The next chapter

After a bit of an unintentional hiatus, it’s high time for my return to the blogosphere. Having left the yachting industry, my summer filled up with temporary cooking jobs, which were as tiring and jam-packed as they were enjoyable. Myself and Nell found ourselves in a charming, crumbling down villa in Menorca for nine days, cooking for three couples and their littluns. The roof actually fell down in one of the bedrooms during our stay. Such character! What charm! I jest, it truly was delightful and had a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ about it. We were given more than one unexpected afternoon off, enjoyed our time there immensely, and are keeping our fingers crossed to be asked back next year.

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After that, I returned to the South of France for four weeks with my amazing, patisserie trained friend Issy, cooking for my all time favourite family in their villa. It was my third summer in a row there, and it scarily felt like no time had passed at all. After that, there was a wee stint up in the most remote estate in Scotland, the Station House Restaurant in Corrour. There, I met the motley crew of seasonal staff who fast become my firmest of friends. We swam in the loch, drank to excess each and every night, all in all giving me an exceptional introduction to the great and vast highlands.

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Myself and Nell then returned North of the wall, and cooked for two weeks in Ardverickie Castle, the picturesque set of Monarch of the Glen. Not our most glamorous job. We worked ourselves into the ground, but at the end of the day, we can look back and say it was ‘character building’. That’s just code for absolutely awful. 

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Amidst all of this travel and cooking in strange places, I received a call from one of the agencies I’m signed up with (one of about twelve. You have to spread yourself quite thinly as a private chef to get access to as many jobs as possible). They knew that my plan was to fill the rest of my year with temporary jobs, have Christmas at home, then look for a permanent position, either in a restaurant or back on yachts. But this particular position came up, and they thought it sounded right up my street. Well, they weren’t wrong! I was completely and utterly drawn in, and became emotionally invested ridiculously quickly. This was my dream job, and I didn’t even know what it was until I heard it described!

After flying myself to London for an interview, I was asked to come back for a cooking trial. It was hella stressful, but thankfully it went well, and I was offered the position. So since the beginning of October, I’ve been the private chef to an ambassador (I can’t say who or of which country, or give too much detail, but I can certainly outline the general gist of the job). My time is split between the residence and the embassy. My working hours are quite frankly ludicrously good, being Monday to Friday, 9am – 4pm. The joy of the job is that the prime entertaining hours are during the middle of the day. Formal lunches are a three course affair, and dinner parties happen three to four times a month. For anything above four people, a butler is called in. When it’s less, it’s down to me to do the service, which I’m wholeheartedly crap at. I’m a two-plates-at-a-time kinda gal, the wine bottle always clinks the edge of the glass, and I never time it right, either walking in to collect the plates far too early, or far too late. I’m hoping these skills will come with time, or am I destined to be eternally awkward in a service role?! Anyway, it’s really rather great. I make a different flavour combination of overnight oats each day to be had for breakfast, and dinner is plated up and left in the fridge to be re-heated in the evening, after I’ve gone.

The phrase ‘landing on my feet’ springs to mind, but in all seriousness, it’s more than I could ever have hoped for. On the yacht, I could never present individual plates of food, when my task was to feed the five thousand each and every day. Rather than fitting the bill of making a tonne of different self service dishes that ultimately all end up in the bin, I can focus on detail, and cook whatever I want to cook. And make it look pretty.

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One of my first equipment requests was to get a pasta machine. When you’re cooking for small numbers, you can really go to town. Pasta is stupidly easy to make, and once you taste fresh pasta, you’ll happily put in the elbow grease to make it again and again. All you need is 100g of 00 flour to one egg, a bit of salt, and a lot of perseverance to make it all come together into a dough.

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One of my first pasta dishes was spinach, ricotta and nutmeg filled ravioli with a sage butter and pine nut sauce. Next time, I’ll be brave and pop an egg yolk in the middle.

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Rosemary focaccia.

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A simple starter. Red wine poached pear, caramelised walnut & gorgonzola salad.

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Osso bucco (slow cooked veal shanks) with mashed potato and a parsley gremolata.

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Layered passion fruit mousse with a white wine jelly.

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Lemon tart with a raspberry coulis and tuille biscuit.

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Passion fruit cheesecake.

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Persian love cake. So delicious, I’m going to post the recipe here. Hopefully my friend Claire won’t mind me sharing it with the few of you who read this blog. I drove over to Corrour when I was mid-job at Ardverickie, and she served me a slice of this cake she’d made. It was glorious! I asked for the recipe, and she kindly went to get me the hand written family instructions. It is just delightful, so here is the recipe, to spread the Persian love.

Persian Love Cake (gluten free)

Ingredients

  • 3 cups ground almonds
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 120g butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 250ml Greek yoghurt
  • Chopped pistachios

To serve

  • Rose petals
  • Fresh figs
  • Greek yoghurt

Method

Mix together the first four ingredients to make a crumble. Press half of the mixture into a greased & lined 23cm springform cake tin. To the other half, add the last four ingredients. Mix together and pour over the base. Sprinkle chopped pistachios around the edge. Bake at 170°C for 35 minutes, let cool in the tin placed on top of a wire rack, then cut into slices and enjoy.

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Circa 1924, Exeter

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Finding myself in the beautiful county of Devon earlier this month meant that I could spend time with one of my oldest and closest friends, Robyn Gollop. Robyn lives in Exeter and has put me up for so many of my birthdays, making each one more special than the last, I’ve lost count. After too many years of this lopsidedness, last September she finally made her merry way to Jersey, and we had the weekend to beat all weekends, at none other than the legendary Jersey Live festival. Our epic croquet gathering before the event is still being talked about, to this very day.

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Nowadays, Robyn works for an online newspaper called the Express & Echo, and was working on a piece centred around cocktails at the time of my visit. Well, how serendipitous indeed! We were lucky enough to be treated to the evening of our dreams at a brilliant place called Circa 1924. The bar specialises in house infused spirits, ranging from charred pineapple rum and pomegranate gin, to pear and cinnamon vodka. The restaurant is primarily a seafood and steakhouse, but the small plates and desserts were exciting, innovative and had a distinctively Scandi flair.

Having spent an evening together earlier in the week at a rather dodgy cocktail bar in Newton Abbott, just down the road from ‘takeaway alley’, we were delighted to sample some of the barman’s creations in a much more sophisticated establishment.

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A whiskey creation from the specials board, becoming a bit vampire-esque with the blood spatters.

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A twist on a Bellini was our other choice.

Alex, the owner, then led us downstairs to our table. The restaurant is beautifully decorated with modern light fixtures, and we were sat in a comfy booth with top notch people-watching potential. A 21st birthday was going on in our vicinity, and I joined in the singing with gusto, in the hopes of maybe being offered a slice of cake. It didn’t work, but that won’t stop me trying again in the future.

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Fried oysters served with spicy relish. 

Our pre-starter. Having tried one or two crispy oysters in my time, I was over the moon to be presented with an entire plateful of the little gooey but crunchy critters. Being lucky enough (#blessed?) to pop to France for a day once a year, the oysters I love are usually fresh from the stall in Cancale, shucked there and then, with a simple squeeze of lemon. But these converted me to the battered ways of crispy shellfish. Sat atop a dab of punchy relish, they were a hit.

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Cured fillet of local beef, pickled red onion, crispy capers, Dijon mustard & Suerta Alta extra virgin olive oil.

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Crispy softshell crab, spring onion, house sweet chilli & wasabi.

Both starters were stunning to look at and a delight to eat. What I thought was a horseradish powder with the beef, turned out to be olive oil. But my tastebuds are still 70% sure there was horseradish lurking in there somewhere. The house sweet chilli that the soft shell crab was sitting on, was frankly to die for. If they bottled it, I would buy it. Also, fully onboard with the coriander cress garnish. It’s having a moment.

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Ribeye steak, skin on fries, salsa verde, béarnaise sauce.

The fries were all crispy, not just the little edge ones. Exactly the way I like em.

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Grilled fish of the day, monkfish, with dill & lemon butter.

The fish was cooked to perfection, not holding back on the butter. Good stuff.

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Vegetable tempura.

A delicately light, but well seasoned batter made this broccoli the most moreish broccoli I ever hath had the pleasure of tasting.

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Buttered new potatoes and Caesar salad.

