Stephen Jones is a seasoned Yacht Chef with over a decades' experience on prestigious Yachts such as: Thundergulch, Phoenix, Phoenix2, Fortunate Sun, Cakewalk, ExcellenceV and Solemates. Always honing his skills, this is his second Chef stage, first being at the world-famous "French Laundry". Stephen is a Penum customer and Chef Mentor.
And so, after A pretty short Med Season and doing an Atlantic crossing after missing out on them for 6 years or so, I was on my way to London.
I found an apartment in King Cross, only 14 minutes by Tube to Knightsbridge, which, in the grand scheme of things worked out pretty well after taking in the fact that I was at work from 8am through till 12 midnight each day. But hey, you can do pretty much anything for 4 days right?
I arrived early on my first day (at school) as you do and drank some Coffee in the Hotel's lounge before I was taken down to the Chefs office for a quick introduction and then taken round to the main kitchens. This place is pretty big. Down in the basement where all the prep work is done is where I was to be for the next 4 days. No windows. No natural light. No music. In fact, none of those creature comforts that so many Yacht Chefs take for granted. It reminded me of why I left London to begin with. But remember.... I am in one of the worlds best Restaurants. Very much worth it.
I was to be on the meat Section for the first 2 days but as usual in these situations no one wants the stagiaire because it creates more work for the Chef de Partie. I was given a sharpie and some sous vide bags and off I went labelling until they could find a home for me. It wasn't long before I was off to the Vegetable prep Kitchen where there must surely be something I can help with?
Now, you have to remind yourself that it is Monday morning and these guys have 120 for lunch and 145 for dinner, I am hardly top of there list right now. I was placed in the corner with this Italian guy that could speak no English and was to help him peel Onions...
So, I am on my way. If I can prove that I can peel Onions then who knows what lies before me?
At this point I must point out to anyone reading this, that as a stagiaire it is not about getting the most interesting tasks to fulfil it is about absorbing all the other information that is going on about you. Watching, talking to the Chefs and KP's, I would even wash the dishes if I thought iI would benefit from my time here, and I did, you can be assured of that.
And so my first morning comes to a close and I am shuffled off to the Staff Canteen for lunch. I returned to the main kitchens and was promptly given 2 crates of baby Artichokes to prepare, flashbacks of the French Laundry ensued, only this time I had no beautiful garden to gaze upon. Before you know it Artichokes are done and I am off to Salsify land, washing, scrubbing, peeling, coring, batoning 2 boxes of this stuff took me through to Dinner service. I was shuffled off once more to the staff canteen and on my return informed that i was to go up stairs to the show kitchen?
Ermm... Can someone take me there Please?
6pm on a Monday, 145 covers and I was shown to the Meat section. I was quickly introduced to the 2 Chefs running this section and informed that I would be in charge of the Sauces for this service....WHAT!!!!? Your joking? Right? Oh no, they were not. After a very brief run down of the 5 sauces I was to take control of we were off. We bundled through a pretty hectic service and as long as I kept my station clean and the correct containers had the correct spoons in them then what could go wrong? Before I knew it, service was done and clean up was on. 45 minutes later all the Chefs were down stairs for a quick meeting and then I was sent home for 5 1/2 hours sleep and back to it.
Morning rolls around, my wife kicks me out of bed at 6:45 sharp, has a cup of tea ready for after my shower and after a kiss on the cheek I am off into the London streets once more. I grab some coffee and hit the tube. 14 minutes later I am in the Hotel picking up my uniform and setting off on a new day.
Today I am placed with Tom who gets me on to smoking the new season cabbages, fennel and butter. Smoked Butter, you better believe it. Fantastic. Then it is on to something these guys call Grelottes, Green Onions to the rest of us. Peeling them down and grading them for braising. Everything here pretty much is cooked en sous vide and in the kitchen there are 20 or so water baths ready for whatever the Chefs throw at them. 3 Testers of each prepared vegetable with each batch lie in wait to be checked and the constant noise of timers and Chefs calling out reminds me why i am here, the day has truely started.....
The rest of today and my remaining 2 days consist of pretty much the same things, always ending up with 2 cases of Baby Artichokes which I find very therapeutic to be honest.
The Menu does not change very much here so consistency is always present (to some degree) there are recipe cards for everything, so no excuses for anyone as it is there in black and white for all to see.
And so Thursday night rolls around and I enjoy my last clean down with everyone stopping only for a few minutes to enjoy a portion of the now world famous Meat Fruit and grilled Bread with Russian river olive oil... A very enjoyable way to eat Parfait it must be said.
After the nightly Chef meeting I said my goodbyes and away I went.
My legs were tired my feet hurt and i needed some sleep but.... I had had a great few days at the Mandarin Oriental and saw some things that I knew were out there. My main focus for doing these kind of things is to reassure myself that I am still doing things correctly and to the best of my ability. There is no point getting a good job on a good Yacht and not pushing yourself.
Basically what I have seen this week only reassures me that I made the right choice and as long as I keep applying the techniques I have learnt over the years then I am heading in the right direction which, in the words of Thomas Keller are "to make people happy".
I wonder what happens next???
At Penum we're working to help our Chef customers with experiences like michelin staging, to help them create the most beautiful food possible for their guests. If we can be of service to you this season, please contact Ellie at: [email protected].