Moving up in the world, by way of a cantaloupe melon

The owners came back this week, to pack up their belongings and fly away on their private jet, drawing a line under their Mediterranean Summer. For the crew, this meant no more standard 8-5, instead working strange shifts that often go into the dead of the night. For me, my hours will always and forever be 8-5.

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Peshwari naan filled with coconut, almond & sultanas.

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Rick Stein’s lamb korma.

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Tarka dhal, made with yellow lentils.

To make the most of our final night being in sync with each other, the girls took me to a well known underground Absinthe Bar in Antibes. It really does take you back in time by the way it’s decorated, with all of those postcard images of ladies sipping a martini or smoking a cigarette blown up on the walls. But bringing it into the modern age, the wifi is readily available and has no password! So we were snapping away, trying on all of the hats they have lining the room. Lovely has told me on a fair few occasions she has accidentally/on purpose walked out, still donning a fez or an army helmet.

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Iced water is on each table, with a menu of tonnes of different types of absinthe. Two of us went for the classic, and another two had a less aniseed flavoured one. They were both delicious! In small sips.

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You pour the absinthe into the glass, pop a sugar cube on top of the sieve and drip iced water over until it dissolves.

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Half of us added more sugar, and more water, to make it halfway drinkable.

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After trying on a riding hat, a beret, a few fascinators and a cowboy piece, I settled with the sombrero for the evening.

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Maria has one of those heads that looks amazing in any type of hat. Much unlike my own. The one she chose was from H&M – it suited her so well.

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We had an absolute hoot, and finished the night with flaming shots at the yachtie-favourite Cafe Brun just up the street. Maria flirted with the barman so well that he poured us four shots on the house, with a whole red chilli in. It was so great.

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The following morning kicked off with a smoothie, as per usual, but with a few cocoa, maca & almond energy balls thrown in for good measure.

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My uncle is a fantastic cook, and is the one who really got me interested in Ottolenghi’s Middle Eastern style of cooking in the first place. One of my favourite memories of visiting my auntie and uncle is when he made us Persian jewelled rice, as part of a glorious feast for dinner. It blew all of our minds, and we still talk about it now, years later. They love to travel around Spain, and told me about this amazing traditional soup called Ajo Blanco, made using a recipe from Diana Henry’s book, Crazy Water Pickled Lemons. Now, once my head chef caught wind of my plans for making a chilled almond & garlic soup as part of a crew lunch, his initial thoughts were that it may not go down all too well. So he recommended to just make a small amount, enough for about 4-6 people. But lo and behold, once it was set down on the table, it disappeared in seconds. They quite literally lapped it up! I really can’t blame them, as it is quite frankly unbelievably tasty, especially for something with such humble ingredients.

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Ajo Blanco, finished with green grapes and a swirl of olive oil.

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A firm favourite – mac and cheese with a crispy Panko breadcrumb topping, loaded with extra turkey bacon (leftover from the owner’s breakfast).

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Sirloin steak, sous-vide. Yes, sous-vide, by moi! You take your piece of meat or fish, marinade it in whatever you choose, pop it in a plastic bag, and the machine will suck out all of the air and seal it airtight. It basically locks in all the flavour, and allows the marinade to penetrate the meat so much more in a really small amount of time. We also have an actual water bath! So this meat was cooked at 96°C for 40 minutes, before finishing off by searing it on the hot grill. It was marvellous. Such a new and exciting way of cooking, I’ve also used it to cook tuna so far and plan to use it for pretty much everything.

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Fennel and red cabbage slaw, made a whole lot easier using the Japanese mandolins we have in the galley. Gone are the days of laboriously chiffonade-ing. Seriously important to keep my eye on the whole procedure though, because I want to come home with all my digits.

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The piped topping of my fish pie, made with cod and king prawns.

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Fennel, orange & almond salad with mint. One of my self-appointed evening activities every day is to scour the web for interesting new salad ideas. Tomato, cucumber and lettuce just isn’t going to cut the mustard anymore.

A lunch menu and a dinner menu are printed each morning, with a choice of two mains for both. Usually there is a lighter option, with a slightly more substantial one (but still light by my standards). Lunch is finished each day with a fruit platter, showcasing the beautiful produce we come across at the local markets. After watching head chef make these the first day, he entrusted the job over to me. As you can imagine, I was pleased as punch to play a part in something for the owners.

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One with figs, and one without. Any piece of fruit that is a little bit imperfect, can’t go on the plate.

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Once this is sent out, that signals the end for head chef until dinner service. So he went for a bit of ‘horizontalisation’, leaving me to put Radio 1 on the bluetooth and crack on with crew dinner. But Jhel came back into the galley having served the fruit plate, saying that the Mr would like some more melon. I certainly wasn’t going to disturb my boss during his holy ‘horizontalisation’, so I carved the rest of the melon with the most precision I’ve ever employed. No wedge had any untidy bits. They were placed into a perfect semicircle fanning the plate. It was a tiny job that I will probably look back on and laugh at, but at the time it felt like a big deal. I served the melon by myself. It was a big deal.

Having head chef Michael with me at the moment is a complete dream, as he is willing teach me pretty much anything that he knows before he leaves (which is a hell of a lot). We did a brunch themed lunch, complete with poached eggs, Hollandaise sauce, and English muffins made from scratch. The tips and tricks he is passing onto me are invaluable, and are making me a thousand times better at cooking every day. At least, I like to think so.

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As I was poaching the last of the eggs, Michael roped in Steve to sprinkle a pinch of cayenne pepper over each, and Graham to pop a sprig of parsley on top. This was a rather labour intensive, ‘a la minute’ lunch, that I wouldn’t necessarily do again in a hurry.

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We have white boards up to use for meal planning, which are usually 2 or 3 days ahead, because we need to pull out all our meat and fish from the freezer to defrost. This lunch was for the day we sailed the 9 hour journey to Marseilles. From my recent experience, I knew it would be best to be in a position where I could take myself away for some quiet time, if the need arose. So the day before, all my prep was done, and a simple assembly job was required in the morning. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!

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But all was well, and my seasickness tablets did their thing. There was a good hour where all I could do was yawn, but it more or less kept the malaise at bay. Dinner was a Sunday roast, complete with mammoth sized Yorkshire puddings.

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Please forgive my appearance – after a day in the galley I tend to end up greasy haired and rather shiny of face.

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Happy with our work, ready to tuck in.

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So that marks the end of the Med season. The boat will be taken out of the water in Marseilles, for extensive work and repairs. Amazingly for us, the galley is getting a whole new floor, fridge & freezer, even stainless steel cupboards. During that time, which we think will be around a week, it’ll be my job to think up store bought lunches and dinners for the crew, that require no kitchen facilities. Unfortunately, the Marseilles shipyard has no takeaways, restaurants, or pretty much anything useful in its vicinity, so Michael has warned me I’ll need to rely on regular trips to the Carrefour. We’re talking build your own baguettes, ready made quiches, rotisserie chickens…it’ll no doubt require some creativity on my part so that everyone still actually eats well. During the day it’ll be high time for me to sort out the walk in fridge downstairs, taking everything out and giving it a good deep clean. The same will be done to the walk in freezer, and the dry stores. I just need to figure out how to spend any length of time inside the freezer, without dying of frostbite. Even popping in for a leg of lamb is tantamount to a mission to Everest base camp!

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