Diving for dinner
WORDS: Chadner Navarro | IMAGES: Anna Morassutti
For the average traveller, spending time in Portugal soaking up the warmth of the Algarve can be a round-the-clock fixation. For Australian-native superyacht chef Nathan Clements, time spent in the sunny, southwest pocket of the Iberian Peninsula only had him yearning for more. Sometimes, it’s not enough to simply be close to the water; you’ve got to get in the water.
Avid snowboarder Chef Clements spent years cooking in restaurants and ski chalets in the UK, Europe and Australia. But when he heard about a chef vacancy aboard a yacht, the idea of taking his trade to the sea became an obsession. “There I was, cooking for a villa in the Algarve, constantly daydreaming about working on a yacht,” he says.Today, as the chef aboard 56-metre luxury Perini Navi S/Y Asahi, one day he’s in the Mediterranean, the next he’s cruising the Caribbean or he’s taking bucket-list sails around Alaska. His culinary skills are equally as diverse, from crisping the skin on Spanish mackerel to sit atop a bed of zucchini noodles or experimenting with a dairy-free raspberry semifreddo. The only certainty is that the keen fisherman and freediver has often pulled whatever seafood is found in his galley straight from the sea himself.
“The whole crew are involved in sourcing our fresh ingredients. This increases the quality and options of what we prepare, and in turn, means we can deliver a ‘wow’ experience for guests,” he says.
Fast-forward to a casual Tuesday afternoon where Chef Clements is applying the famed ikejime technique to the day’s catch. It’s considered to be a more humane way to kill fish. According to Clements, “when done correctly, it not only preserves the flavour and texture but also allows the flesh to develop an umami dimension when aged.”
Clements favours a locavore cooking style, which means visits to local markets to source organic produce are just as important as catching his own seafood. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bustling emporium in an ancient Mediterranean market hall or a roadside stall where he haggles for tropical fruits, getting his hands on fresh ingredients yields better flavours, and is more sustainable, too.
“Some produce is ‘ugly delicious’,” he smiles. “But imagine the taste difference between an underripe, mass-farmed South American pineapple that’s kept chilled while flown out to some part of the world or a small local farm’s produce. The flavours don’t even compare.”
Sailing St. Vincent and the Grenadines during the pandemic more than illustrated the true value of these markets. “It’s difficult to cook for ten guests and ten crew for a couple of weeks to a superyacht standard but being able to spread the wealth across communities when sourcing supplies is important, especially to the locals in times like these.”
Over the years Clements has developed a keen appreciation for food, but it wasn’t always the case. He gravitated to cooking because his grandfather and uncle are both chefs, but he saw it more as a way to travel the world. At least at first. “Then I found a love for it – learning about countries’ histories and cultures via their food. That’s way more fun than reading a book. And it’s a positive addiction, because the more you know, the less you know.”
The classroom continues to grow for this chef. Cruising the inside passage of British Columbia and Alaska yielded a “satisfying and epic” season that included “bartering and learning about the different types of wild salmon from local fisherman and eating and serving fresh salmon roe straight from the belly”.
But there were also orcas and humpback sightings, hikes to bear observatories and fishing by waterfalls. With an active crew like the one aboard Asahi, freediving, fishing and energetic watersports are always there to balance out the educational moments. For Chef Clements, they seem to go hand-in-hand. “I’m looking forward to the surf when we head to the Pacific, but I think I’m going to have to bite the bullet and learn how to kite, too.”
It doesn’t sound like the Algarve’s seaside villas will be getting him back anytime soon.