This was the most exquisite side order of Caesar salad. At first, our reaction was a tad lacklustre, thinking, ‘Oh, just a Caesar salad like any other.’ But we were wrong! It was marvellous. Not too garlicky or heavy on the anchovies, but it packed a serious amount of flavour.

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Being avid fans of Mary Berry, we were both intrigued by the pineapple & coconut ile flottante. Light, creamy, airy, a fluffy cloud-like dream. Adorned with another of my favourite garnishes, edible flowers.

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Raspberries & cream, sorbet, gel, meringue, fresh & freeze dried raspberries & vanilla creme.

Each mouthful was an explosion of raspberry. Not only did I think it was presented beautifully, but it ate very well, too. Like a sophisticated Eton mess. The chefs at Circa 1924 have not only put a lot of care and thought into the look of their food, but have really thought through the entire menu exceptionally well. Nothing was put on the plate just for the sake of it. Each and every element had a reason to be there. That is something that I appreciate as a diner, and wholly respect in a chef.

Believe it or not, this meal came on the Friday evening of an intense week I’d spent cooking, and eating, everything in all its double cream and buttery glory, at the cookery school. Was I even hungry when I sat down for this meal? No, not really. But did I finish my share of every single thing on every single plate? Yes, I most certainly did. Quite frankly, I don’t know how I did it, but the food was of such a high standard that I enjoyed every single bite. Or, I was so drunk from the smorgasbord of gins, that blind gluttony took over.

After our meal fit for royalty, we sampled even more of the extensive spirit menu.

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Salted caramel flip, lychee slake.

The next thing we knew, it was 1am and we’d been drinking heavily with the owner and his friends the entire time. A double house infusion mixer is only £6.50, with 2-4-1 and £5 cocktails on Tuesday to Friday, from 5pm to 9pm. If I lived and worked in Exeter, I’d be there every single blimmin’ day after work, propping up the bar. The G&Ts we drank were undoubtedly the best I’ve ever had, with the pomegranate and the rosemary & thyme flavours standing out as favourites. Botanical brilliance. Live music fills the upstairs bar three nights a week, so if you’re in the area, I would wholeheartedly recommend to while away an evening at Circa 1924.

Advanced Cookery Week at Ashburton Cookery School

It started with a bang! Well, with hugs all round to the chefs that I hadn’t seen for two years, since finishing the six week intermediate course. Thankfully, not all of my old teachers have moved on since then. We were lucky enough to have Ross as our guiding light for the first three days, but a huge part of me was saddened to find out that Phil wouldn’t be taking us at any point. He’s a laugh and a half. Needless to say, a lot of my first day was spent sneaking out to have a catch up with him in the corridors, and to let him know what the others have all been up to. These chefs have ridiculously good memories.

There were seven of us on the course. Rod, the only man, was a local accountant who lived nearby. He did an Indian cooking weekend at the school, and wanted to come back to learn more. There were two Alices, one who grew up in Kenya, with experience on yachts and in chalets, and the other who lives half her year in beautiful Cornwall, and the other half cooking on the slopes. Pippa and Nathalie were both skippers, so that means they captain sail boats by themselves, which is blimmin’ impressive! I can’t even tie a proper seafaring knot. Vicki was from Essex, owning a wonderful looking cafe there called Stop The World (I had a proper stalk of the menu, and can’t wait to visit for the unicorn cake). We spent the first part of the morning sharing our stories, becoming more and more excited to get stuck in. We were each presented with a folder containing our itinerary for the week. With elements including ‘start three day beef cooking,’ ‘poussin butchery,’ and ‘ballotine of squab pigeon,’ we knew we’d be in for tonnes of new techniques, and delicious dishes to boot.

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From left to right: Pips, Alice, me, Stuart, Ross, Vicki, Nathalie and Alice.

The set up of the day was to work towards presenting your lunch dish at around half twelve, which you could then enjoy for about half an hour. We then returned to the kitchen (how strange it is to not say ‘galley’ anymore) to prep our dinner and dessert dish, which was eaten at around half five. One amazing difference between this course and my last, was that we were treated to wine with our evening meal, and miracle of all miracles, we didn’t have to partake in the clean down. I felt guilty about that for about five whole minutes, but then the guilt was quickly overshadowed by utter relief and sheer joy! What an absolute treat.

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And so, to the important bit. The food.

Day One

Lunch

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Steamed aromatic crab, ginger and coriander parcel, crab bisque reduction.

How to make a seafood bisque with depth, simply packed full of flavour, was something that I’d always wanted to learn. This was a surprisingly straightforward recipe and method, and it definitely packed a punch. The steamed cabbage parcel on top was filled with the first of many mousses we were to make, this one incorporating scallops and crab. With its winning list of ingredients, I wasn’t entirely taken with either the texture, or the overall taste. Potentially the inclusion of double cream made it a bit rich for my liking, so in the future I would scale it back and keep the mix a bit lighter.

Dinner

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Roasted saddle of Dartmoor lamb, basil pomme puree, patty pan, ratatouille and black olive salt.

This basil spiked mashed potato was an absolute triumph. Blitz a bunch of blanched and refreshed basil into your cream and butter laden mashed potato next time you make some, and just marvel at how beautiful it is. Back on the boat, Michael used to say he could ‘taste the misery’ of the cheap cuts of meat we sometimes had to buy from dodgy supermarkets in the middle of nowhere. Well, when I took a bite of this lamb, I could honestly taste how happy its (admittedly short) life had been, frolicking freely in the fields of Dartmoor. Black olive salt was a simple but game changing addition to this dish, and would be to many others. Stuffing the patty pan with ratatouille was fiddly, and I think ended up looking a tad old fashioned. Crispy herb leaves are a great way to elevate a dish, so if you have a deep fryer to hand (who does?! I’ve only had them in professional kitchens) I would crisp up basil, sage, mint, to adorn your dishes when in a pinch.

Dessert

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Apple tarte fine, calvados caramel, toffee ice cream.

Delicious, and way less stressful than making a tarte tatin. Every time I’ve tried, the apples either stick to the pan, the caramel won’t go dark enough, or the pastry doesn’t cook and ends up soggy. This dish changed my mindset on French apple based desserts, as I can totally use it as a substitute and no one would probably notice.

Day Two

Lunch

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Compressed pickled watermelon, ricotta cheese, pistachio glass tuille, balsamic pearls and olive oil spheres.

We made our own ricotta cheese, and it was delightful. All you need is milk, double cream, salt, lemon juice, and a muslin cloth. Who knew it was so gloriously straightforward?! As a self confessed ricotta addict, I have been known to eat it straight out of the tub, when its path in life was really intended for a pasta bake. This freshly made stuff though, I defy anybody not to just dig in and scoff it plain with a spoon. We pickled watermelon in rice wine vinegar, sugar and coriander seeds, which gave a superbly interesting result. Making those pearls was a dream, only requiring agar agar as the setting agent (conveniently found in almost all supermarkets). But those spheres, boy they were tricky. Isomalt was the molecular ingredient there, and the process was a nightmare. You can’t even see one on my plate, because I didn’t want to put it on. Having sampled a successfully made sphere, it was like eating a glass ball filled with extra virgin olive oil. Unpleasant. All in all, this dish really didn’t know what it was. Was it a starter? Was it a dessert? Was it a cheese course? I still feel confused by the whole affair, but each element tasted wonderful in its own right. Including the glass tuille, but we were warned not to eat too many shards, due to it containing isomalt. It’s known for giving some folks a dodgy tum, so best not eaten in too high a quantity.

Dinner

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Pot roasted poussin, sweetcorn, ham and truffle galantine, leek mousse and Sauternes sauce.

Confessions first, this poussin was not roasted in a pot. It was sealed in a pan, and finished in the oven, like most of the other meats we cooked. Such fibs going on in the titles! Assembling the pastry box was fun, resulting in a little container to put your chosen tidbits in, and a handy lid to perch delicately to one side. A galantine is a ballotine by any other name, and this one was packed full of flavour. Sweetcorn is my spirit food, and truffles make me dizzy with happiness, so this rolled up sausage had me at hello. If I was a bit of a knob, I would call this dish a ‘deconstructed chicken pie’. Hearty and delicious.

Dessert

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Prune and Armagnac souffle with apple and pecan crumble.

