"In a restaurant, you're eating the chef's food, and if you don’t like it, bugger off!" says English-born Ben Robinson, the yacht chef on Below Deck Mediterranean. But on a charter boat? The chef is beholden to whatever the clients feel like eating. The guest is the boss. Period, the end.
That makes cooking on a yacht "way more difficult,'' Ben admits. "There’s only one of me, and I’m catering to the palate of my guests. I'm cooking breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and hors d'oeuvres for guests and crew, and feeding 27 people six or seven times a day."
If anyone is equipped for the thankless job, it's Ben. He had an unusually illustrious cooking background before he joined the show, working with Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe and training with legendary chef Heston Blumenthal at the Michelin three-starred Fat Duck in England, one of the pioneers of the molecular-gastronomy movement. He also cooked on luxury yachts for 10 years before going in front of the camera on Below Deck.
Ben has seen all kinds of strange food requests come through from his charter guests, and faced the unique challenges of cooking at sea. Here, Ben tells The Feast about the most outlandish requests he's fielded, the oddest ingredients he's come across, and the most OTT foods he's ordered for guests.
"Obviously I have to be quite conscious and politically correct with what I serve. We had an opportunity in Tortola to prepare turtle, but we decided against it. They’re big sea turtles, and I think Tortola is one of few places in the world where you’re allowed to legally cook and eat it, but there are a lot of animal lovers. But I try to pull off everything. I get requests for everything and roll with the punches," says Ben.
Sea Cucumber Ovaries
"I think sea cucumber ovaries are one of the strangest things you can probably eat," says Ben. "I tried it once and it’s very slimy and unappealing. But some people like to show off, and confuse bravery with sophistication." It's been a few years since Ben got the sea cucumber ovaries request, but "that still remains the oddest" ever.
"At least once or twice a season, I like to do a molecular gastronomy tasting menu," says Ben. "I’ve worked with fluid gels, and agar-agar (an algae derivative with a jelly-like texture]. It’s a modern way of creating viscosity in sauces, which sort of takes away from the unhealthy bechamel and the reduced cream sauces."
Mountains of Caviar
"I bought 25,000 Euros' worth of caviar to start a yacht season [not for the show], says Ben. "And we went through all of it."
And Enough Beef, Seafood and Eggs to Feed a Small Nation
"I go through at least 1000 eggs a week, if not more. I make eggs for the crew and for the guests; that’s 50 eggs right there. We have $15,000 dollars' worth of meat and fish in our freezer at the start of the season," says Ben. Plus, there are all the special dietary requests. "We get these extensive preference sheets that come in for all the guests that are about to come onboard," he adds. "I used to get these sheets the evening before the guests arrive. You’ve got these essays in front of you. One is lactose-free, one gluten-free; and she doesn’t eat fish, and he doesn't eat meat. It's overwhelming."
But Ben's biggest challenge? Ordering seafood in some parts of the world: "I’d order the fish, 10 pounds of salmon, 10 pounds of tuna and sea bream, and the damn things would come in whole and wouldn’t even be gutted. I'd have to do 120 plates of food by myself, and you're laden with all these fish staring you down."
Tune into Ben's adventures in and out of the kitchen on the new season of Below Deck Mediterranean.
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