The preference list is not the bible!
There it was again the moment ... the preference list was detailed, fish explained, dislikes, gluten free, some favorite recipes included, by email the private chef of the customers talked about the culinary profile. The list was based on years and years of informations, written and updated by colleagues…..BUT!
And with each day the charter got closer, the individual guests arose in my mind. I read which music they loved, I looked at their drink preferences, the wine list gave me more information about the travel and dining habits of the guests. Drinking habbits can tell a lot about cultural meanings.
The guests arrived, I served light welcome snacks, very concentrated on the plant based and sea food side, a refined dip made from Borlotti beans, no cheese, no crackers because I find them too stuffy.
This column is about listening and profiling, it is not about what we want to cook, but what is important to make 12 high end guests happy. It´s not about what we were taught in gourmet temples, but what the customer really feels to like in those particular moments surrounded by their family. Food depends on moods, hormones, surrounding, happyness, harmony, ist about so many things.
There were dinners, the guests liked grandmas, pancakes or easy French toast, I m not kidding, guests asked for French toast as a big dinner, greasy, rich and sweet with Marple sirup, that´s it. Go ahead! Do it! And don't think about Michelin Star. You are a Chef, and your mission ist o make people in this planet with your craft happy.
Listen to your customers! They come on the yacht for holidays, chalets, michelin kitchens they have all year round in real Michelin restaurants, with 50 Chef cooking. People are simple they, but they love the freshly prepared kitchen that reminds them of home.
A Russian family came up to me one day and they said: "We heard that you are German, and as we have a castle in Garmisch Partenkirchen, well…. and we love Empirores mess ... ..Kaiserschmarren."
I hadn't cooked Kaiserschmarren for decades and I remembered my apprenticeship in Tyrol: Ski season. Hut feast. Mountain food, snow. Big time, Winter Magic. Air in the mountains tastes and smells different, rich in oxigen . The family was thrilled. As a chef for millionaires, you have to have it all, Michelin, grandmother style, allergies, diets, variations, feel the vipe and connect.
Another charter for a nice family. First dinner, I played with healthy and savory, correctly presented, well served, gourmet food. The next day, breakfast: the guests did not order cooked dishes. The guests seemed satisfied. I cooked and presented my soul and the service was perfect.
But on the third day, Mrs. whispered something to me like a little secret: "We want a big salad and a lot of pizza tonight". I smiled and was amused about this culinary change and there was pizza and everyone was super happy.
The following day, steak, nachos, chips, salsas, herb butter and salads were requested.
Over with the fine dining. Everything is possible, always, specially with families, but I was also ordered to heat up pot noodles for high end clients at 4 a.m. in the morning. Meals that everybody could have on their mind, anywhere.
I was amused because it was not the first time for me to get such culinary course changes from the richest of the rich on a luxury yacht. People are people. And especially when people are on vacation, when the stress drops, everything relaxes and they want to have normal food, not a long formal dinner, lunch, the millionaire has it all year round. Eating goes through the stomach, but above all through the head and through the soul.
Although I always try to have everything on board that stipulates a preference list, I still keep this option open so that everything can change in any direcction.
Two weeks ago, a customer, a world-famous artist, was standing in my kitchen and asked with a funny hungry face for a snack.
I was just peeling beetroot….
I asked as if fired from the pistol: “How about a beetroot balsamic salad, lactose-free feta cheese and a few nuts, avocado oil?“
The happy, happy grin on his face was huge, gotcha, the little things are important.
On another charter, the preference list told me: Madame is a vegetarian, or sometimes eats fish.
At the dinner meeting, I listed 13 types of fish that I currently had on board. None of them wanted to please her and she said:
"Make me a burger"
Again I was amused because everything can change, a trip, but brings expectations with everyone and many things can happen or not.
I love my job, because actually it always allows this great scope to spoil people with the things they know and to delight them with an interpretation. That's the most important thing.
In private Cheffing, narrow-minded cooking has no place. You always have to be ready to cook old fashion, cook new fashion, healthy, unhealthy, simple or fancy. There is no taboo.
Michelin chefs have an advantage there, but they only realize late that cooking burgers for 9 K per month, is not a shame, because the customer longs for them and doesn't feel like 10-course menus 24/7. There are exeptions, of course.
An all-round chef with Michelin experience may have clearly lots of advantage. Me and my Veteran colleagues, who have worked in pubs, bakeries, butcher shops, on farms, in fine dining, in a noodle shop, during summer school holidays doing barbecue for 1000 pax a day on summer festivals. Nothing wrong with that. All this brings you closer to be a top Chef, who has restictions, no limits, who know what is good.
Priority is: the customer is king AND: the children of the king are imperators!