We all thought our souffles were raw and undercooked, as the middles were entirely molten liquid. We were assured that this was normal, but the jury is out on that one for me. I’ll have to learn a bit more about that family of desserts before I can pass judgment, because for me, I wanted it to be a bit more spongey and light through the middle. The prune ‘surprise’ hidden underneath was sadly not to my taste. It was beautiful folded through the souffle, but had no place sat there boldly on its own at the bottom of the ramekin. Look left, and behold a beautiful single serving of crumble. Yes, it’s hard to eff up a crumble, but that didn’t make it any less scrumptious.

Day Three

Lunch

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Loin of Venison in black treacle, shallot puree, cavolo nero, roasted salsify and wild mushrooms.

Venison requires next to no cooking, like a good fillet steak. Who knew?! I certainly didn’t. The black treacle marinade gave a great crust, and it melted in the mouth. Cooking the greens in bacon lardons and chestnuts was a winner for me, as I’m always on the hunt for new ways to serve sautéed leaves. Mushrooms, especially of the wild variety, are always a pleasure.

Dinner

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Lobster tail, lobster ravioli, lobster broth, confit fennel and tomatoes.

Learning the art of pasta making is always a joy. You feel like a proud parent when your ravioli is perfectly formed, but subsequently a little sad when it shrivels up in the pan. If someone can enlighten me how to not let this happen, please do. The lobster tail was stuffed with the same mixture that was inside the ravioli, which felt a bit like cheating. This was a strange dish, as the lobster tail was wrapped in caul fat and lardo. Basically, the stomach lining and back fat of an animal. In my mind, it was a twisted sort of surf and turf.

Dessert

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Dark chocolate cremeaux, pistachio sorbet, tuille, raspberry fluid gel.

Heaven on a plate. One tuille pictured, at least a dozen consumed. One cremeaux pictured, its sibling also consumed. One scoop of sorbet pictured, we finished the lot.

Day Four

Lunch

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Ballotine of squab pigeon, chicken boudin, date puree, butternut squash, braised turnips and pigeon jus.

Not being a lover of pigeon prior to the course, it’s safe to say I’ve switched camps. The bird was a delight to butcher, with really tiny legs and bones that weren’t that hard to cut through. A whole chicken it still a bit daunting to me, so this smaller bird was right up my street. We used ‘meat glue’ to sandwich the breasts together, but having made this dish at home, it worked just as well without. Funny story, I once made the crew chocolate chip cookies, and mistakenly used meat glue instead of cornflour. The tubs were the same, and both products are white powders. Before you panic, meat glue is entirely safe for human consumption, but still, I didn’t tell anyone my blunder in fear of an uprising. The boudin was beautiful, although rich, probably due to the amount of double cream again. It was basically a chicken sausage with pistachios and figs. Seeing date puree sang to my heart, and was a blissfully simple blend up of Medjool dates soaked in hot water. My favourite savoury dish of the week.

Dinner

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Slow cooked smoked ox cheek with pomme Anna, glazed young vegetable and Madeira jus.

We cooked this bad boy in the water bath for three whole days. It fell apart, but without a vac packing machine or water bath at home, you could easily end up with the same result by slowly braising it in the oven. The pomme Anna I’d made before, being the only repeat recipe between this course and the last. It was still enjoyable to make and eat, due to it consisting entirely of thinly sliced potato and butter. It’s a bit of a time consuming and fiddly faff though, and that’s just making one of them, so it’s no surprise that I hadn’t actually made one in those two years between then and now.

Dessert

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Pineapple and Szechuan parfait, griddled pineapple, pineapple crisps and dark Cuban rum caramel.

My favourite dessert of the week. So unusual, and something I would immediately order at a restaurant if reading it on the menu. It requires Boiron brand fruit purees, so my dreams of making it at home are a little bit dashed. It’s one to make in a professional kitchen, as you need the right ingredients and equipment to really do it justice.

Day Five

Starter

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Ballotine (last one, I promise) of foie gras, Sauternes jelly, smoked apple puree, walnut vinaigrette, griddled brioche.

Divine. But how we got there is a different story. We were each presented with an enormous liver, and told it made up 85% of the duck’s cavity at the end of its life. It’s a delicacy in France, but a lot of people understandably completely disagree and condemn the method by which it is made. This article details the production of foie really well. At Ashburton, they pride themselves on using the best quality produce they can get their hands on, so we were assured that the livers we got were from a higher welfare farm. Beliefs aside, it was an eye opening process, perhaps not one I’d be in any rush to repeat. You have to scrape away parts of the liver to expose the web of veins, pulling them out as you go. You end up with a pile of yellow mush on a sheet of cling film. Attempting to roll it into a log, you poach it in water before piercing the sausage to allow the fat to escape. It was like popping a big spot. Once it was cooked, we mixed through some shallots and red wine, before rolling it again, and cooling it down. The Sauternes jelly that everything sat on was just beautiful, balancing the dish perfectly.

Main Course

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Curry crusted halibut, cauliflower and coconut puree, lime emulsion and coconut foam.

Coating a firm white fish in a mixture of parmesan and curry powder is nothing I’ve ever thought of doing, but it worked brilliantly. In my opinion, this dish was the most well thought out of the week, with each element bringing something special. Lime emulsion turned out to be another name for a sort of lime infused mayonnaise, and it complimented the fish perfectly. Roasting cauliflower florets in spices was a great juxtaposition to the silky smooth puree. The foam over the top conjured up images of the sea for me, and I fell head over heels in love with this dish.

Dessert

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Mango panna cotta, sable soldiers and Champagne foam.

Sadly we ended the week with a bit of a damp squib. The sable soldiers were akin to a deliciously buttery shortbread, offending no one, but the panna cotta was a total disaster. Despite passing it through a chinoise several times, it remained grainy to the bitter end. It was also well overset, using too many gelatine leaves. A real shame, as panna cotta is truly one of my favourite desserts, but this recipe really needed tweaking to end up pleasant to eat.

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So all in all, my experience of returning to Ashburton was everything I’d hoped it would be, and more. From reading about the course online, I knew a lot of the elements were things that I already knew how to make. But overall the dishes were high end, well thought out, and gave me the chance to practice the all important art of plating. Above all else, it was an absolute pleasure to meet some truly amazing women who inspired me, and reassured me that I’d chosen the right career. We spent almost every night down at the wine bar, and I can honestly say the week wouldn’t have been nearly as good without them. Now if any of you would like a recipe for a dish that catches your eye, just give me a holler.

When one door closes…

…another opens. I hope.

It’s with a heavy heart that I sit at Miami International Airport, waiting to hear the call for my ‘repatriation’ flight to London. My time onboard Sirona III has come to an end.  How dramatic that sounds! After eight months, it’s fair to say I’ve come a long way. I think back to those first days, when making the fruit salad and a juice took me a full hour. It would all of a sudden be nine o’clock in the morning, and I’d have three frantic hours to get lunch out. To say that I spent the day chasing my tail would be exactly right. But eventually, over the passing months, my days got smoother, the jobs became easier, and it wasn’t so much of a hectic struggle anymore. But the one thing that never quite eased up was the weekly, daily, heck, even hourly task of choosing what exactly to put on the table. My days off were spent scouring the internet for recipes, Pinterest got a hammering for inspiration, and a collection of cookbooks piled up in my cabin. I’m certainly not one of those chefs (yet), who can simply look at a bunch of ingredients and rustle something incredible up. If I did, the result wouldn’t be anywhere above the skill level of an omelet, or a stir fry. Hopefully improvisation is something that will come with a bit more time, and experience.

My heart is feeling particularly heavy right now, mainly due to the outpouring of love between me and the special people that I’ve just said goodbye to. Now, I know that the boat is affectionately referred to sometimes as ‘the revolving door of Sirona’, and really I am a mere speck of dust in the great scheme of things, but this was my first job in yachting. My first Atlantic crossing. My first real cooking job, which came with a hefty chunk of responsibility compared with what I was used to. Just the fact that it was up to me to provide food for this amount of people, every day, knocked me sideways for the first few weeks when I really thought about it. Most of them are totally used to it, but for me, it felt like a big deal. It taught me an incredible amount, from how to provision like a boss, to keeping your galley clean, and rotating your stock. But there is still a long way for me to go. I am by no means a pro at any of these things yet. Someone still needs to remind me when to deep clean the ovens, when to use up the asparagus that’s ‘on the turn’, and to blimmin’ check the temperature of the meat I’m cooking with a thermometer. I have a substantial way to go yet.

