Posted: 15th January 2020 | Written by: Sebastian Amberville
Currently Head Chef on MY Ecstasea, a private 86m Feadship, Sebastian Amberville has more than 18 years' experience as a chef. From the ingredients he can't live without and the most extreme dishes he's ever been asked to cook during his time on a superyacht to the top tips he would give to those entering the industry, here’s what he has to say about his experiences on board...
Who is your food hero (dead or alive) and why?
Gordan Ramsay, because not only is he an incredible and talented chef who has been awarded 16 Michelin stars, but he also once worked on a yacht. He’s learnt from the likes of Guy Savoy and Joël Robuchon and also did a stint in the French Alps at a 2-star Michelin restaurant. He inspires me daily and proves that anything can be achieved through hard work and determination.
What three ingredients could you not live without?
Firstly butter – whether it’s in a cake, in butter cream, on a freshly baked croissant, in a sauce… I just love it! When in France, you have to buy the Grand Fermage Sel De Mer De Noirmoutier – it’s simply delightful.
Secondly cream. I love using it to prepare sauces and desserts because it’s so versatile and makes food taste even better. While it might not be the healthiest ingredient, who doesn’t love a whipped Chantilly cream, whether it’s piped into a chocolate éclair, broken down into an Eton mess or reduced in a white truffle parmesan cream?
Finally salt - I love all varieties of it, from Maldon and Himalayan to Cornish and black salt, you name it, I love it! Course, flakey salt is so versatile and brings a texture in itself - Amalfi black tomatoes with Himalayan salt is incredible! If I’m cooking a nice piece of meat, it needs to be seasoned to perfection with the right salt for the right job. I love smoked salt when I prepare a Wagyu beef tartare, to which I add Yuzu sesame seeds, shallots, capers and a few flakes of Maldon smoked salt.
What are your favorite cookbooks and why?
• Ottolenghi Simple: In yachting we are faced with constant dietary requirments and this book is perfect for salads, meats and light tapas. The use of Middle Eastern herbs and aromatics allow me to think outside the box and produce some great dishes, whether for the crew or for the boss. I love the use of tahini, sumac, harissa, za’atar, chickpea, lemon…the list goes on. For me, it’s a great cookbook as it utilises interesting flavour combinations.
• Eleven Madison Park by Daniel Humm: This book was recommended to me by a friend who is a yacht chef (Clyde May) and I believe it has elevated me as a chef. It taught me the technique behind both sweet and savoury gels at a time they were becoming more prominent. The main thing I love about this book is that it breaks down every component and the recipes are not too difficult.
• The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller: When I first started on yachts, I used this book a lot. It breaks down every element and texture and offers the reasoning to why food is so delicate and how to pair foods and experiment with different ingredients. My favourite dish has to be the white truffle custard in an egg with truffle ragout & chive chips, which I would occasionally serve as an amuse bouche. It’s also great for stocks and sauces. This book won’t let you down!
What three kitchen gadgets could you not live without?
My razor-sharp set of Japanese Miyabi Knives, a KitchenAid and a Pacojet.
What would you say are some of the most overrated ingredients?
Caviar - it’s so expensive and is it worth it? There are some lovely varieties out there but I don’t think it’s worth spending thousands on it.
What would you say are some of the most underrated ingredients?
Flank meat (skirt), celery, anchovies and rabbit!
What has been the most popular (or requested dish) on a yacht by guests so far?
Salt Baked Dorade. Guests love it being presented at the table. I’ll crack the salt crust off to show the lovely white meat delicately cooked, and then de-bone it before serving it piping hot to the guests. They love it!
If you were a guest on a yacht, who would you want to cook for you and why?
I would have to say my good mate James. Not only is he an exceptional chef, he also owns a one-Michelin restaurant in Bristol. Equally, we both have similar tastes in food and he’s also very passionate about locally-sourced foods. A marbled Wagyu steak, moules frites, decent sushi, pulled meat Bao buns, ceviche and many other exciting dishes would be on the menu. He is a chef who loves to cook what you like to eat!
What music do you listen to in the galley (if at all)?
I listen to all sorts, but I do love hip-hop, dance, pop and generally any music with a beat. I’m loving Ed Sheeran at the minute, especially his collaborations with 50 Cent, Eminem & Stormzy. I also love Spotify as it generates playlists from all my favorite songs throughout the year!
Best galley tip/hack?
Always give yourself plenty of time when preparing your mise en place, and always leave 15 minutes before you start service. It allows you to relax, get some fresh air and ease into a stress-free service
What is the most difficult location you have ever had to provision in? And what bit of advice can you give to figure out where to go?
Tobago Cays and St Lucia. Last year on charter it was very difficult to get anything. We had our charter stock but there will always be other requests, and without the help of the agent we would have been in trouble.
What is the hardest part of your job?
It can get frustrating dealing with certain crew politics, or sharing cabins with crew with bad habits. But mostly it’s being away from your loved ones. I’ve just returned back to work after 10 weeks paternity leave, and the fact that I can’t see my daughter or the rest of my family for 10 weeks is the hardest part of my job.
What do you see as being the biggest challenge for chefs in the industry moving forward?
The biggest challenge will be finding all the finest provisions in small remote locations of the world. Time must be invested in the sourcing of great produce to stage the success in the galley.
What would you say to people who stereotype chefs as being prima donnas with big egos?
Not accurate one bit. I think people think this because shows such as Gordan Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen and Costa del Sol Nightmares have massively dramatised chefs’ personalities. I have worked in some tough kitchens in the past and each chef is different. Working on a yacht is a lot different to working back home in a Rosette or Michelin kitchen where you all run a station. In yachting, you are every station.
What is your attitude toward crew with dietary requirements?
We are chefs and we here to cook. I like to provide variety and options for any crew with intolerances, and a happy crew is a happy boat. I used to get the hump when I was young, naive and new to the industry, but I’ve learnt that it’s normal for crew to have dietary requirements. It is frustrating when they’re not actually genuine intolerances, though, and you see someone eating something that they’re supposed to be intolerant to!
What is the weirdest, most bizarre thing you have ever been asked to cook?
We had a charter in the Mediterranean with some lovely Asian guests, and one of their requests was 24 tuna eyeballs to be in ramen and as sashimi. It was a very odd request, but they loved it!
Name something you have cooked for guests that you are most proud of?
I cooked a barbecue in the BVIs two years ago. We had flaming lobster, T-bone steaks, tiger prawns and ceviche with wahoo. The sun was shining, the beaches were white, the waters were clear blue and everybody had a cold beer in the hand. The guests loved it and although it was so hot, it was their last day and is a memory I will hold forever.
When you are interviewing a chef to work for you, how do you know if they are any good?
I think it’s very difficult, but generally you need to listen to them, ask them questions on food knowledge, what they can bring to the job, and why they want it. I look for many things when I’m interviewing. I love a great personality, someone who loves their job and has passion on every level. Someone who is confident and willing to get their hands dirty. You can tell a lot about a person just by talking to them.
What’s the one thing all chefs should do to help the environment?
Recycle. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s true. It might not affect us in our lifetime, but it will affect our children and our legacy. Please segregate and help our environment. Also, if you see anyone littering, report them.
What one thing can chefs do to limit food wastage?
Be conscious of what is being thrown away. If you can break it down chuck it in a stock, grind it up. Today I made a cheesecake and had egg whites left over, which will be used in tomorrow’s Eton Mess.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you want to be?
I would be a sponsored snowboarder travelling the globe, competing, riding the fresh powder and carving fresh lines.