Giulia exudes an enthusiasm for life that is contagious. While admitting she has a long way to go, she wears her galley-cook hat proudly among the many others she has merited in her several decades on earth. Most recently, Giulia founded the galley provisioning platform Fair Winds Food Network.
Giulia was born in a nondescript inland Italian city. In her own words, “there is nothing special or exciting to say about the city, which is probably why I left when I was 18.” Her land-locked upbringing soon transformed into an unquenchable thirst for the big blue.
Following a few years working in the film industry in Italy and Germany, and an emotionally exhausting stint setting up a solidarity kitchen project for Kurdish refugees in Greece, Giulia turned to the ocean for some healing. Giulia says that destiny was waiting for her in La Palma, Canaries. There, in 2016, she met the crew of the Tres Hombres, an engine-less brigantine managed by Fairtransport. She fell in love with the boat and with the mission of sail cargo. She volunteered with the crew to gain sailing experience and worked as a shipyard cook to prove her determination. Low and behold, she then scored the job of galley cook for the Tres Hombres’ 2018 trans-atlantic voyage.
Giulia had never cooked on a sailing vessel at sea before. “I was very excited and scared as fuck,” she says of her first job with the Tres Hombres, quick to follow with: “be careful for what you wish from the universe, because you might actually get it!”
Barely 3 months after the Tres Hombres returned to Europe, Giulia received an offer to work on Avontuur, a century-old sail-cargo schooner managed by Timbercoast. She obviously said yes. This trip coincided with COVID-19’s global onslaught, however, forcing Giulia and the crew to be confined to the ship for months on end and endure long journey legs with supply shortages. Always an optimist, she assures us that while it was crazy, “It was also great. I learned so much on so many levels.”
Giulia has had her share of slap-stick mishaps as a galley cook; she even compares cooking in a galley to an Olympic sport! From these onboard experiences, Giulia quickly learned that properly planning and organising a ship’s galley provisions is possibly the most important task of a galley cook.
Upon her most recent return to Europe from the sea, Giulia popped over to Cornwall, UK to engage with the New Dawn Traders sail cargo community before continuing her travels and work on the sea. During her pit-stop on the British Isles, Giulia shared her top tips and lessons for cooking on board with us at New Dawn Traders. Read on and absorb.
Share a funny memory from the galley.
Hard to pick one in an ocean of memories! I’ll give you a random mixtape.
The time in the Canaries when during a day off I twisted my ankle right before my first ocean crossing and I spent the whole passage hopping on one leg, hanging on safety lines that had been rigged up especially for me. This got me loads of new nicknames.
Or, when in Barbados, I opened up a homemade Bajan Pepper sauce that had heavily fermented and its spicy contents exploded straight into my face!
Or, during a stormy day in the Gulf of Mexico, when a crazy wave splashed a meal I had baked all over the floor. And then a rotten egg [somehow] suspiciously ended up in the pot I had put on as a backup! So with 20 minutes to go before lunchtime I had to freestyle a meal that got named The Frankenstein Leftovers Party.
What differences have you found there when cooking onboard compared with in a land kitchen?
In a galley all your body takes part in the cooking, which can turn into an Olympic discipline. You literally need to wedge yourself and secure every single thing you’re using, since gravity takes on a whole new meaning and power. Gravity can be your ally and your worst enemy. You learn how to counterbalance the swell and predict the surging waves. Your reflexes sharpen, all your senses are awake. You need to be fully focused; one second of carelessness can cost you loads.
You also have very limited resources. My constant mission on board is preserving the food to make the provisioning last as long as possible. You must deal with what you have at hand and be extremely accurate with every drop of every ingredient.
On Tres Hombres things are designed, built and done to have the lowest impact as possible while providing the highest learning experience. For instance, as the ship isn’t propelled by an engine, the dry store isn’t equipped with a refrigeration system. Everything that can be done manually and without electricity will be done in that way. [Working in this way], you truly realize how little you need in order to make great things happen. It was the best school I could ever wish for.
Why is it important to provision well for a journey at sea?
