 now, so it’s been a long education.
OO: It sounds like you have quite unusual creativity.
AP: Yes, I am also kind of writing a book, I suppose with this award it will be easier to sell it!
When you cook for guests on yachts, they all want really healthy food. They are on their holidays but they don’t want to leave the boat with 5 kilos of holiday weight- and when it’s so hot where we are, they can’t eat big greasy meals.
Most of the time, I don’t really cook with butter or with cream- there are other options, you can use a lot of other things, especially olive oil and argan oil, and healthy oils. The only thing with olive oil is that when it’s cold pressed you can’t heat it up- you shouldn’t cook with it- it sort of burns at 80 degrees and doesn’t become that good for you. A lot of people don’t know that.
I also use coconut oil, and Argan oil- but Argan is a very expensive oil. 250mls is about 15 euros.
OO: So you don’t use a lot of that for crew cooking then?
AP: No, but the great thing about working on yachts is that the budget compared to the restaurant – it’s such a pleasure to be able to work with really nice ingredients.
OO: Do you eat well at home? What’s your favourite to cook and eat?
AP: Thai food is one of my favourites- I did a short course at Blue Elephant school in Bangkok, just to learn to cook Thai food: a proper Tom Yum, to make curry pastes myself- it was really interesting.
I also did that in the past- I was on a retainer waiting for a new build so I had some time waiting, so instead of sitting home and doing nothing, I went to Munich and other places and worked for free in restaurants.
Good restaurants - I would say ‘I don’t need any money, I just want to come in and do the normal hours’ and I would do that for free, I just want to get better all the time and learn from other chefs. But on boats there aren’t many others to learn from - sometimes we have a sous chef.
OO: I’d never considered that on most boats - especially the smaller ones - chefs really are on their own, and lose the opportunity to learn from other chefs. They must miss out on a lot of mentoring this way?
AP: I think there are a lot of good chefs out there and lots to learn from them. When you work in restaurants with other chefs you see and learn a lot of things. You develop your knowledge a lot. I also did at the start-I would work the Mediterranean season, then during the winter I would go somewhere to work in a restaurant- just to go back to the restaurant world- because that is where food mainly develops.
And also, we can’t serve shrimp cocktail from the 80’s until today, it is 2013 and food develops, and there is a lot of obesity and stuff – especially in the States, so we have to develop-this should be the future - future foods should be healthy. We shouldn’t really wipe ourselves out, you know?
So I think that a chef can change that - if we get people to open their eyes and see, like this plant-based menu, you can make it taste really good and look really good.
OO: So I guess it is about teaching people that it is easy to cook healthily – and have food that still tastes really good?
AP: Yes, and we don’t want to feed our child fast food- I know that when he goes to school he will eat fast food with his friends, but we don’t want to feed him that ourselves. He is a big fan of olives and broccoli- lots of things that children normally don’t like.
OO: He’ll be a pleasure to cook for growing up - fussy kids are tough!
AP: Ah, but he doesn’t like everything - we did go to get some inspiration to a vegan restaurant in Majorca and he didn’t like that. You can only heat the raw food up to 45 degrees, and he got courgette pasta and he just kept pointing at the restaurant next door and saying ‘mama mama’!
OO: Do you love Spanish food?
AP: I do like it- once in a while. I think it is quite easy to make- lots of garlic and olive oil. There are a lot of tapas restaurants, the problem with Majorca is that there are about 900 000 residents, yet 12 million tourists in summer.
So there is a lot of bad restaurants they don’t need to survive on their name, they know next week there will be a new group of tourists, so there are a lot of tourist traps. Where you eat really badly, and never come back, but it doesn’t matter because the next group of tourists comes, and then the next group, and the next group... They can survive, while not cooking well.
OO: Do you cook when you are at home?
AP: I do, but my wife does most, she is a good cook too. She thinks it is interesting, it is a hobby for her. She does cookies with my son- they sent me a picture of one he’d made with a heart on it that said papa- which is really nice, of course I couldn’t eat it because it was a picture and I am here! She’s a great mother. Her name is Andrea. Anders and Adreas. I met her when she was on holiday in Majorca, 10 years ago. I’ve been in yachting that whole time.
It is difficult, I take my hat off to her running the house, looking after our son, and she also has a real estate company.
OO: Relationships that manage through yachting are really strong- on land people say that couples who can travel together are strong- in yachting it is even more so!
AP: We have been through a lot and we are very strong.
OO: When you leave yachting will you go on to restaurants?
AP: We had this plan that we would invest in a bed and breakfast or a catering company. Restaurants- there is so much work in restaurants an there is never enough time for family. I’ve always believed there’s no point making a family if you don’t have time for them. And that’s also the reason why a lot of boats are offering me four weeks holiday and I’m saying ‘no - not possible’
OO: I love this industry and I would like to continue but it should be possible to have a family too?
AP: Obviously it’s difficult for chefs as it is difficult to get a rotation job as a chef - because we come in with our style of cooking, and it is hard to find someone who does it exactly the same as you- even on a charter if I had a rotation chef and he or she pulled off a bad charter, it would also go down on my reputation, even though I wasn’t there. So that is difficult- I understand that for engineers it is easier, guests don’t see them.
OO: I’ve been talking a lot about rotation this week, but hadn’t considered the chef’s reputation aspect.
AP: Yes - I think it’s also hard with chefs because we are always in competition. I was trying last year to try and open an elite chef website- kind of like a facebook thing- where we can have contact with other chefs – for those needing staffing help, or wants to pass jobs on , and also with ideas- posting ideas and questions. Instead of just being competition, competition, we should be able to help each other. And we can learn so much from each other. It would be great to have a site like that; we just need to convince other chefs of this.
I don’t mind sharing recipes, but am keeping some for my book!
OO: And then you will share with many people!
AP: I find it sometimes difficult to write recipes down, because I just put in as much of each thing as I like when I ‘m cooking , and to slow down and write.. To say exactly how many grams of salt...
OO: It interrupts the process.
AP: Yes. You try, you taste- but in recipe books, you have to have every little single detail written down.
OO: You’ve used ingredients here on this plant-based menu that are very accessible. You could buy these things at supermarkets. Impressive, as there’s always a danger of steering off into ingredients that people would be deterred by.
AP: I found these things in Palma, but I also found them in the Caribbean - the challenge had to be Caribbean ingredients.
Visit Charterfleet.com for photos and news of other category winners!
*Jo Morgan spoke to Anders Pederson onboard M/Y Altitude on 13/12/2013. This interview has been very slightly edited to fit the format.
*Photos courtesy of Anne Vandromme-Hood of Yacht Insider's Guide and Anders Pederson's facebook page with permission of owner.
*Thanks also to Jan Robinson, the competition co-ordinator.