I’m a cook. A professional, creative, passionate (some say ornery) cook. Maybe not what you think. I learned the trade in restaurants but life’s journey put my skill set to work on fishing boats, sail boats, motor yachts; I cooked in a Hawaiian boat yard for a couple of years, a remote British Columbia logging camp, a high-dollar fishing “camp”; I was a chef for the yachting crowd in the Caribbean and the horsey set in Texas. For the last couple years I’ve been managing a fly fishing lodge in Montana and cook for the owners and guests during our busy season. Cooking has been my ticket to see the world and meet interesting people and continues to challenge my creativity every day.
I was labeled “chef”, because on a $40 million dollar yacht you can’t have just a cook in the galley. He/she has to be a “chef”. And during my tenure as head chef on that particular motor yacht, visiting guests were often given a tour upon boarding. We had a routine: if it was a married couple, the husband was escorted by The boss to the wheelhouse and the engine room while Mrs. boss showed the wife the galley, dining, living areas and the cabins.
It was just after breakfast and we were in a small marina in Alaska. The boss had invited owners of a neighboring yacht aboard for coffee and a tour. I was waiting. Mrs. boss came into the galley with a middle-aged woman and introduced me, as per the procedure.
“So, you’re the chef?” Standing there in my chef uniform, I did look the part. “He’s our Montana chef.” replied Mrs. boss with a nod to my cowboy style. “Well where have you chef’d?” asked the guest.
I was running a little lean on caffeine and she caught me off guard so I just started babbling. Rapid-fire flurries of fictitious fluff will often fly right over the heads of ambivalent skeptics. And nobody really pays much attention nor cares what the staff has to say. Or so I figured.
“Ma’m, I’m old. I’ve cooked all over the world. Japan, China; I was cooking in a labor camp when the Russians grabbed me and made me the chef on the first space station, Muir – while it was under construction. Anyway, that was a long time ago and this yacht has a much nicer galley.” I said, trying my best to segue back to the task at hand.
“Over here we have magnetic-electric induction ranges; that’s my salamander and my combi-oven; there’s a char broiler and a flat-top, oh, and the dishwasher does a load in 90 seconds!”
I’d miscalculated. I could see the gears turning. I had hoped that my b.s. would swoosh over their heads. But no. She didn’t care about the dishwasher.
“So, what did you cook when you were in outer space?” the guest persisted.
“Oh, mostly I just floated around and opened plastic bags.” I said, trying to put a period on the subject.
“Well, that’s what I would think you’d do,” she said.
I looked to Mrs. boss for a clue, a wince, a smile. Anything. I was met with a blank stare. I’m so fired, I thought to myself. But maybe I skated! Maybe it swooshed! They left the galley to continue their tour and I returned my attention to the next meal, marveling at where the mind can travel.
Later, while we were under way, an inquiry from the bridge where the owners were lounging was delivered. “The boss is wondering about when you cooked on the space station.” relayed the chief stewardess.
“Oh, heck. It was a long time ago – the space station was under construction. The real cosmonauts weren’t up there yet, just us workers. You know. I set up the galley and fed the crew up there. Kinda like this job.”
“Yah, I know, but what DID you cook when you were in outer space?” she asked.