As for my imminent plans, there are a few ideas floating around. I’ve booked myself onto a five day advanced course at Ashburton Cookery School, where I donned my first chef whites all those years ago. It’s mainly directed at yacht chefs (one of which, I am not), to refine your skills and inject some inspiration and passion into your work again. My over-arching goal is to work towards cooking fine dining food. Michelin star standard. One day. To achieve that, my plan is to complete some ‘stages’. My understanding of a ‘stage’ is that it’s the French word for working for free in a restaurant kitchen for a short period of time. So if anyone wants some cheap labour, hit me up. It looks at the moment that my summer will be filled with temporary chef jobs here and there. The most exciting imminent stint will be up in the most remote estate in Scotland, which I’m travelling to on an overnight sleeper train from London. I don’t know what I’m more excited about, cooking at a prestigious shooting lodge in breathtakingly beautiful surroundings, or the mode of transport to get up there! Needless to say, this blog will be filled with food of a newly higher standard, so expect a lot of pretty plates, artistic smears of sauce, but mostly just substantially smaller portions. Now, time for some random photos that have been accumulating.

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I won’t miss the times when this is a sixth of your shopping list.

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Being productive on watch.

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But then your captain moans that it’s not just plain vanilla.

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Ridiculous birthday cake requests.

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Utterly ridiculous.

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Seeing The Chainsmokers opening night of their Memories tour – unforgettable.

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Riding to pilates in style on the back of Rory’s moped. Smile made up of 90% fear.

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Impromptu shopping trips with Heather, my shopping queen, when by some kind of miracle we were allowed to use the crew car.

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Chillin’ with some of the most amazing peeps.

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Post-gay club uber lolathon.

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Putting the world to rights over a much needed bottle of vino with this beautiful girl.

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Sat in the airport writing in my most perfect leaving present from Heather. Feeling a lot of love from the amazing gals I’ve got to know over the past 8 months. They were their usual thoughtful selves and gifted me with an amazing set of hair straighteners and running shorts, left on my bed for me to drunkenly come home to on my last night. I totally wept.

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Ending on my favourite photo. What a ride, I’ll miss you all, but as we’ve said…this isn’t goodbye!

Cruising round Miami, on a red double decker

Being in South Beach, it would be highly rude of me to not embrace all things ‘brunch’. The crew love a brunch day, just as long as it contains crispy bacon, Heinz baked beans, eggs (preferably scrambled), and the rest is all for me to play with. Surprisingly, making waffles a while back didn’t go down as well as hoped, with it highlighting that the crew tend to swing towards a more savoury, over sweet, brunch. My tastebuds have always had a penchant for both, hence my winning combination of bacon, berries and maple syrup sitting on top of fluffy ricotta pancakes.

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A bit of a labour of love, I doubled the recipe and took extra special care to cook them individually in a small pan, each with their own little pat of butter.

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They came out really well, and despite not all being eaten in the one sitting, were surprisingly tasty eaten cold out of the fridge. With Nutella.

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Thai red lentil soup, one of the many recipes from a book about spices that I have on loan from the local library.

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Paul Hollywood’s ciabatta. Simple, speedy (it only requires one prove), a perfect go-to bread if you’re in a hurry.

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Chicken satay, a classic, a crowd pleaser.

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Broccoli with peanuts and a mango slaw.

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Asian slaw, filled with crunchy vegetables and covered in a dressing made from my homemade chilli jam. It didn’t really end up setting like a jam, so it morphed into more of a sweet chilli sauce, still delicious even though it wasn’t intentional.

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Maneesh, a Middle Eastern flatbread usually found accompanying a smorgasbord of mezze, to scoop up baba ganoush, hummus and the like. My goodness, this was one of the best things I’ve eaten all week! Crunchy on the top, soft and fluffy in the middle, covered in a mixture of dried herbs, seeds and olive oil (otherwise known as Za’atar, but this one you don’t buy in a Bart’s jar from Waitrose). Again, an easy bread, perfect to ease oneself into the magical world of all things yeast.

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Salted tahini & dark chocolate chip cookies. The tahini flavour in these cookies was everything I need in life and more, but sadly due to a touch of over-baking they were crunchy and snapped, rather than being soft textured and crumbly. A must make again, to perfect the timing and yield the cookie of my Middle Eastern flavoured dreams!

We’ve had a rather turbulent past week in terms of plans being made, broken, made again, flipped on their head and thrown out the door. Our owners were due to go Paris on their hollibobs, so to minimise USA time (we are all capped by our visas to a certain amount of time in the states per year) we were scheduled to sail for the Bahamas, to spend those two weeks in the island of Nassau. Now, one would think we’d feel that all our Christmases had come early, what a treat! The Bahamas! But in actual fact, those of us who were well on our way to cultivating lives here in Miami just wished we could stay. Our prayers were answered, and our exodus from American waters was cancelled at the very last minute. To make our lives even more complete, Captain told us we’d all have the long weekend off. Four, entire, days. This is unheard of, so I really struggled to contain my excitement in that crew meeting.

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Myself, Jhel and Maria decided to do what we’ve always had our beady eye on doing. Get ourselves tickets for the open top bus tour of the city.

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We hopped on conveniently just outside our marina, actually missing the legitimate bus stop, but thankfully encountering a kind enough driver who pulled over in the middle of a busy road and let us board. We were taken to Bayside, otherwise known as Downtown, where we were given headsets and sent on our merry way, on the green route to Wynwood. Our bus tour guide was a cheerful, chatty fellow, with the catchphrase, “Oh yes folks, oh yes indeed.” He regaled us with tales of the vibrant history of Miami, its complex relationship to Cuba, but namely its emergence from flat, barren swamp land, to the concrete jungle it is today. Every so often he would shout, “Get down, folks! That tree was not there two weeks ago, oh yes indeed.”

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We hopped off in Wynwood, the neighbourhood made famous for housing Miami’s renowned art district. Galleries line the streets, alongside truly breath-taking graffiti.

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A must-do is to explore Wynwood Walls, a project that showcases the world’s greatest street artists.

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There are more photo taking opportunities than you can shake a stick at.

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After a hefty dose of culture in the sweltering midday heat, we needed to re-hydrate.

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Yoko matcha is a pop up van, serving all things matcha. Matcha cookies, matcha lattes, it is a green tea powder lover’s dream.

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I went for the iced matcha with coconut milk to cool me down, sweetened with about twenty tablespoons of agave. It was all sinking to the bottom, so I kept adding more, not realising there was an inch of the sweet nectar settling down below, not getting mixed in by my donut self. It ended up gloriously over-sweet, which is luckily just how I like it. *Enters sugar coma*.

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My new wheels.

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After that wholesome drink, we all wanted something a little bit more alcoholic. So we waltzed underneath a secret garden-esque wreath with the title, ‘La La Land’, to find an exceptional mojito bar. They were juicing real sugar cane, which is something I’ve never seen before, to use instead of the usual sugar syrup. We were even given long sticks of the stuff as stirrers, which we happily chewed on.

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We caught the last bus back to Bayside, where we sweltered in the ever present sun and got a bit sleepy, before heading to Bubbagump.

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Famed for their coronaritas, we ordered one of each flavour and happily slurped away. Verdict being that a mixture of corona and margarita is something that really, truly works.

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We quite horribly over-ordered, with an onslaught of coconut shrimp, fries, calamari, grilled shrimp, spicy chicken, tortilla chips and the most beautifully decadent spinach, artichoke and cheese dip coming our way. That dip was so good, we ordered another portion, and couldn’t finish it. Putting everything leftover (admittedly, not that much) into doggy bags, we gave it to a nearby homeless person so that it didn’t go to waste. If only we were allowed to do that with the food we throw away onboard, we could quite possibly feed the entire homeless population of the city.

After a tipsy meandering of the shops, we hit up Victoria’s Secret for the sale, wreaked a bit of havoc and Uber-ed back to the boat. Our ticket lasts for 48 hours, so the aim is to use it again, maybe for the night time tour of the city. There’s so much to see, and only three days of freedom left.

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Did someone say free tickets?

