A Cooking Collaboration - The Galley Gang
WORDS: PHOEBE HUNT | IMAGES: RODDY GRIMES AND CELIA JENNINGS
Whether you own or charter a Superyacht, getting to know your private on-board chef is a true luxury. Often with years of expertise in villas, chalets and aboard other yachts, it’s a rare and finely tuned talent to be able to prepare virtually any request at the drop of a hat. Add often cramped galley conditions, dietary requirements and difficulty in getting ingredients to the mix, and the challenge is even greater.
For someone like Jemma Harrison, though, this is all part of the fun. Harrison worked in various restaurants in her twenties, but didn’t love the “busy, sweaty, male-dominated environment without any natural light.” While all these criticisms can apply to a cramped galley too, as she concedes with a wry smile, the adventure of sailing around tropical islands and wonderful new destinations quickly won her over. “On a boat the atmosphere is much more freeing than in a traditional restaurant kitchen; you get interaction with guests and heaps of artistic licence,” she continues.
“As a Superyacht chef you’ve got to be everything,” Harrison explains. Able to whip up a Michelin-level banquet, an authentic Japanese meal, a quick lunch or a tasting menu on demand, her many years in the industry have highlighted to Harrison that versatility and creative thinking are what makes a truly fantastic yacht chef stand out.
It can be hard to get the most popular ingredients when you arrive in a port, particularly a destination that’s popular with Superyachts. “But once you’ve done a few seasons you know where to go. Often fishermen pull up alongside with their catch of the day, which is a wonderful experience. And it’s all part of fun, battling with some fish you’ve never heard of in the galley.”
She tries to source as many ingredients as she can locally, using fresh and seasonal produce, but admits that it’s not always possible when you’re out at sea and juggling guests’ high expectations. “When you’ve got the budget to spend this much on ingredients for guests, I think you’ve kind of got a moral obligation to spend it on the earth, supporting local farmers, and getting those more expensive products that are sustainably grown or sourced, and taste amazing because of it.”
While Harrison has long been passionate about reducing unnecessary waste, she points out that it has practical advantages as well as environmental ones when you’re in a tight space. Sailing yachts don’t have space for anything that’s not needed, she explains, and especially not to store rubbish for days on end, “so being hyper-efficient with everything you bring on board and how you use it is essential for good galley management.”
The Galley Gang
Her many years’ experience cooking aboard Superyachts eventually led Harrison to set up Galley Gang in 2017, hosting workshops and events for busy chefs. The aim is to raise the game across the yachting industry, allowing chefs to learn from one another and build a community which shares knowledge and ideas. Starting in Palma de Mallorca and expanding to the Caribbean and most recently to Cornwall, chefs are coming together from all over the world to take part.
“I always say the word collaborative because the chefs who book onto the courses are all seriously accomplished in their own right, and all contribute and share their knowledge.” The guest chefs – or instructors - are themselves private chefs aboard some of the world’s most prestigious Superyachts. “We’re not in competition with each other, so there’s a sense of camaraderie and working together,” Harrison adds. “Above all, I know I’m not alone in wanting a bit more variety, and wanting to get to know other chefs so we can learn from each other.”
With culinary trends and dietary requirements changing all the time, there’s a real benefit for the owners and guests too. These immersive workshops not only keep chefs au fait with the latest movements in the restaurant industry, they allow for new ideas to be explored and boundaries of Superyacht cuisine to be pushed to the limits.
At the last event, which took place in Truro, Cornwall this October, Harrison took advantage of the incredible calibre of high-profile chefs already in the area. Eight chefs joined the course from all over the world, with chef Arty Williams (previously named Cornwall’s Chef of the Year), Bart van der Lee, Flo Cinnett and Cassio Parente running the different classes.
Over ten full-on days, tailored workshops covered everything from plant-based fine dining to food photography, butchery to fermenting to making sushi and pan-Asian cuisine. Excursions outside the kitchen, always focussing on the most useful skills for life in the galley or villa, might include foraging, or perfecting the live fire beach BBQ.
The guest chef leads each day’s cooking, with practical demonstrations which evolve into hands-on cooking. There is a massive ingredient table – “much like you’d dream of having in a galley kitchen” – so participants can build on any new skills and techniques they’ve learnt and get creative with their own dishes. “It’s the set up what you wish you had in the galley but with loads of mates around,” Harrison laughs. “We practice plating, presentation, and all sorts of technical skills.”
A big part of the Galley Gang experience is a huge dinner for friends and family towards the end of the two weeks. It’s one of the highlights, working with everyone else and seeing what they do. All profits from the dinners go to either Cornwall-based charity Surfers against Sewage – a grassroots organisation which tackles wastewater and plastic pollution in the sea – or the Trussell Trust, who support food banks by working to cut down waste.
In April and May 2023, Galley Gang will be hosting another course in Truro, again with a maximum of ten people for the most immersive experience possible. If the line-up of the last events is anything to go by, you can expect a handful of famous Cornish chefs and a few stars from further afield.