Chef Alix Verrips is one of the mentors involved in the new Penum Yacht Chef Mentor Program, which was set up to support and develop aspiring chefs on board. Speaking to Ellie Barker, she talks about her career as a chef and her enthusiasm to help other young chefs succeed in the yachting industry.
Where did you train as a Chef?
I'm primarily self taught, but have taken numerous specialized courses in various cuisines and techniques at the Culinary Institute of America and other cooking schools and institutions over the years.
Which Yachts have you worked on?
Pelorus, Le Grand Bleu, Serene, Lady S, Boadicea, Libertad, Kisses, Talitha
How did you get into the yachting industry?
I was doing seasonal work in the U.S.,taking time out from my Corporate job back in South Africa, when I met some yachties who convinced me to get a job on a boat.
What do you love most about your job?
The instant gratification I get when I see or hear people enjoying my food.
Where is your favourite restaurant in the World, what’s your favourite dish there?
The French Laundry, California US. Every morsel was delicious, but "Oysters and Pearls" was the most memorable.
Is there a secret to being a successful Yacht Head Chef?
You must be patient, adaptable and organized.
What ingredients can you never be without in a Galley?
Good olive oil, lemons, Malden salt and, my personal favourite: truffle salt.
What is your top tip when provisioning for a Guest trip?
Have a rough menu plan and provision realistically! Try to envision how much of everything they are likely to consume based on experience of past averages ie: if the preference sheet listed escargot as a "like", chances are that in a one week trip they might have them twice at the very most, so no need to order 3 cases for 6 guests and fill up the freezer with snails that no-one is ever going to eat!
Which Chef do you admire the most, and why?
Anthony Bourdain. His love of food, culture and travel resonates with me.
If you weren’t working on boats, what would you be doing?
I'd be a globetrotting food writer
What’s your favourite port? Favourite place to dine there?
Portofino, Ristorante Puny.
What was your greatest experience on a boat?
The first time I had a standing ovation from guests after a meal I'd cooked.
What was your worst experience on a boat?
A Charter of Russians, who were so vile, I felt violated after their departure.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen or heard on a yacht?
In the Caribbean a passing fisherman sold my boss a bunch of lobsters, which the deck crew left in a tub of sea water in the walk-in fridge for me. I was only going to use the tails so I pulled their heads off. One of our deckhands saw me carrying the tub of heads up the stairs and offered to give me a hand. He asked me if they were still alive and I replied: "normally when you detach a creatures head from its body it dies!" It took a while for him to live that one down!
Which nationalities tend to be the best bosses?
The best charter guests?
Any advice you would give to someone wanting to become a Yacht Chef?
Nowadays it's virtually impossible to be hired as a chef without the proper qualifications (like I was 16 years ago) You would have to have some sort of formal training or a number of years experience working in restaurants/catering. I would suggest applying for a sous chef position to start off with, as there are so many aspects of cooking/working on a yacht that differ from cooking in a restaurant, and being able to learn the ropes from someone would make the transition much easier.
What is the greatest challenge facing Yacht Chefs today?
For me Provisioning has always been one of the greatest challenges. Wether you're provisioning for a 35m or a 235m, it's a process that is very time consuming, involves a lot of planning and is often restricted by budget and made more challenging by the location you're in.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
I enjoy scuba diving, golfing, geocaching, dining out and exploring my surroundings.
Why did you agree to be a Yacht Chef Mentor?
Back when I became a yacht chef, I had to learn everything the hard way, now I have 16 years experience in the industry, so when I was approached to be a mentor I jumped at the opportunity to be able to help young/new chefs in the industry, by sharing my experience and knowledge with them.
What is your motto?
We're in the memory business ie we're creating memories for our 'customers' and making memories for ourselves... Make every experience as memorable as possible!
What is your favourite dish to wow your charter guests? Include your recipe if you care to share…
A whole fish baked in a salt crust- a simple classic, but it seems to wow them every time and it's such an easy dish to prepare!
Recipe for Salt baked fish
1 whole fish. Seabass, snapper, bream etc work the best. A 3kg fish will feed about 6-8 people
The scales should be left on, the fins off and it's preferable to gut the fish through the gills.
1 kg of coarse salt per kg of fish
1 lightly beaten egg white per kg of salt
A few cloves of garlic, lemon slices and fresh aromatic herbs .... optional
Pre-heat oven to 205 degrees Celsius/400 Fahrenheit
Grease a baking tray, large enough to accommodate your whole fish, with olive oil or oven spray.
Place 1 third of the coarse salt in a 1 cm layer on the baking tray, roughly in the shape of your fish.
Add the egg whites to the rest of the salt and mix well. The mixture should resemble damp sea sand. Add more egg white or a little bit of water if it's not moist enough.
Stuff fish lightly with garlic cloves, lemon slices and aromatic herbs (fish will still have great flavor even if you omit this step)
Place fish on it's side on the layer of salt.
Cocoon the fish tightly with the moist salt and place in the oven and cook for approximately 35-45 minutes or until the salt layer starts turning a light golden brown colour.
Remove from the oven. At this point you can present the fish to the table....
Back in the galley....Poke a sturdy knife through the salt all along the belly of the fish. You should be able to lift the salt crust off in one piece and most of the time the skin will come off with it. If it doesn't, it should be easy to remove. Fillet the fish onto a warmed serving platter, drizzle with some good olive oil, garnish with some lemon cheeks and serve with aioli on the side.