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Rising with the sun for my morning run meant being treated with this beautiful view on my return to the boat. But sadly, since the clocks went forward by an hour, this heavenly vista is no longer part of my morning ritual, as it’s still pitch black when I get back at 7am. Still, we are lucky enough to be in a position that allows us access to the entire boardwalk, morning and night. Jogging past Nikki Beach in full flow is an experience and a half.

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Chilled cucumber, avocado & buttermilk soup from Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite.

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Roasted peppers with capers & burrata. My problem with roasted peppers is as follows. When you pop them whole into the oven for forty minutes or so to blacken the skins, take them out, put them in a bowl, cling film the bowl so that the skins come away easily, all is fine and dandy up to that point. But the problem arises when I try to cut my strips but get assaulted by all of the innards! I try to pull the pepper apart in a fashion that leaves me with just the outer flesh, but it inevitably becomes a mess of a million tiny seeds. It is just a massive faff, and makes me want to buy roasted peppers in a jar. If anybody can shed any light on this issue of mine, please get in touch.

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From Ottolenghi’s Plenty More, a frankly delicious wild rice salad with nuts and sour cherries. Actually cranberries in this case, because even though yes, you most probably could find elusive sour cherries in Whole Foods, as the lowly crew chef I feel morally obliged (not to mention contractually obliged) to do my shopping in Publix. Whole Foods is just hideously overpriced, and truly IMHO, not particularly ‘whole’. It is an admittedly exceptional shopping experience, but honestly, that cannot warrant slapping on an extra few hundred dollars on the ole shopping bill. In saying this, I could probably wangle a small trip to stock up on those frankly essential but unobtainable items, e.g. miso paste (both red and white), pomegranate molasses, Medjool dates…basically all the things that grace the aisles of Waitrose.

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The most squidgy and decadent triple chocolate brownies. After years of dry, cake-like hideousness created from trying what feels like hundreds of different recipes for the ‘perfect’ brownie, Hummingbird bakery’s is honestly the best of them all. It was actually seeing a friend’s beautiful looking heart shaped brownies on Instagram that introduced me to this recipe, and no other has ever come close to beating it. Although people seem insistent to try to convert me to their chosen recipe, I shall never waver. To make them into triple chocolate brownies, just add chopped milk and white chocolate chunks. To make salted caramel brownies, melt together a tin of condensed milk, 100g butter and 100g dark brown sugar, and pour that in between two layers of brownie. To make peanut butter brownies, just do the same but with a layer of peanut butter mixed with icing sugar. The possibilities, not to mention calories, are endless!

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Laura’s incredible coconut, banana and berry bread. Check out her page if you want to see some gorgeous looking grub. Laura was the crew chef here two before me, and people are still raving about her food, she was that good. We met over Christmas and New Year when both of our boats were in St John, USVIs. We went to free yoga, had a hoot eating pita chips and drank bubbly by the pool. When I saw her bread, (and everything else she has made in the last few months), I had to ask for the recipe. This treat would probably fall under the category of ‘whole’, if it were masquerading as a healthy product at Whole Foods. Yes, it’s made using wholewheat flour and coconut sugar. But coconut sugar is really just another type of brown sugar. Despite me knowing this full well, it still prompts me to claim the treat is ‘good for you’, just to entice people into eat it.

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Quinoa crunch bars. Again, a nod to healthy baking.

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The gals paying me a welcome visit in the galley.

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If I’m lucky, sometimes the sous chef gets a sous chef…

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^^ Expert mixing of the fattoush salad being done. Maria is also extremely talented at scrambling eggs in the microwave, and introduced me to the winning combination of sliced avocado, with condensed milk. Don’t knock it!

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Steve’s back! Our three head chefs do a rotation of two months on, six weeks off, so Steve was fresh from a holiday spent in his hometown of Australia and actually came back on the day of his birthday (his 39th in case you were wondering). On our list of birthday requests, next to his name said, ‘surprise me’, so surprise him I did! From my work last Summer at Harper’s catering company in Jersey, as well as making canapés and mains, I did a lot of meringue making. We’re talking thousands of the buggers in the space of a morning. When I closed my eyes, I saw mini meringues. But one of the desserts that stuck in my taste buds’ memory was a chocolate truffle meringue cake. The base is a chocolate meringue, with a rum spiked chocolate ganache layer sitting above it.

So my patisserie attempt started off well. Just to be sure of a smooth release, I not only thoroughly greased the cake tin but lined it with a circular piece of greaseproof paper, too. A bit of an effort with the pencil and scissors, but I was fancying going the extra mile. Well, wasn’t that the biggest blunder I could have made! When it came to releasing the finished product, the paper had literally fused itself to the caramelised sugary base of the meringue. If left alone, once the cake was cut to serve someone, the paper would be left behind on the plate, or fused to the slice, and just be utterly horrendous in every possible way. So I immediately radioed Michael over on Mylin, and he gallantly rushed over to lend a helping hand. He saved the day! His advice was to set it as solid as possible in the fridge, then use a myriad of flipping using more sheets of greaseproof in order to invert it upside down, but all the while trying not to damage the extremely delicate ganache topping. It was a somewhat fraught success, and a bit of a mess after all that man-handling. He kindly offered to decorate it, and boy oh boy did he do a good job of it! I can only dream of having such panache and flair some day in the future.

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Much like the face of Colin the Caterpillar, we all fought over the shards of the solid piece of white chocolate.

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One of the perks of our job is free tickets to the Miami Heat basketball games. Now I know nothing about basketball, but they are playing a lot of home games at the moment to try and get through to the ‘playoffs’. Whatever that means. Me, Lovely and Maria signed ourselves up for an evening game, venturing over to downtown Miami.

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Now it’s an ongoing joke that the tickets we get are the ‘nosebleed seats’. But what I didn’t realise is that in a stadium with thousands of these, we didn’t even get given seats. They were for standing room only. But still, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. We arrived about an hour late due to work, and left about an hour early due to thirst, probably spending 10-15 minutes watching the actual game. But it was a truly exhilarating and worthwhile 10-15 minutes.

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We found ourselves at the mojito bar in Bayside. Sharing a pitcher of the passion fruit flavour, the game was actually playing on every TV screen around us. So at least we got to see the game to the end (sadly the bitter end, because they lost).

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So much love for these girls, but even more love for my new denim jacket (sorry huns).

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On my oh-so-precious one day off a week, it is paramount that I sample yoga/pilates/sunshine/shopping/every single thing possible to make the most of these hours of daylight. Groupon had a deal going for 5 yoga classes at $39 at Green Monkey, where one class is normally $25. What a billy barg! I wore my new sparkly pilates socks just to try them on for size, and aren’t they marvellous?! My leggings are also new, from L!VE on Lincoln Road Mall, in the half price sale. A man next to me at this class was quite handsome, but when we did the ‘happy baby’ pose at the end, he parped. As in, had a case of the windy pops. I hear of people ‘passing wind’ during yoga, but this was the first time it’s happened so close to home, aka, one metre away from me. Everyone was very adult though, and pretended it didn’t happen. At Green Monkey, we ‘honour our divine selves’ at the end by turning to each other and bowing, whilst the instructor plays a bizarre instrument that reminds me of the annoying sound of a finger being ran around the rim of the glass. It’s utter tripe, but I love it.

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Afterwards, I hopped across the neighbourhood to sample the best vegan, gluten free, fad-filled fare on offer. That small cup of turmeric latte set me back $6, and I make my homemade own in the galley erry day. But I definitely don’t serve it to myself on a wooden board, with a freshly picked sprig of plant sat next to it. That, my friends, is some serious added value.

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The pancakes. The pancakes! Gluten free and vegan, she told me. Does that mean they’re healthy? I can’t think so. They were the most filling pancakes I’ve ever ingested. I silently questioned, were they made with 99% cornflour, or something similarly claggy and dense? Cornflour is, after all, both GF and vegan. The pot at the top was filled with a so-called ‘cashew cream’. It tasted primarily of maple syrup, which was strange, as it sat next to a pot of maple syrup. Even though it is supposedly ‘cashew cream’, the taste and texture was nigh on identical to the Co-yo brand of yoghurt. Especially sweet, and a bit tangy. I smelled a shop-bought rat. The three slices of banana topping the three high stack seemed a bit tight. I mean, there’s not even half a portion of your five (seven?) a day on that plate, is there.

