You may be familiar with Superyacht Chef Polly Baptist through her Instagram page. She is one of the trailblazing female chefs in the industry pushing delectable plant-based dishes on us. I mean, we aren’t exactly being held against our will here. But those plates are gorgeous!! And even a hardcore meat-eating deckhand wouldn’t turn their nose up at one of Polly’s dishes! That’s saying something!
Her creations help bring down the barriers of the “plant-based” connotations and make the food trend accessible to all, and no longer just a “trend”.
As yacht chefs’ we have all seen a rise in the number of crew and guests who request plant-based foods. It’s not always for animal welfare reasons. Often it is because of health reasons or even environmental reasons. Either way, if you are looking for some plant-based food porn from another yacht chef, you must read on. Oh, and don’t forget to follow Chef Polly Baptist.
Can you tell us more about how you got into being a superyacht chef?
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I trained as a fashion designer and moved to Berkeley CA to work as a designer at a small design company which was based next door to Chez Panisse. It was one of the worlds greatest chef’s in the 80s. And was owned by Alice Walters, whose fabulous restaurant served different menus every day. Of course, being a neighbour and knowing half of the staff enabled me to enjoy locally grown food, fabulous food.
Back in the UK my mother had a huge vegetable patch. As did my grandfather and we ate what we grew. They had made sure their vegetables were grown organically as were our fruit and having a father that was brought up in India, I was introduced to all sorts of different flavours, and dishes that certainly most English kids were not aware of.
I have sailed since I was small. I was sailing each weekend, and midweek with my brother racing around the UK in junior events. It is part of my life. Because of this I only work on sailing yachts. They are working with the ocean and nature once the engines are off and the sails are up. I am a keen racer, so I prefer sailing yachts that race. I will often work with race yachts as a race crew chef, plus be part of the race crew. It is in my blood… !
I was fortunate to make the change from fashion to yachting as I was in the UK checking the London fashion shows when a huge earthquake hit San Fransciso and I ended up staying in the UK for an extra few weeks. In that time I saw a job advertised in the Times newspaper for a chef required on a new sailing yacht in Greece. I applied and got the job. My employer in the USA was so encouraging. She said if I didn’t take the job I would be forever questioning why I didn’t and also, why she didn’t let me go.
She and I sailed in the Bay so she knew of my love of the ocean.She encouraged me to take the job for a year and see how it went.
I worked for Pink Floyd for 8 years sailing around the Mediterranean, Caribbean and Seychelles. It was some of the best times I had in yachting as it was a small industry then. The crew mixed so much with the guests, they took us everywhere! I visited every Caribbean and Seychelles islands that we sailed to, and more. It is not that often you get to tour everywhere you go these days.
What is your formal chef background?
I trained at smaller cooking schools during my early years in the industry. And I have continued to do courses, and workshops with chefs that I aspire to since.
We all have our own interests in the food world and I think it is really important to follow a road that you are truly interested in. Whether it is more of a French style of cooking of that of being plant-based. All of us have our own strengths and we need to focus in on those.
Learning other skills of cuisines is also very important. I think visiting the countries that they are from also gives you a true lesson. Go to Vietnam and visit the markets, eat with the locals, go to India, eat like an Indian, eat the street food. Talk to the women and men in the markets and learn from them.
What are you working on right now?
I am not on a yacht at the moment. I left a yacht after 18 years which was very hard to do. Because I know the owners so well, and also their extended families, it is quite sad to say goodbye.
I have only worked on one M/Y and that was so hard. I felt so restricted as there were no sails to put up. There was also no outside deck work, and even when the crew realized I knew what to do, they didn’t know quite how to handle a chef. Especially one like myself who was wanting to help with massive fenders. Or who was able to drive the custom tender in to meet the provisioner to pick up the weekly order.
So now as we are in a strange time, I am working on teaching Plant-based cooking and nutrition. Before going back into the yachting world, however different it might be after the virus has been contained.
As a sole chef, what are some of the biggest difficulties that you face day to day?
There is so much more to the job than if you are working in a restaurant as you have to do everything. You are the galley slave, the head chef, the sous chef and the dish pig. If you are not used to doing everything then it is a hard adjustment from shore to yacht.