Provisioning (at least for a trip at sea) means to prepare a vessel with everything the crew and the ship will need to undertake a journey. The cook on a ship is fully responsible for everything that will be bought, stowed, cooked and used in the galley and in the dry-store, from the fresh groceries to the equipment and cleaning gear. The length and the type of the voyage, the amount of crew, the season, the budget, the facilities on board, and the space and time available all make a huge difference in how it gets done.
Nowadays, you can select anything you might possibly want on a screen and get it delivered with a click. You can walk in an average supermarket and find all sorts of goods from all sorts of places, [available the entire] year. It is indeed very practical and efficient.
But for me, provisioning, or shopping at any scale and context, is more than a massive grocery mission. At least for me, it is a choice, a statement, a political act. It is the declaration of my intentions, a choice of my investment. [While provisioning ] you decide how to spend the budget you have been given. You elect who you want to support [with that money]. You choose how and what to feed your crew.
So with this at heart, I founded the Fair Winds Food Network. We are working on a Creative Map featuring Sail Cargo companies, organic farmers, small producers and fair food hotspots around the world to facilitate relationships between ships and local producers. With the possibilities offered by modern digital technology we should be able to navigate the world and [easily find out] where, when, how and what ethical supplies to find once we arrive in a new place.
Ideally, one day we would like to be able to cover all the sailing routes on the planet, but for the moment we are focusing on what we know and have already experienced: the Trade Winds route between Europe, the Canaries, the Caribbean and the Azores.
What is your go-to rough seas meal or dish? (and why)
In extreme weather you don’t want to overstress yourself and spend hours in the galley. “Keep it simple” becomes my strict rule and I go for something I feel I could cook blindfolded.
I recommend something that doesn’t require lots of chopping, that’s quick to cook. Something that, once ready, won’t escape from the sailor’s bowl and splash into a crewmate’s face. Soups are a no-go indeed. Something hot, filling and yummy enough to reward the outcoming watch and boost the ongoing one.
I would go for eggs alla pizzaiola (scrambled eggs on tomato sauce with a generous amount of onions, topped with melting cheese and herbs). Or I make the classic that always makes everyone joyful and satisfied: pasta (the sauce can vary). I take on the risk of boiling it and have a special safe method of draining, [because] I know crewies are going to be very happy, which is fundamental on such rough-sea days. Once in a wild rough [Bay of] Biscay, I was told from a smiling captain that in his whole career he had never had spaghetti in Biscay. My italian ancestors were bursting with pride!
What are your store cupboard or locker favourites? (and why)
I can’t seem to escape my roots. I have a healthy addiction and honest respect for Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It is such a healthy, precious and versatile ally for all sorts of meals and it tastes divine! [There’s a reason it’s been] it used to be called “liquid gold.” Cooked, raw, or baked – it is an incredible source of nutrients and flavours. You can use it as a preservative, and even as cosmetics for skin and hair that need some love after long months at sea. How can you resist it?
My favourite spices are smoked paprika and sumac, for their one-of-a-kind kick and taste. I use a lot of chickpea flour, gofio and bread crumbs as well as thickeners to upcycle last night’s soup into burgers. Cacao beans and nibs are my favourite crunchy bites and boosters. Luckily for me, I always had plenty within our cargo!
What is the galley utensil you can’t live without?
A classic, indeed: my loyal knife. Or knives! A solid, sharp blade is simply an essential. You get the best results in less time and effort, and chopping becomes just fun and pleasure. I can also say that the sharper the blade, the less likely you are to cut yourself. In the galley, on deck, aloft, or anywhere on a ship, a good knife should be part of one’s gear.
I have a crush on big wooden spoons as well; without a big wooden spoon you could only dream of a perfect risotto. Stirring 2.5 kilos of polenta for an hour would be a total nightmare. Plus, it is also very practical (and lots of fun) to chase and threaten a naughty sailor by waving a big wooden spoon in the air!
The Tres Hombres and Fairtransport: https://fairtransport.eu/tres-hombres/
Avontuur and Timbercoast: https://timbercoast.com/en/cargo/