But still, I revelled in becoming a newly fledged Miami-ite and embraced all things over-priced and ‘healthy living’. After a wonderful FaceTime with my mum in the cafe, I did the British thing and told the owner how simply amazing everything was, and cycled to the beach. Despite my trusty SPF 15 being sprayed liberally over me during the five or six hours I was in the relentless sun, I did manage to tinge myself rouge over the entirety of my back half. The boat’s communal Hawaiian Tropic aftersun has now made its way into my cabin for a more permanent residence, as I can’t even bend a knee without grimacing in pain. Bring on the next few days spent working safely indoors!

As Will Smith once said, ‘Welcome to Miami’

After an incredible, jam-packed month at home/in London/up North, it was time to return back to the boat. By a huge stroke of luck, they made their way from the Caribbean to the USA without me onboard. Supposedly it was calm plain sailing, but missing any journey over moving waters is great news for me, considering I’m possibly the queasiest traveller ever to be born. Decked out in my warmest clothes, I made the trip from Jersey to Gatwick, Gatwick to Heathrow, Heathrow to Miami.

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Changing my seat on the 10 hour BA flight to the emptier upstairs level of the plane was the best decision I’ve ever made. There was a row of four empty seats entirely for me. So despite it being a daytime flight, I hunkered down and lay horizontally, just because I could.

Arrival into Miami was utterly dreadful in every which way. We arrived a few hours late, and the immigration queue took two hours. Two whole hours! I had been warned of Miami airport’s shortcomings, but I didn’t think it would be quite that bad. About ten flights appeared to have simultaneously come in from Mexico, holding what looked like hundreds of single young men, all standing at five foot tall.

Expecting the boat to have organised a pickup for me was a big oversight. There was no one. Uber pool answered my prayers, but have you any idea how difficult it is to identify a car by its number plate in America? The front of the car is devoid of any identification. You have to awkwardly peer behind the car to confirm that it is, in fact, your Uber, which makes no sense, as by that time the vehicle in question is already moving away from you. Nightmare.

Eventually I arrived, more or less in one piece, to Miami Beach marina, only to be told immediately on arrival that my covering crew chef’s food was waaay better than mine. Well, what a happy welcome back that was. After five minutes of sulking (more like a few hours/overnight), I resolved to buck up and just work harder, to bring my food up to her standard. There are always going to be people in the world who are better than you. It’s perhaps not so nice to be reminded of the fact straight after a lovely month away, when you have missed everyone and are eager to get back in the kitchen. But anyway.

Onto the food!

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For the carnivores, lamb rump cooked in lashings of butter, rosemary & garlic.

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Gizzi Erskine’s slow cooked pork carnitas with pink pickled onions. Pinkled onions?

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Tuna tataki with crispy ginger & garlic, in a soy & yuzu dressing.

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Grilled pineapple salsa. Grilling the pineapple was admittedly an extra faff, but gave it so much flavour and took away the painful sensation that some get when eating the fruit raw. It may well be a necessary step from now on in my Mexican repertoire.

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NOPI’s burnt spring onion dip with garlic & chilli kale. Not worth the effort of burning the spring onions in my opinion, they just became stringy and difficult to cut and incorporate into the dip.

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Crushed potatoes with capers, pink peppercorns & roasted garlic. Crisp, salty, pillowy soft in the middle, a recipe to definitely make again.

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Asparagus with romesco sauce. I’m enjoying the whole putting the sauce on the bottom of the plate thing at the moment. It’s admittedly a bit trickier to serve up as part of a buffet, as the sauce is welded to the bottom, but it is more aesthetically pleasing than having it blobbed over the top, covering the vegetables.

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Simple Caprese salad with basil pesto.

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Caramelised balsamic pear & lentil salad, adapted from Honestly Healthy. Those pears! Quite a few of them didn’t make it on top of the final salad.

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Nectarine, burrata & walnut salad, with the best ever broccoli dish in the world behind it. Even if you are not a fan of broccoli, I implore you to make this dish, and you will be its No.1 fan by the end.

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Continuing my theme of pushing the boat out, we have (slightly rustic/informal) homemade pasta, to go with a slow cooked beef ragu. Making pasta creates such a mess, it’s ungodly. Days later, I’m still coming across smatterings of flour around the galley.

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Lemon curd macarons. We have a new piece of equipment to play with, a Thermomix, that you can practically make anything in. Next door, (the two boats are side by side whilst the owners move their belongings across) Michael’s been using it left right and centre to make crew food, as you can cook pasta in one section, steam fish in another and make a sauce somewhere else. So far, I’ve used it to make a lovely lemon curd, and a pretty good mushroom risotto. Anything that requires you to stand and stir for any amount of time (custard, choux pastry, bechamel, hollandaise sauce), you can make in the Thermomix by bunging the ingredients in, setting the timer and walking away. The head chefs say it is like having your own sous chef in the kitchen with you. That sounds suspiciously like I will soon be out of a job.

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Am I the only one who enjoys lemon curd on toast? With all the rest that was leftover and not being eaten, I whipped up a lemon meringue pie. Please excuse the slightly over-whipped meringue, but I didn’t mention my faux-pas to anybody, and nobody seemed to notice or comment. Thank goodness the flavour prevailed!

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More technically successful cookies. Chewy around the edges but soft and squidgy in the middle, studded with caramel and chocolate chips.

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Now that we’re in the states, we all have one day off per week. My hours are still 8-5, and on my day off I must have prepared food for the head chef to bung in the oven and finish, so an example would be lasagne & garlic bread with a couple of salads. All the other crew are working shifts, so may be on early, day or lates. Having always loved shift work, I am superbly jealous. Especially as they orchestrate working an early shift before the day off, meaning they get the evening off, plus a full day, plus the following morning. Am I bitter? Nope, not bitter at all.

Rant over, Miami is truly shaping up to be quite spectacular. We reside in South Beach, the home of perfectly circular plastic boobs and bum implants. I think every other person living here must be a plastic surgeon. My first purchase was a two wheeled beauty of a bicycle, along with a star studded galaxy designed helmet. Law in Miami doesn’t even require motorcyclists to wear helmets, so you can imagine how much of a donut I look toddling around on a pushbike with all the headgear. But when it comes to my (lack of) sense of direction and general self-awareness, I seriously cannot be too careful.

Two weekends in Saba, ‘the highest point in the Netherlands’

St Maarten is a mere hop, skip and a jump away from the picturesque island of Saba, known locally as the ‘the unspoiled Queen’ of the Caribbean. Ever since our Atlantic crossing, I’d harboured a deep desire to visit this place for its unparalleled diving. It is fundamentally an old volcano shaped like a large rock, only five by five miles, and home to 1,200 people. There is a medical school on the island which takes 500 students, so when semesters are in full flow, it feels a little busier. The beauty of the place has been so successfully maintained most probably due to there being no beaches at all. No beaches means no big hotels, therefore no masses of tourists pouring in. Heaven!

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Winair takes you the 15 minute journey across on a teeny tiny propellor plane.

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Before playing ‘spot my yacht’ in the air, you could see Abramovitch’s behemoth of a boat, Eclipse, nearly living up to its name and eclipsing our destination in the background.

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The plane swoops in above the runway at the very last minute, which is so short that the brakes are applied instantaneously. It’s a rather exhilarating landing, which undoubtedly requires some serious piloting skills. During my two trips, the pilot was the same man on all four legs. He could well be the only one capable of such a feat, but reassuringly always has a friend sitting next to him in case anything goes Pete Tong.

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My two night stay was to be spent at El Momo Cottages, recommended to me by the dive school as the most affordable accommodation on the island, at sixty bucks a night. In my aptly named Cricket Cottage, you share a bathroom with the person staying next door. It is an eco lodge with a rainwater supply, so the shower is a lukewarm dribble and you mustn’t be alarmed to come across any local critters. That’s not to say I wasn’t still extremely alarmed whenever anything buzzed or scuttled nearby.

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The cottage comes complete with a miniature terrace, which was simply the perfect spot to catch up on emails, music downloads and the all important blogpost writing. One must take each and every opportunity of good wifi, on electricity-challenged islands such as these.

