My life in France: your car gets bumped not once, but twice, by impatient drivers in gridlock traffic. Seriously.

Working alone in the galley has its perks. Instead of being squirrelled away in the corner next to the double sink and dishwasher, the main marble island is open for business and has become my new, albeit temporary, domain.

But a downside to the departure of the head chef is that you must become something of a one man band. Undoubtedly, in a few months time I’ll look back on this period and laugh at how inept and immensely suffering it made me. But at the time, it honestly felt like juggling a thousand and one jobs with nowhere near enough hours in the day to complete them. The Carrefour 10 minutes away is an absolute beast of a supermarket, but is supposedly nowhere near as big as others, which dumbfounds me. Monday morning is provisioning day, and involves me in my yacht uniform battling with not just one, not even two, but three bright blue plastic trolleys (‘chariots’, en Francais). Once those suckers get filled up they become rather unruly, and must be parked somewhere near the checkout to be returned to later. It makes my heart flutter when half an hour later I hurry back, dreading if an efficient worker has decided it’s been abandoned and is returning everything to the shelves. Luckily, that hasn’t happened yet.

Going through this charade in France, you attract a lot of funny looks, some prolonged stares, but never does anyone actually lift a finger to offer to help you. Apprently, once we cross the pond to Miami, in Publix you are treated like some sort of demi-God. Employees help unload the trolley, pack the bags, even walk with you to your car to offload the shopping. Doing this all alone in dodge-ville (Marseille) is truly not an enjoyable experience, but sadly a necessary one.

With the doors opening at 8.30am, it is a mad rush to get back to the boat for about 11am. The most important thing on a provisioning trip is to not forget your walkie-talkie. Once the packed van is approaching the boat, it is my time to shine and confidently proclaim, ‘All crew, all crew, the provisioning is here, please can you help unload the shopping, thank you’. It actually gets worse every time, as talking on the bloody thing is simply my worst nightmare. Who wants their voice eminating out of every single crew members’ pockets?!

All thirteen of us (actually, maybe about seven on a good day) make a chain and ferry all of the bags down to the walk-in fridge, freezer and dry store. It is a mission and a half, but with so many people on the job it is done in a flash. Once everything is down there and any refridgerated foods are out of the dreaded ‘danger zone’, it’s time to get lunch out for 12pm. On provisioning days you really only have two choices. To buy cooked quiches, rotisserie chickens, and pre-made salads at the Carrefour, or to do a little bit of prep the night before and get a ‘make your own’ sandwich set up going. I much prefer to do the latter.


The bread is all fresh from the bakery section. Assorted cold cuts and cheeses didn’t quite seem enough, so the night before I whipped up an egg mayonnaise (40 eggs worth), a tuna mayonnaise, and a prawn cocktail. The rest of the salad bits were prepped just before leaving for the provisioning trip.


Miso roasted aubergines with chilli & spring onion.


Roasted chicken legs in a wholegrain mustard, honey & soy sauce dressing, with coriander and chilli.


Classic Caesar salad with parmesan croutons and bacon lardons.

One morning, I was single handedly preparing a full English brunch for the 20 workers, and the other head chef who I had only met once, Olly, came into the galley. He was fresh from his month off back home in Sydney, which he spent with his wife and three children. Funnily enough, he is originally from Bath, so we had a lot of reminiscing to do about our respective West country timez. It was possibly the worst lunch for him to walk in on, as I had a scary looking vat of scrambled egg on the go, black pudding was exploding in pans all over the shop, and every single metal tray we own was covered in either bacon fat or sausage fat. But he saw it was all clearly under control, and was quite happy with the idea of a fry up to welcome him back to the boat. Like the absolute gent he is, he helped me with the massive clean down afterwards. What a hero!


What to do with all your leftover pork sausages? Don’t let them be put away in the crew fridge, and make a toad in the hole the next day.


Brown rice, hummus, coriander & avocado.


Pumpkin & bacon soup, with one of two sourdough loaves. One of my responsibilities at the moment is to look after Michael’s sourdough starter while he’s away. There is a little metal bowl covered in clingfilm that lives in the corner of the galley, containing this live being, and it’s a massive pain to remember to feed. All you have to do is throw away a spoonful of the mixture, then add back in a spoonful of flour and a spoonful of water. But when you are knee deep in lunch prep, the last thing on your to-do list is to faff around with feeding the damn thing. It went a little bit lumpy and mouldy under my care, but now that Olly is here, he is much better equipped with the organisation and ability to give it the love and attention that it needs.


