What’s it like to cook food aboard a sailboat? We spoke with a few experienced sea chefs to find out, and boy did we come home with a bag of tricks. These chefs teach us how to optimise space, minimise waste, and stay adaptible no matter the weather outside. Whether you’re also a seasoned galley cook or staunchly committed to staying on dry ground, read forth. We’re confident you’ll find a handful of practical skills and a good dose of humour within their stories to bring into your own kitchen, wherever that may be.
Life has a funny way of surprising us. Chloe Gillatt, avid sea-chef and co-founder of The Falmouth Distilling Co. didn’t set out to become a cook when she embarked on a gap year nearly a decade ago to manage Covean Cottage Cafe on the Isles of Scilly. But as the twists and turns of existence would have it, that one gap year turned into two, then three.
Chloe was falling in love. In love with a 57-foot 1938 ex-fishing boat named Eda, in love with a skipper (“how predictable!”) and in love with cooking. Chloe has since served up meals aboard Cornish and Scottish charters, super-yachts, restaurants and private homes. We spoke with Chloe earlier this year to learn what it’s like to cook aboard a boat. Read on and drool as she lets us in on her galley tips.
What is a funny memory you have from the galley?
Picture this: We are hurtling down the Irish sea towards the Isles of Scilly, sails full, and the boat is rolling merrily. Our band of sailors are fully togged up in bright yellow waterproofs because the sky is steadily turning a deep grey.
I pass up a big pot of roasted tomato soup and warm-from-the-oven bread for lunch. Lovely. But as soon as everyone has their lunch in their hands…the boat takes a pronounced lurch and the steaming contents of everybody’s bowls take flight, hang suspended in the air for just a second, before plastering everyone. It is a dramatic murder scene, an ill-advised DIY job. My Effing God.
I can’t help it, we all crack up. The sky opens and drenches us all.
What differences are there between cooking onboard and cooking in a land kitchen?
Space is the big difference! Space comes at a premium throughout the inside of most boats, but unless you’re lucky enough to cook in a galley that was designed by a boatbuilder who also enjoyed cooking, you can bet it’s one of the smallest spaces on board.
Learning adaptability is non-negotiable. What sort of food to feed a hungry bunch of sailors is completely dictated by what ingredients were available at the port in which you stocked the cupboards, the motion of the ocean, and the weather.
Storing food in small galley spaces is an operation itself: if you’re not utterly sure something is going to get used it doesn’t get to come aboard. Exotic spices that get an outing twice a year, I’m looking at you.
Here are some good bits: chopping vegetables on deck is gorgeous! Divvying out food preparation jobs is encouraged! There’s almost always someone to chat to whilst in your galley! Getting your fellow sailors involved in the washing up is expected!
What is your go-to rough seas dish?
Rough weather sailing calls for warming, familiar, comforting food. Nothing too out-there or spicy and nothing that requires fiddly assembly. My go-tos have always been things like risottos, stews packed with veg and pulses that can happily bubble away by itself until meal times, trays of roasted root vegetables and chickpeas or halloumi with some sort of unctuous dressing, macaroni with handfuls of greens baked in, pasta dishes in general in fact, mild but hearty chillies, noodles in broths laden with ginger and other aromatics, soups you can stand a spoon up in.
Someone on board introduced me to the delightful concept of ‘travelling cakes’ several years ago. A travelling cake is one that eschews the typical ideals of sponge-like fluffiness in preference of density, sturdiness and longevity. Something you can bake, wrap and chuck in a bag for a long journey. Travelling cakes include date and walnut loaves, ginger cakes and tea loaves.
What are your store cupboard or locker favourites?
An emergency life saver are tins of ghee – clarified butter. Yes, running out of butter is always considered an emergency.
Having said that, my desert island ingredient for boat cooking has to be the humble tinned chickpea. From roasting with salt and oil for a nibble, to becoming the backbone of stews, soups, spreads, salads and dips, the tinned chickpea continually earns its place in the galley.
What is the galley utensil you can’t live without?
Can I have two?
Firstly, a Tala Cook’s Measure. Basically a metal cone on a base with incremental markings on the inside indicating volumes for different ingredients. An absolute war-era throwback that I bet your Gran has one of. Here’s why I think it’s the best thing since sliced bread to have in a galley: scales do not work on a moving boat, flat-out. They can’t cope with the motion of a boat rocking.
And secondly, a great big, quality casserole dish with a lid in cast iron or stainless steel. Oven to table, use every day, last-forever, one-pot-wonder loveliness.
Any other tips?
A good friend and very experienced galley cook once told me that you can save any meal that’s gone slightly awry by A: filling up everyone’s glasses of wine, and B: deploying double cream. Wise lady.