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My first evening was spent watching the sun go down over the town of Windwardside. After a quick exploration, a beer and a bite to eat, I climbed back up the almost vertical hill to El Momo and fell asleep beneath my mosquito net, catching some well needed Z’s before my first day of diving.

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There are two dive centres on the island, both of which I ended up diving with. On my first visit, Saba Divers took me on a total of five dives over two days.

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We were a small group, consisting of myself, an eccentric German, and a lovely Canadian couple called Chuck and Deb. With brilliant one syllable names, I warmed to them straight away. They actually met each other years ago on a dive trip, so now every January at the time of their anniversary, they take a vacation somewhere new and exciting to explore underwater together. Serious couple goals.

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Proudly wearing my five dollar rented Suunto Zoop, a blast from the past of my Thailand days. Selling my yellow one for the same price that I bought it for is one of my biggest materialistic regrets. Awkwardly, some of the pins in the strap pinged off after my second dive, but Chuck swooped in and saved the day by handily clipping it onto my BCD (buoyancy control device, the vest that you inflate with air and has everything strapped onto it). So instead of looking at my wrist to check my depth and no deco time (the time you are allowed to stay at that depth before you go ‘into deco’, meaning you have too much nitrogen in your body), I had to continuously check the dangling watch like a timepiece. Apparently I looked like I was constantly navigating.

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With no underwater cameras, sadly none of the five dives were caught on film. But we were taken to some beautiful places. We were joined at a pinnacle by three Caribbean reef sharks for a full thirty minutes at about thirty metres deep, and at ‘Diamond Rock’ we rested on the sandy bottom to be joined by countless feeding stingrays and turtles.

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Later that evening, upon walking through the town I stumbled into Francoise and Walter. Francoise was the French divemaster who lead all of my dives, and Walter was the boat driver. They were on a mission to pick up a crate of beers and some vegetables, to cook up a feast using the fresh fish they’d caught together earlier that day. Well I certainly landed on my feet by bumping into them, as they invited me round and I was treated to a beautiful dinner of real local Caribbean fare. There were three different types of unusual potato on our plates, a delicious sauted cabbage dish, all topped off with a selection of Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, and one other fish that has evaded me.

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It was with a heavy heart that I bid adieu to the island, asking myself when on earth will I ever be able to come back? Luckily, the answer was a hell of a lot sooner than I’d anticipated.

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In a nod to Burns night, here we have neeps and tatties soup. Made with swede and potato, and finished with crumbled black pudding (in the place of haggis. As you can imagine, the Caribbean is not well stocked with the Scottish delicacy).

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Tatty scones, topped with cream cheese, smoked salmon and dill. A potato scone, if you will.

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Not Scottish in any way, shape or form, but scrumptious all the same. A white peach, mozzarella, pine nut, basil & parma ham salad, finished with a white balsamic & olive oil vinaigrette.

Nursing my post holiday blues, the best news possible came from our captain. We were no longer leaving for Miami that week, but instead remaining in St Maarten, meaning my month of hollibobs would start before the four day voyage stateside. It was such a relief to hear that I did a little jig in the galley. The first question to cross my lips was, ‘Can I fit in another visit to Saba?’ and the answer was yes. Yes!

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So I donned my cap that unashamedly has ‘Adventure Babe’ emblazoned across the front, and set to hiking pretty much the entirety of the rock.

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As luck would have it, the island was hosting their yearly Triathlon that very day. The ladies at the trail shop gave me a map, an emergency whistle, and sent me on my merry way to embark on the Sandy Cruz trail. The exact same trail that the runners were completing, except they were coming, in full force, from the opposite direction.

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Some parts of the path were so muddy that my pace was reduced to that of a snail’s. It became clear to me very quickly that my four year old pink Nike trainers now have absolutely no grip left. It felt like walking in Vaseline covered slippers for about two hours straight.

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But the views and scenery were magnificent, sufficiently making up for my suffering gait. The rainforest was stifling at times, intensely humid and a little bit spooky. A grass snake crossed my path, which gave me a hell of a fright, but luckily my taxi driver earlier that morning had assured me that there is nothing wildlife-related on Saba that can kill you.

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A Catholic church in the Bottom.

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Complete with a diverse mural of cherubs.

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A friendly medical student I met over lunch encouraged me to try ‘The Ladder’, a set of unbelievably steep steps leading to the water’s edge. It was the sole method to bring supplies onto Saba until the port was built in 1970. Those poor workmen.

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It took about ten minutes to scurry down, and a huffing and puffing thirty minutes to haul myself back up.

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My third and final hike of the day took me back to Windwardside, where I happened upon two lovely people I was lucky enough to meet on the flight over that morning. Brad is the second officer on a boat docked two doors down from me, and Lucy is a deckhand on a really big yacht docked in Phillipsburg (where all the cruise ships go).

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After a beer and a bite to eat, we agreed to meet up later that night after a much needed freshen up. Out of the three of us, Brad struck gold with the best accommodation in town. Poor Lucy had two single beds in hers, and my room was an Airbnb find, consisting of the spare room of a teeny tiny bungalow, owned by a Texan man and his OAP dog, Maggie. Needless to say, we reconvened in Brad’s ’boutique’ hotel, complete with a balcony, an enormous sailboat replica and (we think) a working gramophone from the 1800s. With a bottle of red the three of us watched an impromptu fireworks display unfold before our very eyes. It turned out not to be a celebration of the triathlon as I presumed, but instead to commemorate the ringing in of Chinese New Year.

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After (not much) convincing, my leg was pulled and I agreed to come with them the following morning for more diving. This time it was to be with Sea Saba, the only other centre on the island. There’s only one little dock where the boats come and go, so it required some hiding on my part. Miraculously, Brad had a Go-Pro (I must get myself one of those…) so he managed to take some pretty cool photos underwater.

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The very picture of grace!

Beaching, hiking, dining, all in a day’s work

After the hubbub of the guest trip, we were treated by Captain to a lavish Friday night dinner at a place called Bamboo Bernie’s, in Maho. It was an up-market Asian ‘fusion’ restaurant, with admittedly middling quality food but sensational cocktails. Despite being several days post NYE, for us it was our time to let loose, let our (and other’s) hair down, and throw caution to the wind. Me throwing caution to the wind was ordering not one! But two portions of coconut shrimp. It was tuh-die-for.

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Me brimming over with happiness at having Lovely back onboard, on the boat that she well and truly belongs. The captains are currently having a tug of war battle for her, and my only hope is that we come out the winners.

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After a few ‘Sexy Geishas’ and one ‘Barman’s Choice’, it became my life’s dream to transform into a blonde bombshell, by wearing Heather’s actual real life hair. All it took was a cry of, ‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!’ and she ever so kindly obliged.

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To blow away the inevitable cobwebs the following morning, a hike was planned. Heather is a seasoned professional of activities in whichever destination we end up, having worked onboard for an impressive six years, there is little she hasn’t come across. So it was in trusted hands that I embarked upon a hike that would leave me scratched, bruised, stung, and generally in a terrible state of disrepair.

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‘Take a photo of me looking into the distance, (so I seem pensive and interesting).’ Says anyone who ever has posted a photo like the one above.

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Truthfully, I wasn’t feel pensive or interesting at that given moment. In actual fact, my over-riding feelings were of incredible heat (note the growing patch of sweat on the front of my top), and intense discomfort having just been stung by a frighteningly exotic Caribbean wasp on the knuckle of my ring finger.

Our hike began simply enough, on the tarmac road, dodging a stream of testosterone fuelled Hummer drivers hurtling round the bends. After a mild incline, I stormed past the entrance to the ‘hike’, not noticing the five centimetre gap in the bushes that we were supposed to fight our way through. Apparently, four years ago, it was more of a substantial path, as it soon became clear to us that no maintenance had been done since that time. Each and every step was a battle through waist-high grass, some of which grabbed at you like velcro, others just leaving a light trail of lacerations across your poor ankles. After about twenty minutes of pure slog, we came across a small ladder with a little electrical box at the top. What an attractive prospect that was to me! To climb out of the overgrown wilderness and perhaps glimpse a bit of a view. It was the worst decision I’ve ever made. My left hand plunged straight into the waiting stinger of the most hideous insect ever to grace planet Earth. It looked like a hornet, big enough and ugly enough to haunt my nightmares for the rest of time. After it released its sting, it continued to aggravate me in the face, which was just ridiculous as I was clearly trying to get away. The rocks cushioned my fall, and in shouting for Heather’s help I noticed that she was running in the opposite direction, having just as much of a fear of wasps as I do. Needless to say, we lost what little confidence we had to begin with, and had no choice but to admit defeat and turn back. On our wobbly way down, we came across a group of four local men with grass trimmers, who informed us that the trail would be suitable for public use in the next week or so, once they were done clearing the obstructed path.