Kobe beef with parsnips, carrots, green beans, roast potatoes and a green peppercorn sauce.

This was undoubtedly the best beef I have ever had the pleasure of eating. It was so marbled with fat that it quite literally melted away into nothingness. Kobe beef is the Wagyu breed of cattle, but to be named Kobe it must have come from that particular region in Japan. It costs over a hundred dollars per kilo, and the owners magically didn’t get through all of it during the Med season when they were onboard. So really, all that could be done was to cook it for the crew. We must be one of the most well fed bunch of workers on the high seas right now.

We’re due to leave Marseille at the end of October, heading firstly for Palma, then Gibraltar, before the epic Atlantic crossing halfway across the globe. My first month off is due to fall around mid February, so my parents came over to France for the weekend just gone, which was simply amazing in every which way. Heather gave me a lift to the airport in Marseille, where I impatiently waited in arrivals for their Easyjet plane to land. My mum came through security first and we had a bit of a teary, emotionally fraught hello. Passers by must have thought it had been years since our last hug, not just four and a bit weeks!


My dad came through with the bags (one little one filled with clothes left behind for me), had a bit of a chuckle at us, and we hopped in a taxi to take us to Aix en Provence.

Aix is about half an hour away from Marseille, and is much more beautiful and far less dangerous. We went there on a cracking recommendation from Michael, who has explored the country pretty thoroughly, having had a house in Monaco for years. Our hotel was the Grand Hotel Roi Rene, which turned out to be in a brilliant location for walking around the town. It is at the end of Rue de 4 Septembre, which is so easy to remember, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the way to and from the town centre. We hit up Zara, H&M and had a little tour of the old town to try and find a good spot for dinner.



And we certainly did! A little place called Lavault was tucked away in the side streets, and provided us with a lovely dinner all in all.

I wore a new skirt, with the most ridiculously amazing trainers that you ever did see, sadly not pictured. They are grey suede, with two massive pom poms on the top. My dream shoe.


As we were walking towards the restaurant around 7pm, we came across what can only be described as a mob of jubilant young people filling the road. There were brave souls climbing up the walls holding onto balconies to try to get a view of what was happening in the hub of it all. We couldn’t get anywhere near close enough to see, and had to take a detour to find our restaurant. After dinner, as we were walking through the square where all the excitement had happened, my mum boldly went over to a group of youths eating burgers in the street and asked them what had been going on earlier. As you can imagine, I was feeling an equal mixture of apprehension and self-conscious embarrassment, but it turned out they spoke really good English and told us it was a local band called Deluxe who were playing an impromptu gig, which attracted every man and his dog.

After the excitement of our night, we had a lovely morning in the old town.




I treated myself to a pair of new Ray-Bans which I’d had my eye on for a while, chosen with the all important seal of approval from someone I trust. Everyone else just says you look good in all the sunglasses you try on, which is simply not true.


We ended our day with a late lunch at La Mado. We shared sushi for a starter, I had a whole grilled sea bass for my main, and a scrum-diddly-umptious Nutella crepe for dessert. After seeing every other person eating one of those over the weekend, there was no way I was leaving without having sampled one myself. After copious amounts of wine (and two Baileys for me, my all time fave) we had to go back to the hotel to say our goodbyes.

At the time, we weren’t sure if I was even going to continue working onboard this yacht, because my application for an American visa had still not come through. But the very next day, on Monday morning, my passport arrived with a big ole 10 year B1/B2 visa stuffed inside it. So my fate is sealed! I will be doing the crossing, to spend the winter months in either the Caribbean or the Bahamas, before moving to South Beach, Miami in early 2017, and then Nova Scotia, Canada in mid 2017. The relief I felt, knowing I wouldn’t have to find another boat, was unreal. This is my boat, and I don’t want to leave any time soon.

Life in the Marseille shipyard. Security, takeaways and the odd mugging

We’ve well and truly settled into life at the shipyard. The boat has been dragged outta the water, scaffolding has been put up at every corner, and we’ve all been given security passes, which is assuring and suitably safety-conscious, but makes getting in or out of the tightly ran compound an absolute pain in the bum. Too many times have I slowly crawled up to the gate in the hire van, all set with a thousand re-usable shopping bags, the captain’s credit card, fully charged walkie talkie and a mile long shopping list, only to be refused exit due to forgetting that pesky little card back in the cabin. It’s a ruddy nightmare. What’s even worse is when you accidentally give over a male colleague’s card at 6am in the morning to go on an ambitious run, only to be shouted at in French for making this innocent mistake. My grasp of the language sadly didn’t extend far enough to explain to this angry fellow that it was, in fact, his colleague’s fault for giving us back the wrong cards in the first place.


