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Traveling On Your Stomach

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For Jason Taylor, a former chef on the 120-foot Orinokia, life is a constant blend of tastes and cuisines. This bilingual, New England native headed to St. Maarten to see the sights and wound up working as a chef aboard superyachts like this Benetti and catering private parties all around the island. He finally wound up competing in the Caribbean Concours de Chef Competition at the 2008 St. Maarten Charter Show.

The theme for the competition was “The Spanish Influence upon Caribbean Cuisine.” Yacht chefs are asked to prepare a two-course luncheon that reflects the Spanish influence and culinary contribution to the region. Taylor talks about life as a charter chef and gives a mouth-watering description of the menu he laid out for the competition.

What dish did you make for the competition?

JT: Braised pork belly with mango barbecue sauce. I slowly braised the pork belly, took it out, let it cool, and cut it into small cubes. You need to cut it into small cubes—1 1/2 by 1 1/2 inch cubes—put them in barbecue sauce, and then bake them in the oven.

I served them with spiced callaloo, which is popular with the locals. [It’s] a plant imported from Africa and grown in the Caribbean….a leaf vegetable that you cook down; slow-cook it so it's got an overcooked spinach consistency; soft and leafy. I jacked it up with a lot of spices, as well as onion, saffron, and tomato.

I also put in a garnish of plantain crisps. I sliced plantains while keeping the moon shape [and] baked them in low heat, 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Then I salted and peppered them to make them less sweet and more tart.

We had to do an entree dessert drink for dessert. I did a coconut rum panna cotta served with sliced golden raisin coulis. It's pureed cooked raisins drowned in apple juice and a little bit of cinnamon, nutmeg, and chili for a bit of a spicy kick.

For my drink, I did my take on the Orange Julius: freshly squeezed orange juice, a touch of cream, and a lot of sugar to increase the sweetness. I made jasmine ice cubes [to give] it that fresh, floral flavor. Then, I added some vanilla milk foam on top and served it in a champagne glass.

How did you get started as a chef? What brought you to the Caribbean?

JT: I went to Mcintoch College in New Hampshire. I'm an ACF- (American Culinary Federation) certified culinarian—not a chef but still a cook. I did a two-year course [then] moved to St. Thomas in February [2007] from Laguna Beach, California, where I was working at Sapphire.

Sapphire is a beautiful restaurant, but since it was new [at the time], the chef decided to really work his cooks. I worked 14 hours a day and I ended up getting really burnt out. I decided that I really wanted to make a change. I was in contact with a friend of mine from Seattle who worked at Dahlia Lounge. He moved to the Virgin Islands and I stayed in touch.

When did you get your first job?

JT: I wanted to see the sights, so I met up with a friend. He was a chef at the restaurant in the IGY Marina in St Thomas. I worked at the restaurant for a few months [and] met a woman who was captain for one of the yachts. She said my food was really good. We got off from work and looked at these enormous monsters [but] I never considered working on them. The owner and five of his friends needed a charter chef for a week. They gave me a Jeep to go around and provision. We went to BVIs, Tortolla, Jost van Dyke, the Norman Islands, the Peter Islands, and the Edgar Islands,

What was your biggest challenge on your first job?

JT: It was difficult because I'd never really thought about how to create seven different breakfast, lunches, and dinners. Dinners were four-course, lunches were two- or three-courses, and breakfast was always big, with fruit, cheese, and a charcuterie plate. And regular desserts after lunches and dinner.

The second hard part is, you have to imagine how much time this is going to take to prepare. Certain things have to be prepped in advance. I provisioned and prepared for three days beforehand making sauces and stocks. Provisioning is tricky. You need to know how much space you have. Sometimes, you'll need two-dozen eggs. It's fascinating and challenging and to hear the compliments was really rewarding.

This was my first charter and I had absolutely no complaints. The owner and his wife's friends had come aboard and begged me for recipes.

What is your favorite cuisine?

JT: I like to surprise people with things they may have never had before. One of my favorite things is global street food, things you'd find on the side of the road in places like Laos. I really like to cook Asian food: Chinese, Thai, and Japanese. I love to roll sushi. I like churros, cinnamon sticks from Mexico.

I love to make traditional French cuisine like charcuterie. I love smoked meat, pork, the whole pig from the belly to prosciutto di parma. I love doing cheese and wine. I'm not really keen on baking.

How does someone go about getting work as a chef aboard boats?

JT: Orinokia came here for the Antigua Boat show. I'm registered with the Crew network and I'm trying to register with the crew agencies. Crew Network is supposedly the best. Fraser Yachts. A lot of it is just hitting the docks with your CV.

It's also lot of just hearing the chatter and then going to that boat. On St. Maartin, I've been doing a lot of private catering. I did a 14-course tasting. I've also done Thanksgiving for a South African family. This season, it's not looking too good. There are a lot of people looking for work on boats. We just cannot find work. It's tough for us out here.

Where do you get your recipe ideas?

JT: I'll take a glance at a book every once in a while. They are things I've just learned from master chefs, like Tom Douglas up in Seattle. He's a powerhouse up there.

This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.