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Dried fruit, nut & seed loaf with ricotta and orange segments. Wholesome goodness that energises and invigorates, made even more delicious with a drizzle of honey.

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Tuna ceviche with mango, apple, coconut & lime. Light, refreshing, the tastiest ceviche recipe I have attempted thus far. It’s on the list to make for my brother when next at home.

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The proud creator of a chocolate cherry Black Forest Gateaux, made with love for Jhel’s birthday. We had no cherry jam or double cream, so on improvisation I upped the concentration of Kirsch, and made a cream cheese Greek yoghurt frosting instead. Captain was effusive in his compliments, stating it the best Black Forest he has ever had, as the others are usually too rich for his taste. A happy accident!

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Excuse my old fashioned chocolate work. I must look into more modern ways of cake decorating.

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Steve has worked in some of the best Italian restaurants in Australia, and kindly gave me his pizza dough recipe. My recreation of the Pizza Express ‘Padana’ went down a storm. Goat’s cheese, caramelised red onion & spinach, but this special one was made using a blueberry goat’s cheese that the owners didn’t use up. It was magnificent.

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Steve’s traditional paella, pronounced pie-ey-a (I choose to pronounce the ‘l’s because I fear I sound like a moron otherwise).

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Upon opening what I thought was a can of coconut milk, I was horrified to find some sort of grey sludge residing in the tin. It was actually ‘Coco Lopez’, an ingredient used to make pina coladas. So myself and Heather set to googling how to use it up in cooking, and came across the brand website, filled with inspirational recipes. Out popped a cheesecake that tasted only slightly like coconut, which was nonetheless enjoyed by all.

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For one whole week we’ve been ‘detailing’ the galley. ‘Detailing’ is something that may well be unique to yachts. It is when you clean something to an unfathomable extent, often requiring the use of toothpicks and cotton buds. Have you ever tried to clean an oven with a toothpick? I’ll tell you now from recent experience, it can be done. We donned our gas masks and spent an entire week cleaning things that haven’t been cleaned for nigh on ten years. The crew were treated to traditional French sandwiches, Lebanese shawarma platters, a plethora of Thai curries, and I realised how lucky I am to have the full time job of a chef, not a cleaner.

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We’ve been making full use of St Maarten and its beautiful restaurants, in particular discovering the gem that is Pinel Island. You hop on a $12 boat that takes you across from Cul de Sac on the French side, to the little island in the distance, and you’re greeted with groups of young twenty-somethings paddling in the shallows, drinking cocktails at sundown, generally having a grand old time.

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Here you’ll find two or three restaurants, the best in my opinion being Karibuni, which interestingly means ‘welcome’ in Swahili. Our French waitress was simply lovely, letting us come with her to the water’s edge to choose our (unlucky) lobsters. The lobsters here are spiny, and oddly have no claws to speak of. But when grilled on the barbecue and served with lashings of garlic butter, they are a thing of beauty. After a bottle of white wine, two servings of the free banana liqueur shots on offer, a Baileys coffee, plus a mystery cocktail from the bar nearest the little pier where you leave, it was time to say goodbye to the miniature island that seemed, at times, like a mirage. (How much did I have to drink?! Perhaps sober it wouldn’t have had such a profound impact).

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Before leaving, I made sure to buy a very flattering grey tank top with the restaurant’s logo on it, to forever remind me of my wonderful experience.

Ready, steady, charter

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So there we were, celebrating Christmas with a convivial game of Trivial Pursuit followed by several rounds of cocktails at the Fat Turtle, when the bombshell was dropped. We were to expect six guests onboard for New Year.

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Our festive outfits were put back into storage until next time, and all fun and games were called to an abrupt halt. We immediately set sail for a marina in St. Thomas, BVIs, to pick up our charter.

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What came next was tantamount to a military planned operation. Two extra stewardesses were immediately flown in, one all the way from South Africa, the other a mere stone’s throw away from Miami. One of our head chefs was plucked from his rotation and immediately set into motion a mammoth order with yacht suppliers for fresh fish, all different cuts of meat and the most beautiful selection of vegetables I ever did see. We had baby kale, micro herbs and heritage carrots simply spilling out of the walk-in fridge. It was time to squirrel away my Knorr chicken stock cubes from sight, this was charter time.

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Head chef Steve swooped in like Mary Poppins and set to preparing the galley for guest mode. One of my missions was to make vat upon vat of home-churned ice cream, gunning through ten litres of double cream in no less than forty eight hours. Our monstrous machine actually burnt out on us, leaving me no choice but to radio our chief engineer to come and fix it. He kindly obliged, but only if I lugged the four stone machine down to the deepest darkest part of the boat, the engine room. He exercised the full use of his extensive engineering skills, and we ended up with just as many flavours as your local cinema. Vanilla, rum and raisin, cookies and cream, Nutella, even my personal favourite, peanut butter swirled. Throw in some mini pastries, green juice, fancy cheese and truffle toasties, and we were all set.

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Crew chicken skewers with a peanut satay sauce.

The morning would begin with me frantically trying to smash out crew food before the guests woke up. Luckily, they were late risers, so up until about 11am was all mine. But once they were up, it was a free for all. Some ordered fresh juice, others wanted scrambled egg whites (super convenient, having used forty egg yolks in each batch of ice cream, we were certainly not short of whites). Having six different breakfast orders fly at you whilst trying to prepare for lunch was no mean feat. Steve handled it like the pro he is, and everyone was left full and happy.

Lunches were a buffet style affair, often including pizzas, Caesar salad, even perfectly formed miniature burger sliders one day. My role drastically changed from crew chef to sous chef, which, as you can imagine, made me a pig in muck. My very own brioche rolls graced the table, not to mention almost every single dessert being made by yours truly. Steve would hand over his tried and tested recipes, and entrust me with making them from start to finish. My hours were the usual 8-5, but with no lunch break, and after two hours off in the evening, enough time to squeeze in a quick shower and power nap, we were back in the galley from 7 until late. By the end of it all, I was running on fumes.

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Velvety pea soup with a speck emulsion.

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Spinach and ricotta ravioli with a runny egg yolk, and a sage butter sauce. The guests quite literally went mad for this dish, mentioning it at each and every opportunity. When we all queued up on deck at the end of their trip to bid them adieu (that being my first real sighting of them, not counting my stalking of the security cameras), they all chorused again about the magnificence of the ravioli! Myself and Steve were positively beaming, as they were a bit of a ball-ache to assemble, to say the least.

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Summer berry pavlova.

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My overly excited piping of the carrot cake. This trumped any other I’ve ever tasted, the secret being a tin of crushed pineapple added to the mix. Fruity, fluffy, perfection, the only carrot cake recipe I’ll ever need in the future.

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We served it with a vibrantly orange carrot sauce and edible flowers.

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A decadent triple chocolate brownie, before it went into the oven.

The trip climaxed on New Year’s Eve, with an elaborate seven course menu and a big ole knees up. The girls put on the most beautiful display, with a table setting that blew me away in its splendour. Games galore, they had beer pong, drinking Jenga, not to mention any cocktail they could think of right at their fingertips. Heather truly outdid herself, going above and beyond to make it special for them.

But in saying all of this, I know deep down that us worker bees had the better time.

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As the clock struck midnight, myself and Steve downed tools (having just served the last course), and scurried out the crew mess door to the side of the boat. About half the crew who were still working came out too, complete with Captain carrying two big bottles of champagne. We were beyond thrilled! The guests were happy upstairs with their little shindig, and we had our very own view of the island of St John, USVIs, who put on a fireworks display for all the yachts moored in their waters. The display was admittedly a little bit lacking from a distance, but when every single yacht in our vicinity sounded their horn simultaneously at midnight, I can honestly say I’ve never felt shivers like it. New Years Eve has always been a time for me spent with my family, and although I missed them like mad, it was a moving, memorable, life-affirming experience that I will never, ever forget.