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June 26, 2011

Something Simple

Victoria Allman has been a yacht chef for 12 years, sailing in Europe, the Caribbean, Nepal, Vietnam, Africa and the South Pacific. "Sea Fare: A Chef’s Journey Across the Ocean" is her first culinary memoir. "SEAsoned: A Chef’s Journey with Her Captain" is a hilarious look at the yacht chef’s first year working for her husband while they cruise from the Bahamas to Italy, France, Greece and Spain. Learn more at www.victoriaallman.com.

    Yacht Shot
Something Simple

By Victoria Allman

I’m a planner. I love to organize and write lists. The problem is, in my life as a chef on a yacht, catering to someone else’s whim, I rarely can predict what will happen at any given moment. Just the other day, my whole lunch plan was thrown overboard.

"It’ll just be us today," the wife told me at breakfast. "We’ll go out to anchor to swim, so let’s have a light lunch."

"Sushi?" I suggested.

"Perfect." She relaxed against the cushion. "Something simple. I just want to nibble today."

I was a slow roller. It would take me awhile to create enough of the tiny little bundles for four people. I checked my watch as I retreated to the galley to rinse and soak sushi rice. It was ten o’clock. That left me enough time to make spicy tuna rolls, salmon sushi and unagi.

I pulled the tuna I had bought fresh from the market that morning out of the fridge and began slicing. I was fifteen minutes into the job when my radio crackled.

"Two guests just pulled up in a Ferrari," Jeff, our first mate, said.

Brooklyn, our chief stew, entered the galley ten minutes later. "Can you add two more to the list for lunch?"

"Certainly." I returned my attention to my fingers that were struggling not to rip the fragile nori sheets while creating tight rolls. In my mind, I added miso soup to my list of things to do to round out the menu.

The radio in the corner sounded again. "The couple from the boat next door just arrived."

Brooklyn looked at me.

I shrugged my shoulders. "What’s two more?" I mentally added a platter of beef tataki to the menu.

Jeff’s voice filled the air again. "The brother and his wife are coming down from the villa." There was a pause. "They’ll be here in ten minutes."

I bit my lip and willed my fingers to curl around the rice at a quicker pace.

The captain was the next voice on the radio. "Deck crew ready to depart."

I felt the boat pull away from the dock. I let out a breath and relaxed a moment. There would be no more guests. I could handle sushi for ten. My knife slid through the soft salmon to make clean lines.

I was about to switch to butchering the eel when more news came over the radio. "There’s a speed boat full of people pulling up alongside."

I was starting to hate the sound of Jeff’s voice. The forward motion of the yacht slowed to allow the additional guest to board.

"There’s quite the crowd gathering," Brooklyn opened two more bottles of wine. "Are you ready for this?"

"Do I have a choice?"

"That must be it." She laughed. "How many more could show up?"

Thirty minutes later we anchored. I stepped outside the galley door to breathe in the hot humid air. I could hear the radio in the distance crackling. I took a final breath and turned to head back inside; a fleeting glance at the world around me was all I had time for.

I reached for the door latch as Jeff sprinted past me.

"Coming through." He squeezed past me.

"What’s going on?" I was alarmed at the haste. Was there an emergency?

"Helicopter is landing in five minutes," he shouted over his shoulder.

I squinted into the distance and saw the bird-like apparition appear. Judging by the distance, I had just enough time to start threading chicken on skewers for the Yakitori I would have to include to feed the growing mob.

I, too, sprinted for the galley, kicking myself for choosing to make the intricate, time-consuming sushi for lunch. I’ve been a chef on yachts for twelve years. I should have known better. A simple lunch for four is NEVER a simple lunch for four.

                                            Spicy Tuna Roll Sushi




Sushi Rice:



2 cups sushi rice



2 1/2 cups cold water

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar



 1 ½ teaspoon sea salt 




Spicy Tuna Mixture:





1 tablespoon mayonnaise


¼ teaspoon wasabi

2 pounds fresh tuna, diced fine

6 sheets toasted nori

1/4 cup white sesame seeds



2 tablespoons black sesame seeds


Place the rice in a strainer. Rinse under cold water until water runs clear.

Drain well and let rest for 30 minutes.

 In a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan, bring rice and water to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook until water is absorbed and rice is just tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand covered 10 minutes. Transfer rice to large bowl.

Combine vinegar, sugar and salt in small saucepan. Stir over low heat until sugar dissolves. Drizzle mixture over rice. Gently toss rice with vinegar mixture to coat. Keep tossing for 10 minutes to cool rice. Set aside.


Whisk together the mayonnaise and wasabi. Gently stir in tuna to evenly coat the fish.


 Wrap a sushi mat in plastic wrap to keep it clean. Place the mat on the counter with slats running crosswise. Arrange one sheet of nori, shiny side down, on mat, lining up a long edge of sheet with edge of mat nearest you. Using damp fingers, gently press 1/6 of rice onto nori in 1 layer, leaving a 2-inch border on side farthest from you. Press firmly so rice sticks to sheet. Sprinkle with both white and black sesame seeds.