Crispy duck with plum sauce, cucumber & shredded spring onion.


Homemade pancakes, using a surprisingly simple recipe from the Waitrose website.


Asparagus & broccoli roasted in Thai red curry paste, and egg fried rice.


Tuna sashimi of the highest quality, initially intended for guests, but leftover from the end of the season. Heavenly! The dressing is half soy sauce, half mirin, sprinkled with sesame seeds and cucumber.


Lightly battered kingfish, drizzled with siracha mayonnaise and spring onions. This was insanely good, but the deep fat frier is a bugger to clean, so it pains me to say that this was a bit of a one off. We were going out of our brains the other day looking for our timer that had gone walkabout in the galley, and when I turned the deep fat frier on to prepare it for frying the fish, we smelt a funny smell, and the mystery was solved.

We were warned upon arrival in Marseille that it’s not the most salubrious of places. Yachties apparently get mugged left, right and centre (but more on that later). Upon exploring the area we quickly realised that this Marseille is in actual fact not the Marseille of years gone by. The docks have had a serious face lift since those times, with a beautifully brand spanking new shopping centre about a 10 minute walk away from our temporary home.


It has a Pull & Bear, Zara, Mango, even a Barbarac, the best gelato place that hails from none other than St Tropez. Everything a gal could wish for. We simply had to pose for a girlband-esque photo at Les Docks.


We had a pit-stop in amongst our stint of shopping at the German beer bar, where we ordered cheese, in the hopes of being presented with a sophisticated assorted cheese plate. What came instead was a bowl full of cubed Cheddar cheese, a Schwartz bottle of celery salt and a little paper cup of English mustard. We were all a bit miffed, but once we dug in, it was a different story. It was  totally delicious and I take it all back.



We heard a couple of English voices and looked over to see Michael and Colin enjoying a few beers, who are none other than the head chef and captain. They more or less happily posed for a photo with us. Maria was a tiny bit over excited by this prospect.


Onboard we have two captains, who do 6 weeks on and 6 weeks off. To mark the end of Colin’s rotation, he kindly took us all out for (another!) crew dinner. It was the perfect opportunity to whack on my latest Zara purchases.




We hopped into a couple of taxis and rode the three minute journey to Terrasses du Port.


Our restaurant for the night was on the rooftop, so we began with some cocktails to accompany watching the sun go down over the docks. It was magical. Sadly, the food was shockingly bad. Most of us ordered the steak tartare, which genuinely looked like someone had upturned a packet of Tesco value mince onto a plate, and called it a day. Luckily, myself and Lovely had the brains to order the burrata with tomatoes on top of that beefy monstrosity, which is a simple dish that never fails to hit the mark.


From left to right, Lovely, my roomie, me, Heather, the chief stewardess, and Maria, another stewardess, who is a makeup queen and ever so kindly put my face on for me that night. The lip liner started off a little strong, veering into drag queen territory, but other than that, it was an absolute treat.


Rory and Steve, a couple of deckhands who are bezzie mates and share a cabin.


After hammering all of the wine, we snuck through the toilets that were shared with the club next door, to avoid the €20 entry fee. Whatever came after that is pretty blurry, and only half heartedly documented by photos. It was undoubtedly one hell of a good night.



It wasn’t quite so much of a good night for poor Dylan, who made the ever so slightly stupid decision to walk home alone. He was heckled by a few men, who crossed over the street to follow him, and signalled to some accomplices down the way to start approaching him. So he made the quick and clever decision to cut and run. Luckily, he is really fast, and sprinted through and past the gang of men who were attempting to run after him. Once he got past the security guards, he could see them on the bridge and actually gave them a bit of heckle back. What a hero.

The next day had me in Struggle City, big time. Poor Alex was inflicted with my terrible company for a grand total of two hours, before he put me in an Uber to go back to the boat and sleep. Me and Alex did our STCW training course together on the Isle of Wight, and he’s currently working as an activities officer onboard a cruise. His ship comes into Marseille every Saturday, so he catches the shuttle bus into town and we can meet for a few hours from about midday. It’s rather nice having a friendly face over here who isn’t on my boat, and we should hopefully both be in the Caribbean over Winter too, which would be seriously awesome.