Because I had only worked in small restaurants ashore, it didn’t really take time to adjust and really if you are well organised, well-prepped everything runs smoothly.
At the moment I am doing plant-based meals on my Instagram to help people transition and try nutritiously dense food as that’s my main aim with plant-based foods.
Sadly there are too many people who go vegan/ plant-based for trendy reasons and they don’t realise that there is so much more about it. I.E nutrient deficiency and what they need to eat!
If you eat Beyond Burgers and vegan doughnuts you are basically eating the same as a Burger King burger and a dunking doughnut.
In my view, it’s not a trend … I am plant-based for health reasons and also healthy for the planet ?
What inspired you to become more plant based?
I have been vegetarian for most of my life. I’m now Plant-based/vegan and have found there was more to being vegetarian than just using plants as food. I also realized they are our medicines.
I had used homeopathy, acupuncture and naturopathy throughout my life, due to my parents view on the medical world, so it just was a natural progression to ask more questions about food and its benefit to our health. I look around and see so many illnesses that I now know we can reverse, or slow down or even stop, and the way we can do this is by taking a plant-based lifestyle.
It is not just the food that changes our diseases but our lifestyles as well. For instance limit the stress, limit the amount of alcohol ( something that affects us in this industry ), exercise more, keeping a positive mental attitude to life, and get more sleep.
It might all seem a bit fairy to some in this industry. But eating a nutritious plant-based diet and following a good wellness routine can not only benefit you physically, but it is so important mentally. We are seeing a large number of mental health issues in our industry also.
What also concerns me is the health of our soils. Without healthy soils, regardless our foods are not going to be nutrient-dense. So working with local farmers where ever you are in the world is so important.
I will campaign against chemicals, in our soils, and on our plants. But also I will campaign against our industrialized animal farms, as there are far better ways of farming animals.
What vegan specific cookbooks do you recommend?
Bosh the healthy vegan diet
Food 52 Vegan
Going vegan Richard Church
The Happy Pear Cookbook
How do you think the rise of veganism is going to affect the yachting industry?
Well as one of the only chefs I know of that was vegetarian when I started in the industry, and have stuck with it going further to become vegan / Plant-based, I think it will slowly get bigger. More owners will want to have more options.
There are very few plant-based owners, in this industry. But all owners wish to eat healthy foods so the more plants you can serve them the better. Make the plants act as the more important ingredients on the plates. And the meat or seafood the secondary item rather than the other way around. We really do not need to eat the portion size of animal products that we do.
Do you have any simple tips for getting the crew to eat more veggies?
Make the vegetables more interesting. You can roast, grill, add sauces tahini, almond butter, herb sauces, Asian dressings etc.
You can make fabulous vegetable salads, make amazing soups, and make one day/ or more a week plant-based. The crew want food and know that they are spoilt by having a chef cook for them so whatever is put on the table they will eat and enjoy.
Have a tub of homemade hummus in the crew fridge… I know this will go within hours, it is full of goodness!. Add other veggies to it make a beet hummus, make one with butternut squash, sweet potato, one full of herbs etc the ideas are endless
I sneak vegetables into smoothies too. Because it is no good just having fruit smoothies every day. They need to have some plants in them also, as otherwise, you are defeating the point. Because each day you are drinking more and more fruit, yes fibre rich yet more and more sugars and really, you need to balance them with vegetables.
Frozen vegetables go really well into smoothies! No one notices once they are drinking them.
There are plenty of vegetables added to desserts. Think about carrot cakes, zucchini cakes, beet and chocolate also go really well for instance.
There is a vast amount of plants that we can add to any dish and by plant I also mean nuts, seeds, pseudo-grains, seaweeds, legumes.
Who are your favourite chefs to follow for plant based recipes?
Well, I think we can all thank Ottolenghi as he really was a master at changing the way most of the UK viewed vegetables let alone the world.
But there are many others, Matthew Kenney for example.
What are some of the most inspiring destinations you have travelled to as a super yacht chef?
Well, where do I start!? …. The Mediterranean for all its fantastic markets offering the most amazing locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables.