Flip the nori and rice over so that the rice is now the bottom layer. Make a thin line of tuna along the bottom of the nori. Roll tightly, using the sushi mat to guide you. Press as tight as possible so the roll is firm.

Slice the roll with a wet knife into 6 pieces about 1 1/2 inches thick.

Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Makes 6 rolls.





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Holy crap, I think I would've jumped overboard and left them with PB&J sandwiches. No parachuters or creatures from the deep coming aboard?

Thank God you had enough food to keep adding to the menu. Great blog - nice to see you here.

Hi Laura: If only jumping overboard were an option...it does seem crazy, but it certainly makes for an interesting day. No one ever said being yacht crew was boring!


Exactly, Laura..my mother always said--if you don;t like it, you can have pb and j. Whch we always did!

Ah, VIctoria..how do you store things? Is moisture a problem? Space?

I always marvel at your skills!

The rich are different, that's for sure. Sounds like a lot of potential for writing fodder, Laura!

Oh, Victoria, you are a better man than I am by far. Years ago my old friend Debbie phoned me to say she'd signed us up for a sushi-making course. I said to her, "Have you gone mad?!" It's like owning a sewing machine. You'd never know if your friends love you for yourself, or your very specialized skill. Of course, we lived in NYC at that point; if we'd never left Nebraska, it wouldn't be an issue, as no one in Nebraska in the 80's would dream of going near a piece of raw fish.

I've never regretted my decision not to become a sushi chef. But I sure did love it, back in the day . . . before converting to vegetarianism.

I hardly know where to begin - I am in awe of, well, everything! The burning question, though, is . . . where the heck did the helicopter land??????

On the helipad on deck, Kerry. Of course.

(I'm guessing.)

As I am seasick, I can't even envision preparing food at sea. Facing a multiplication of food even less.
You must love what you do very much.
Thanks for this post and your recipe.

Doesn't every boat have a helipad???

Hank-As big as the boat is, there is very little storage. We have to be very creative. I store my canned goods in cabinets under the sofas and the beds raise to store wine. Luckily, we are in the Med each summer, so I am able to go to the market every morning. It is at the market that I get my favorite stories for my blog (www.victoriaallman.com/blog) I am constantly asking; What is that? What do you do with it? I end up learning the tastiest recipes that I take back and cook for the guests and crew.

Harley: You are a smarter woman than I. For me, sushi rolling is a slow, time consuming process. Much better to go for sushi...and a lot more fun! If only a sushi chef would deliver when we are anchored in the middle of the bay!

Victoria, I think I would have said grilled cheese for all and called it a meal. Used fancy cheese and called it gourmet.

OMG, Victoria, you are either incredibly patient and forbearing, or you cover really, really well. I'd be like, 'anyone who gets added after 11 a.m. gets potato chips and store-bought dip!' (Not really, but wouldn't it be tempting to be that firm?)
Speaking of culinary--Elaine got a little press today in Rhys Bowen's blog, about ALA New Orleans, where she and Elaine and Nancy (etc.) spent the weekend:
" I had to rush the entire length of the convention center to sign at the MacMillan booth, then rush over to Penguin to sign at their booth. Then back for another panel. Luckily Elaine Viets handed me a salad or I would have died of starvation."

Are you sure you don't want to write a murder mystery, Victoria? I would have been sorely tempted, with all those sharp kitchen knives.
I can't cook as well as you do, but I'd love to have your patience.

I like your laid-back attitude, Victoria, which is probably why they value you. If I've planned for twenty people, six or eight more won't bother me. But to plan for 4 and have 20 show up? That takes ingenuity and forbearance!

Hmm, I think I need a private chef . . . but since I don't, I guess I'll go cook . . .
I'm thinking the number of guests increased because the word spread about how good you were ;-)

Margret-I'm not sure I was so laid-back when I started this crazy life, but now that I've started writing about the "funny" experiences onboard I have a new outlook on the whole thing. The more chaotic the day, the better the story. It is a whole lot easier to laugh through these things than get upset.

Elaine-I'd love to write a mystery but there would be no who-dun-it quality. It would always be the chef.

Laraine-Forget the salad, go get a bowl of gumbo at Mothers!

Gaylin-with all the great cheep's milk cheese in Vancouver from Salt Spring Island your grilled cheese sandwiches would be tasty!

Great post, Victoria. I just made a very simple pasta for three people and had trouble juggling getting the pasta al dente, cutting the tomatoes, adding the fresh basil and garlic and mixing it all together just right. How you manage to feed all the people you do with the unpredictability of who will show up is amazing!

I think the big difference in how I can handle things is that this is my profession. I have been cooking for 20 years -- 8-18 hours a day. I look at other professions and wonder how they do it, too. What amazes me is someone who works 10-12 hours elsewhere and then comes home and pulls off a meal of any kind. That is a true love of cooking. If my husband and I are home for dinner (about a month a year) we eat cheese and crackers. It's about all I can creatively come up with at home.

It has been a lot of fun being featured today on Lipstick Chronicles. Thanks for having me!


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