We stood underneath a big mirror and shamelessly took a tourist-y photo in amongst the holiday makers.

The galley has been properly out of action of late, so if you follow me on Snapchat, you may have noticed an uncharacteristic lack of posting. This is because my job has morphed into trying to feed the crew with no access to kitchen facilities. Now this wouldn’t be a problem if we were based in a thriving metropolis, with takeaway options at every corner. But here in Marseille, no restaurants seem to open before 12pm, so providing lunch for 20 hungry workers is no easy feat. I’ve exhausted all sandwich options, sub-standard sushi joints, fast food establishments, you name it. It’s actually a horrible feeling having no choice but to serve crappy food to the crew, when the sole purpose of your job is to feed them well. But when the galley needs a new fridge, freezer and floor, there really is no other option.

But in between days of driving around the city like a headless chicken, there have been a couple where I’ve had precious access to the galley, had to give it a good deep clean and managed to cook a little bit.


Slow cooked pork ribs with BBQ sauce, spinach salad.


Grilled tuna with coriander, chilli and a lemon dressing. This was an utter nightmare to cook. Having seen Michael calmly and neatly grill all kinds of fish on the griddle pan, it looked a complete doddle. But my first attempt alone was just horrendous. Every single tuna steak stuck to the pan, despite generously drizzling them all with oil, smoke was filling the galley and I just wanted to throw it all in the bin and walk away. But once I put them on the platter and shoved a bit of garnish over it all, it didn’t look so bad! The crew actually raved about it, so it taught me a valuable lesson to always persevere with a dish, even if it seems like it’s all going belly up.


My famous sweet potato muffins with chilli and seeds. These are quite literally one of my favourite things to make and eat. But the crew didn’t touch them! They were really put off by the idea of a savoury muffin, and they wouldn’t budge. It just goes to show that what for some people is a dream dish, is just plain weird to others. Another lesson learnt, but it never hurts to try these things out!


Corn on the cob with lashings of parsley butter, always a winner.

Now before I sign off, there has been an undercurrent of issues surrounding my new job that has all recently come to a head. To work on this yacht, we all need a B1/B2 visa from the US embassy, because the vessel intends to spend a few months in Miami over the course of the year. So before I joined, I took a delightful trip to the US embassy in London. After waiting for 5 hours in what can only be described as a holding pen, I was subjected to the nastiest lady on planet Earth who scrutinised every piece of information I had to offer about my job. She was intensely suspicious about the ownership of the boat, and insisted on me providing more information before going ahead with the visa application. What ensued were many tears, in and around the embassy area. I was shouted at for being on the phone to my captain for helpful advice (they must have thought I was activating a bomb), and I fled the embassy in severe embarrassment and utter despair. It was an ordeal and a half. So since that time, we sent off all the information under the sun that the jobsworth asked for, but to no avail. They denied my visa.

I was midway through preparing the fruit salad for lunch when the email came through from my Dad, filled with exclamation marks and disbelief. Why on earth have they denied it when we gave them all the information they asked for? What more do they want from me? My firstborn child?! So that sparked off a few more tears on my part, Michael gave me a reassuring bear hug and told me he would help me find another job, which almost helped matters but just made me more upset at the thought of leaving. My Dad immediately Fed-exed over my non-visa containing passport, and we booked another interview at the US embassy in Paris.

So little old me took the 3 hour high speed train straight into the city of lurve, spent the night in a comfortable Ibis and arrived promptly at my appointed time wearing yacht uniform, with yet even more documents this time. Signed letters from every single authoritative figure on the boat. The crew list, boat papers, even the entire 12 page original document that is my contract. What could go wrong this time? I was quite literally shaking to my core during the entire interview. Michael had drilled into me to only speak when spoken to, and ideally stick to the one phrase, ‘It has always been my dream to cook on a super yacht.’ Luckily this man was nowhere near as bad as the witch from hell four weeks prior. He said that under normal circumstances, he would give me the visa straight away, as he’s very used to yacht workers who need them. But as he could see on the system that my application was denied, twice, four weeks ago, he needed more time to have a thorough look through the information that I came with.

So here I am, in visa limbo. Who knows when they will be in touch to give me my fate. Knowing the (horrendously incompetent) system, I will most probably receive my passport back at some point over the next few weeks, either with a B1/B2 visa inside, or not. What happens then, we shall just have to wait and see.

