A hectic day culminating in an afternoon minding and temporarily losing eight kids has left me in a strange mood. I now think parenting is a reasonable excuse for alcoholism.
A preppy kid joins me at the bar. The look irritates and entertains me; pink shorts, smiling whales printed on his belt, boat shoes and linen or polo shirt.
(get your look here)
I grunt, “Evening.”
“Enjoying your holiday?”
I nod, “Certainly am.”
“How long do you have out here?”
“Very nice. What do you do?” I always thought it a harmless question, right now I don’t like it, him or anyone.
“I cook for rich people.” After almost a decade cooking my way around the world I expect the follow up question.
“Where are you from?”
My short Kiwi vowels usually give me away. “A bloody long way away from here mate.” The line and its delivery are meant to make it easy for him to guess Australia and then I can feign offense.
I sigh. You didn’t get this game at all. You tease my accent; I ridicule you for not having a passport or something else inherantly American. Kinda fun, cheap laugh. “Nu Zealund.”
He murmurs in thought before offering gold. “Is that of the coast of Africa?”
Now I am entertained. “Really dude! Do they not teach geography in American schools? Come on!” I give him a moment. I am used to being confused with Australians and it is understandable. But this is fantastic! He really has no idea. “Try again.”
I mock a drama by standing and clutching at my head. “I think that costs you a whiskey. Any more guesses?”
The barman agrees on the price of stupidity and we educate the young man on the strange people from the Antipodeans.
After only 6 months back in NZ I have been working on a succinct response for a different follow up question. “Where do you work?”
“Um; I’m self employed,” doesn’t work, as it requires more explanation that most inquirers care for, “unemployed,” just kills the conversation. So with my eyes rolling skyward, I take a deep inhale. “Well, I’m a recovering yacht chef.” I am, as sick of telling people about it, as I am doing it. I have tried to go back into real restaurant kitchens, I won’t or can’t. It is easy to forget why I swore never to return to life as a yacht chef when your inbox keeps pinging with potential trips to Alaska, Galapagos, Antarctica or/and Tahiti. Yachting life and cash doesn’t sound so bad compared to traditional hospitality reality; brutal hours, monotonous tasks, strenuous physicality and debauchery. I know cooking on floating hotels isn’t what I want to do with the rest of my life. But, you know, I could just take one more travel hit and another bank account fix. I have a weak will. I succumbed, but just for a month on the island of Nantucket. Auckland winters aren’t very nice and it’s not a boat job so it doesn’t count.
At 7am I stroll in pleasant humidity, my route to work takes me past Scuttlebutt, Gam’n’Gamps and Winnoway. All the houses are traditionally clad with white cedar shingles and have silly names. Whoever was in control of the island’s planning about thirty years ago had vision. The island’s character has been preserved intelligently. Nantucket may lead the world in density of American flags. It is also thick with whaling history, maritime trinkets and graveyards. I cut though a property with highly manicured gardens and turn onto the exclusive address – Hulbert Ave. Not the nicest part of the island but because of its proximity to town and powerful residents a 5 bedroom house on a small section rents for what most consider a large deposit on purchase. Inside and it’s baking time. A few lines adapting the Flight of the Concords song (business time) help distract me from the kitchen designed by people who never cook. Something sweet that is quick, more often than not ends up being muffins. Today the cherries call for a version of Clafoutis.
Remove stems and pits from 3 cups cherries
Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a pan that can be put into a hot oven
Whisk together 4 eggs, seeds from a vanilla pod, ½ cup cream and ¾ cup milk
Add 1/2 cup flour, 1 cup almond meal, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon baking powder
Whisk into a smooth runny batter
Fold in cherries and pour into hot butter (It should be foaming)
Cook over a moderate heat for a minute
Then put in a hot 200C oven for 20mins or until puffy, brown and softly set.
Onto the rest of the breakfast table; fruit platter, freshly squeezed orange juice and something savoury usually eggs.
“Chef Ben.” My name is elongated and whiny. “What is the green stuff?”
“Salsa verde.” The kids make faces but manage to find sustenance in the beans that haven’t been tainted with tomatillo salsa.
“Ooh what is this?” The father arrives with his glorious enthusiasm for food. The feedback loop with him is easy. If he raves about it, I have a hit. If the dinner table is quiet I will not return to that dish.
“Great, another one for my wife please.”