Seychelles, for one of the hardest places to get anything as it was all flown in from around the world, but fabulous. Also as I learnt to cook with some new fruits and vegetables.
The Maldives for similar reasons as Seychelles.
Egypt for its amazing pitta bread, and its awesome falafel.
Yemen for its fabulous markets and amazing juices.
The Caribbean for its fruits and vegetables. Especially from the islands such as the Dominican Republic, or Dominica, and now Antigua where they have some fabulous locally grown produce.
We are spoilt in the Mediterranean with fabulous markets where we can buy so many great fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables. We are lucky enough to have so many wonderful other items that make our lives so much easier!
How have you incorporated the flavours and tastes of your travels in dishes?
Exploring the markets is the best way to find what is local. It is a great way to learn from the stallholders who will often share local recipes that you can play with and experiment with. It is the best place to go and find, taste and experience the local foods. It is something I always hunt out where ever I am as it is such an important place to visit in my mind.
What are your favourite markets to wander through when you pull into a port?
Any market in Italy, Greece, Spain or France ….
I know where they all are in most ports around the Med, as they are just abundant of locally grown seasonal fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, relishes, cheeses, hams, fish etc.
What would you say is the most exciting thing about being a chef in the super yachting industry?
It enables you to show your talents to those you are cooking for, whether it is guests, owners or the crew. Being complimented on the dishes you have served is wonderful, it gives you a kick to keep going as it is a tiring job. Cooking all the time regardless of what the boat’s movements are and sometimes on a sailing yacht it is not so easy.
What advice do you have for new chefs coming into the industry?
Be prepared to buckle down and work long hours. Learn how to make sure your orders are all correct as there is no turning the yacht around to pick up something forgotten. You are the only one in the galley so get used to it, you are the dish dog to the head chef. But it is great fun and very fulfilling!
Tell us about your first yacht job
My first yacht job was on a 22m, brand new sailing yacht in Rhodes, Greece. I answered an ad in The Times of London newspaper, interviewed and got the job, the first trip was eventful… coffee maker exploded. It was one of those Italian percolators you put on a hob.
Then the prop fell off the yacht just outside Rhodes, after 7 hrs at sea. So we had to sail into the harbour… everyone thought we were showing off the new yacht until they realized we had an issue! But it was also great fun, exploring the Turkish coast, going to new places, new markets and fantastic sailing.
When I first started 30 years ago, there were less yachts, less tourism around the world. It was a much quieter Mediterranean and Caribbean seas, we were spoilt in a way that we probably can never go back to. We could be anchored in bays alone for days on end, the waters were cleaner, and ashore we could wander around without the crowds.
What resources have you used to develop your skills more while at sea?
Online courses, as you can never stop learning
Where do you get your inspiration for for dishes, ingredients or plating?
I am constantly trolling the net for recipes, as I am always adapting recipes to work as a vegan / plant-based dish. Usually this involves removing the butter and eggs out of cookies and adding maybe avocado, apple sauce, sweet potato or aqua faba or flax seeds.
Again for plating, searching websites, Instagram, Pinterest,
Protein to work with? Chickpeas, lentils, tempeh, tofu, edamame, quinoa, almonds ….
Vegetable to work with? That is way to hard to answer as there are so many
Cuisine to cook? Middle eastern/ Asian / Italian / Greek
Service style? plated/buffet? Plated
Meatfree mondays, yay or nay? Sorry, but it is meatfree every day in my mind !
Crocs or Birks? Birks
Med or Caribbean? Mediterranean
Charter or private? Private
Under 50m or over? up to 65
Port to be based in? Palma, Viareggio, Genova
Motor or sail? Sail
If you could have a table at any restaurant in the world for a dinner reservation tonight, which one would it be, and who would be your dinner date?
Plant-based Copenhagen and my diner dates would be, someone who needs help with their life also, my bestie who owns a fabulous traditional Greek taverna in Rhodes, and a Korean BBQ restaurant, and also Chris Assal, but he doesn’t know that yet!
If you could convince the captain to drive the boat anywhere in the world right now, where would it be and why?
Raja Ampat to be away from everyone, Seychelles for their beauty, or back to the Greek Islands for the food, markets, friends, and the colours