Food as Medicine
WORDS: PIA MANOURY | IMAGES: POLLY BAPTIST
Sculpted by sky-piercing, moss-green peaks and crystal clear waters, French Polynesia is a place to slow down and take it all in. Not for everyone, however. As we sit down with Superyacht Chef Polly Baptist, currently working aboard 44.7m Ningaloo, she’s madly cleaning and restocking the yacht ahead of a two month trip around the outer atolls with its owners.
Sailing the high seas since the age of seven, Polly has covered thousands of miles under sail, ticking many incredible locations off her bucket list along the way. Throughout her work and travels, her serious drive for empowering one’s own health through plant-based cooking is what sets her apart in the industry. She is devoted to “food justice”: giving back to the local cultures she encounters and inspiring others in living a sustainable lifestyle aboard a yacht.
Polly grew up as a vegetarian since before she can remember, trained in multiple schools and more recently as a vegan chef. Having trained as a holistic coach, she believes that plants are not only food, but medicine too. Take her split pea dhal with baby purple silver beets, for example, “which uses a diverse range of plant nutrients from 16 different plants that will delight [your] microbiome.” She excels in desserts, where a medicinal mushroom miso caramel slice or a raw vegan chocolate pistachio, rose petal and sea salt bark served with orange blossom mandarin mousse might grace the menu of carnivores and vegans alike. “Guests don’t even realise it’s healthy half the time,” she chuckles.
As any Superyacht chef will know, striking the balance between keeping the guests happy and channelling our own creative energy is one of the hardest things to get right. “It’s our job to make sure each and every person is cared for, and that includes at times very demanding dietary requirements,” Polly explains. “Essentially, we must become more aware of how and what we eat.”
She goes on to speak specifically about proteins when cooking a plant-based diet, which is often a source of concern and misinformation. “Plant-based proteins are often deemed inferior to animal-based ones, but over the last few years more guests have come to understand that there is so much protein and amino acids in plants and pulses,” she explains. While Polly herself and many of her crew eat a fully plant-based diet, she is occasionally required to cook meat and fish for guests on board. Even when this is the case, animal protein definitely takes second place to the plants on Polly’s watch.
Cruising these spectacular and remote places comes with its challenges for the galley. The quality of the food and maintaining its freshness for long periods of time at sea can be tricky, as is having a clearly choreographed menu in mind and then realising that deliveries are delayed or that you can’t get hold of certain ingredients. Still, there are serious perks to navigating these parts of the world: in Tahiti, where Polly is at the time of writing, the exotic fruit on offer is fabulous. Finding products like banana blossom, fresh coconut and breadfruit is like hitting the jackpot, and give you so much scope to get creative,” she laughs.
There’s a large Asian population in Tahiti, and Polly enthuses about the fun she has cooking with locally produced tofu, and other plant-based alternatives that she comes across through her travels and well-established network.
Buying produce as locally as possible is a high priority for Polly: “Not only do we as crew benefit from supporting these independent suppliers, but it allows us to give back to the local communities. Sometimes it’s important to remind ourselves that they wouldn’t be able to afford what we may buy so casually in the mainstream supermarkets.”
Quality produce isn’t the only concern for Polly: running a sustainable galley is paramount. “Being mindful of what we waste is essential,” she says, and in doing so, “limiting the waste that comes with these somewhat extortionate orders we have to deal with as chefs. Trying to use peels from potatoes and turning them into roasted goodies, saving carrot tops to make pesto or kale stalks for soups.”
Fermentation and dehydration are techniques that Polly uses frequently to limit waste, while at the same time adding flavour complexity to vegetarian dishes. “I take great satisfaction from pickling and preserving foods you would otherwise have to throw out and making them come back to life a few weeks later, or dehydrating foods you can eventually grind, mix with spices and add to a Mexican spread… the ideas are endless.”
Polly believes Veganism is affecting the yachting world at a slow yet noticeable pace. For her, the real problem is defining the line between the people who actually want to make the change for health or ethical reasons and people who are simply following a trend. “More often than not people are misinformed and therefore don’t make the right, conscious choice when it comes to plant based diets.”
For this reason, she takes every opportunity to tempt and entice her guests into a more plant-based diet. “If I can make one person healthier today, I’m happy” she says. “Veganism and health awareness are becoming more prevalent, but it’s important and interesting for others to see how it can be achieved.”