Breakfast finishes with a battle. “Kids get your sailing/tennis or golf clothes on.”
“Why do we have to? It is so boring.”
“Sunblock, shoes. Go! Hurry up!” With a bout of begging, some pushing and cajoling the nanny and I manage to herd the flock into the car. The parents have already rushed off to enjoy their daily activities. The Nespresso machine’s pump works overtime as the rest of the staff have a chance to caffeinate. With the nanny gone, the one-year-old is left to cry in his high chair. The housekeepers manage to ignore him, they are on a quest – to keep on top of the flow of washing. I free the young one from his chair and play stacky cups until the nanny returns. Put all cups together, he tips them out, build cups into a tower, he knocks them down, repeat until the little prince waves his hand and sends cups skittering under couches. Hand him smartphone and enjoy his confusion. This is not an iphone! How does it work? The different buttons defeat him and it goes to the mouth. The nanny returns. Time to shop.
I bounce the Land Rover up cobble hill and out past Cisco brewery, one of the better ways to spend an afternoon after a day at the beach. It never seems to fit in with my schedule so I only ever drive past on my way to Bartlett’s farm. The same family has farmed the piece of land since the early 1800’s. Now it is an incredibly overpriced gourmet/local/sustainable/seasonal food store that grows a few things itself. I fill a trolley with inspirational produce and then my phone buzzes. The leisurely shop turns frantic. We are taking the Hinkley to Tuckernuck and need a picnic. Watermelon, chicken salad, New England style rolls, crudités, what else….? Is that enough? Will the kids complain that it is just appetisers? “This is just like what they serve as a snack when you go to someone’s house.” I will throttle that little brat one day. No I will persevere, and teach the young man to appreciate what he has. Finally I get through the check out and the dash is on.
The Nanny is loading up another car with lifejackets, towel bags, baby gear, beach chairs and umbrellas. “I thought we were taking the boat out!” What the fuck is all this gear!
“We are. I’m heading down to step it up. You going to be able to help?”
“Yeah I just got to throw some food together. How long I got?”
“Guests due at the boat in about half an hour.”
Private chefs learn to keep a well-stocked fridge for just such an impromptu/expected occurrence. The melon from breakfast can get wrapped in prosciutto. Smoked blue fish pate can be a dip for crudités. Last night’s lobster boil left overs will become the lobster salad. The brought chicken salad will keep the fussy ones content and yesterday’s date and oat cookies can be a dessert along with any left over clafoutis and the watermelon.
“I put in a bottle of white and rose. You think that’s enough?” The nanny is dragging a drinks bag though the kitchen.
“Yeah.” I turn into a concentration shattering display. “Is this your latest effort at getting the 14yro to do what you say?”
“Huh?” She is a bit ditsy but a complete American sweetheart. I stare at breasts bulging. “Oh, I know. I don’t have anything else with me. I brought this bikini for Vegas. It’s completely inappropriate.”
“Well your tits look good but maybe a top with a higher neckline.” The comment makes her smile and head for the expedition-sized handbag she is never without.
As it works out she has little to worry about. The wife decides she doesn’t want the baby coming out on the boat. Something about his sensitive skin. So the nanny stays behind and I have to step up to manny duties. I quickly tire of; no, don’t and stop, so move to encourage the kids to jump about in the back of the boat. If the nanny were here she would definitely be telling me off, something along the lines of, “Ben! Seriously?”
We anchor off a sandbar, the seals don’t seem to mind and the kids don’t complain too much about lunch. The left over lobster salad rolls are a huge hit.
“Wow! The corn really makes it. Mmm soo good.”
“No it’s the avocado.”
“Chef Ben, these are the best lobster rolls ever.”
Left over lobster boil salad rolls
A lobster boil involves cooking everything in the pot you cook the lobster in. Potatoes and corn are essential. Don’t get too technical, just make sure you salt the water.
2 ears of corn removed from cob
1 avocado diced
1 tablespoon mayo
Juice of one lemon
1-2 cups lobster meat roughly chopped
A few sprigs cilantro
Mix and taste
Now the hardest part is what makes these rolls so good they are baked touching so you get a good surface for buttering when you pull them apart. If you can only find traditional hotdog rolls just trim the long sides to give you a surface to load with butter. Toast the buttered rolls on both sides and then stuff with a couple of tablespoons lobster salad.