With the Antigua Charter Yacht Show just around the corner, the international yachting community – and fans of fine gastronomy, in particular – are counting down to another yacht chef competition.
Yacht chefs will be handed the chance to showcase their skills in a spectacular Caribbean setting. We took the opportunity to learn more about such competitions by speaking to the organisers of the MYBA chefs’ competition. Coordinated by Sarah Sebastian, an organiser of the Antigua Yacht Charter Show and a MYBA member, the MYBA Superyacht Chefs’ Competition is held annually.
It celebrates the best charter yacht chefs in the industry and cuisine from across the world. Sponsored by SuperYachtWorld, the event is an eagerly anticipated highlight of the yearly MYBA Charter Show – the premier trade-only charter yacht show in the Mediterranean. Chefs from vessels of all sizes share their expertise and best culinary treats with a panel of discerning judges, but the competition is split into three categories: vessels up to 39m in length; vessels between 40m and 55m; and vessels that exceed 56m. In 2017, for the first time in the MYBA Yacht Show’s 28-year history, the event was held at One Ocean Port Vell in Barcelona; as such, the theme for this year’s MYBA Chef Competition was ‘Spring in Barcelona.’ A table-scaping competition is customarily held alongside the culinary contest, offering a chance for the interior crew to display their talents. We spoke to Ms. Sebastian and Coralyn Tracey – the Executive Office of MYBA – to find out more about the celebrated competition.
How did the competition begin? When did it begin?
Coralyn: The MYBA Chef Competition first began with a conversation in 2012 between Jacqui Lockhart, the Chair of the MYBA Charter Show Panel at the time, and me, Cora Tracey. We endeavoured each year to innovate in some area of the show and felt that it was time to add a Chefs’ Competition. We contacted Sarah Sebastian, as she obviously had the necessary experience to put together a professional competition. The first event was held at the MYBA Charter Show in 2013 in Genoa, coordinated by Sarah with input from the MYBA Charter Show Panel and my team in Admin, so it has been running for five years.
Who is eligible to enter the MYBA Chef Competition?
Coralyn: Chefs from all the yachts participating in the MYBA Charter Show are eligible to enter the competition. In fact, they are encouraged to enter. We contact them with the pertinent information in advance of the show, giving as many details as possible. The competition takes place over 3 days and only 10 yachts will be accepted in each of the 3 categories.
What does the competition involve?
Coralyn: Each year we decide on a theme from a shortlisted selection of ideas, which are pooled together by Sarah and validated in-house. The superyacht chefs then need to produce a three-course meal in consideration of the theme and the indications given to them in the pre-show guide.
Where is the competition held?
Coralyn: The competition is held on the yacht of each competing chef and Sarah and the team of judges move from yacht to yacht tasting the dishes. Normally, the dishes are produced in small quantities like a tasting/degustation menu for everyone to taste. MYBA’s official photographers from Blueiprod accompany the judges to take photographs and videos of the dishes and the event.
Sarah: Keeping the competition on board yachts gives the chefs the environment they will be in for the charter season. They can also serve in any location on the yacht – outside or inside. I think this consideration is important when they are designing their competition dishes.
What are some of the advantages of winning the competition? And what does it mean for the chef’s yacht?
Coralyn: Apart from all the excitement generated by competing against each other and themselves, it is quite a social occasion: yacht crew get to know each other because the competition also includes a table-scaping award for the stewardesses. Then there is the prestige of being a winner in the competition. A great deal of media and social media coverage ensues; as the competition is so visual, it has become really popular with the media! Above all, there is the Michelin Star level of recognition for the winners and the creating of links between established and upcoming chefs. We also find that the Michelin chefs are curious about the superyacht industry and fine cuisine on board the superyachts.
Sarah: Charter Brokers and management companies also use the information on the winning chefs to help sell yacht charters: it is commonly known that after the yacht itself, the food is the most important aspect of a charter experience. Plus, having a full one-page article about themselves printed in SYW, and coverage on other media platforms, gives winning chefs great additions to their resumes.
What do the judges look for in the dishes?
Sarah: We look for creativity and originality; adherence to the theme; execution and technicality; taste; presentation; and overall impression.
Who judges the dishes?
Coralyn: Each year, we try to have a panel of judges that comprises a range of expertise: in 2016, we had the Owner/Manager of the well-known restaurant, La Mere Germaine, Thierry Blouin, alongside two other Michelin-Starred Italian judges. This year, we had two Spanish Michelin-Starred judges, based in Barcelona; the Italian two-star chef, Antonio Mellino from Amalfi; and one of the winners of last year’s Chefs’ Competition, Micail Swindell.
Sarah: The chefs are very competitive, and to be judged by such an esteemed panel is a real plus for them. One chef said, as he looked at the judges on stage at the prize-giving ceremony: “there are 5 Michelin stars standing up there; I never imagined that my food would be seen, let alone tasted, by these chefs.”
Please could you explain a bit more about the themes? Who decides the themes and why are they chosen?
Coralyn: We don’t want to make it easy for them. We are looking to set a challenge; to test their creativity, expertise, audacity, and sheer artistry. The level is very high and some of the winning chefs are only at the start of their careers. The enthusiasm and passion of all involved is highly contagious. The judges have their work cut out!
Sarah: Food is fashion and so we do look at the current trends – hence the no-sugar dessert this year. I do stay in contact with many of the winners and I like to gain inspiration for challenges from those who have competed. It is also interesting to find out which foods are popular choices from charter guests. Fish and seafood has been a little sparse in the last year or two, and, after asking some of the top brokers what their guests want to eat when on board, we decided on the fish and seafood theme. We change the theme every year; I present ideas to Cora and the MYBA show panel and we then decide on the most interesting challenge.
Do the chefs have a time limit in which to prepare their dishes?
Coralyn: Not quite, but they must serve the dishes within the allotted time that the judges will be on board.
Sarah: No. The chefs know the theme ahead of time and many spend days, if not weeks, experimenting and deciding what they will present to the panel of judges. During the time we spend on board, the chef comes to the table and explains his thoughts, methods, and the ideas behind his or her dishes
Do the chefs get any assistance when cooking?
Coralyn: Participants are not allowed assistance while cooking, but they can have help in plating and serving.
How many people do the chefs have to cook for?
Sarah: The judging Panel is usually about 5 strong. We include a Charter Broker in our panel, as they really represent the charter guest. With no formal culinary training, Charter Brokers’ decisions are based more on presentation and taste than anything else, so it gives us another perspective. Every Broker that has been with us came away with fantastic impressions of 10 yacht chefs to add to their charter data base and each one has really enjoyed the experience.
Is there a particular dish/chef in the history of the competition that stands out in your mind? Why?
Sarah: Each year it is very hard to decide on the winners, as there are is so much talent and creativity. We have had winners aged just 20 years old, which is quite impressive. We had a lovely young lady on a small catamaran that won the award for the best pasta in Italy; she was vying against chefs on 85m motor yachts, which was particularly memorable. It is just so great to get these surprises along with many others. We have chefs from all backgrounds: whether self-taught or formally trained, it is great to hear their stories and what led them into the industry.
Ms. Sebastian continued by commenting on the importance of fine cuisine as a staple of a luxury yachting experience:
“Having been a charter yacht chef for 10 years and a Cordon Bleu- trained chef myself, food is my passion and I love to encourage chefs in the industry, as I believe that food is an integral part of a yacht charter, if not the most important part. It could be a fantastic yacht with great crew and all the watersports equipment in the world, but if the guests don’t like what comes out of the galley the charter won’t be a success!”