San Francisco foodie Shalleck pleasantly recreates his sweat-and-glamour season toiling as chef on a yacht cruising the Côte d’Azur.
At the time, he was an upstart young cook trying to work his way into a position as head of the kitchen in a name restaurant. After a good start at smart spots like The River Cafe and An American Place in New York, and Campton Place in San Francisco, he used his acquaintance with Alice Waters to land an apprenticeship in Provence with her colleague Natalie Waag, who quickly dismissed him for not cooking from the heart. Slinking off to Italy, Shalleck worked as an intern at numerous small restaurants from Tuscany to Lazio in order to master the local cuisines. Four years later, il Americano landed a plum job as chef on the 124-foot schooner Serenity, owned by an elegant, very rich Italian couple who planned to spend the summer yachting on the Riviera. La Signora, imperious and inflexible, demanded menus that reflected the abundance of indigenous offerings in each port of call: lots of fish, no meat, little pasta, no repeats! Her husband, by contrast, sometimes slipped into the galley while she napped to share pasta and marinara sauce with the polyglot crew (Brits, français and an American captain). Shalleck found the work challenging and often arduous as he tried to create masterpieces for large dinner parties in a tight galley kitchen. He also found his repertoire broadened by shopping for and learning to prepare such local foods as bianchetti (tiny fish), tartufi di mare (sea truffles), treccia (braids of mozzarella) and cernia (grouper). He took the job seriously, enjoyed camaraderie with French party-boy steward Rick and earned accolades for his menus—many included in the back of the book. Among the life lessons he imbibed: Hold the avocados (too strange for the Italians), and never confuse foie gras with pâté.
A clever summer-adventure tale.