Moving up in the world, by way of a cantaloupe melon

The owners came back this week, to pack up their belongings and fly away on their private jet, drawing a line under their Mediterranean Summer. For the crew, this meant no more standard 8-5, instead working strange shifts that often go into the dead of the night. For me, my hours will always and forever be 8-5.


Peshwari naan filled with coconut, almond & sultanas.


Rick Stein’s lamb korma.


Tarka dhal, made with yellow lentils.

To make the most of our final night being in sync with each other, the girls took me to a well known underground Absinthe Bar in Antibes. It really does take you back in time by the way it’s decorated, with all of those postcard images of ladies sipping a martini or smoking a cigarette blown up on the walls. But bringing it into the modern age, the wifi is readily available and has no password! So we were snapping away, trying on all of the hats they have lining the room. Lovely has told me on a fair few occasions she has accidentally/on purpose walked out, still donning a fez or an army helmet.


Iced water is on each table, with a menu of tonnes of different types of absinthe. Two of us went for the classic, and another two had a less aniseed flavoured one. They were both delicious! In small sips.


You pour the absinthe into the glass, pop a sugar cube on top of the sieve and drip iced water over until it dissolves.


Half of us added more sugar, and more water, to make it halfway drinkable.


After trying on a riding hat, a beret, a few fascinators and a cowboy piece, I settled with the sombrero for the evening.


Maria has one of those heads that looks amazing in any type of hat. Much unlike my own. The one she chose was from H&M – it suited her so well.


We had an absolute hoot, and finished the night with flaming shots at the yachtie-favourite Cafe Brun just up the street. Maria flirted with the barman so well that he poured us four shots on the house, with a whole red chilli in. It was so great.




The following morning kicked off with a smoothie, as per usual, but with a few cocoa, maca & almond energy balls thrown in for good measure.


My uncle is a fantastic cook, and is the one who really got me interested in Ottolenghi’s Middle Eastern style of cooking in the first place. One of my favourite memories of visiting my auntie and uncle is when he made us Persian jewelled rice, as part of a glorious feast for dinner. It blew all of our minds, and we still talk about it now, years later. They love to travel around Spain, and told me about this amazing traditional soup called Ajo Blanco, made using a recipe from Diana Henry’s book, Crazy Water Pickled Lemons. Now, once my head chef caught wind of my plans for making a chilled almond & garlic soup as part of a crew lunch, his initial thoughts were that it may not go down all too well. So he recommended to just make a small amount, enough for about 4-6 people. But lo and behold, once it was set down on the table, it disappeared in seconds. They quite literally lapped it up! I really can’t blame them, as it is quite frankly unbelievably tasty, especially for something with such humble ingredients.


Ajo Blanco, finished with green grapes and a swirl of olive oil.


A firm favourite – mac and cheese with a crispy Panko breadcrumb topping, loaded with extra turkey bacon (leftover from the owner’s breakfast).


Sirloin steak, sous-vide. Yes, sous-vide, by moi! You take your piece of meat or fish, marinade it in whatever you choose, pop it in a plastic bag, and the machine will suck out all of the air and seal it airtight. It basically locks in all the flavour, and allows the marinade to penetrate the meat so much more in a really small amount of time. We also have an actual water bath! So this meat was cooked at 96°C for 40 minutes, before finishing off by searing it on the hot grill. It was marvellous. Such a new and exciting way of cooking, I’ve also used it to cook tuna so far and plan to use it for pretty much everything.


Fennel and red cabbage slaw, made a whole lot easier using the Japanese mandolins we have in the galley. Gone are the days of laboriously chiffonade-ing. Seriously important to keep my eye on the whole procedure though, because I want to come home with all my digits.


The piped topping of my fish pie, made with cod and king prawns.


Fennel, orange & almond salad with mint. One of my self-appointed evening activities every day is to scour the web for interesting new salad ideas. Tomato, cucumber and lettuce just isn’t going to cut the mustard anymore.

A lunch menu and a dinner menu are printed each morning, with a choice of two mains for both. Usually there is a lighter option, with a slightly more substantial one (but still light by my standards). Lunch is finished each day with a fruit platter, showcasing the beautiful produce we come across at the local markets. After watching head chef make these the first day, he entrusted the job over to me. As you can imagine, I was pleased as punch to play a part in something for the owners.


One with figs, and one without. Any piece of fruit that is a little bit imperfect, can’t go on the plate.


Once this is sent out, that signals the end for head chef until dinner service. So he went for a bit of ‘horizontalisation’, leaving me to put Radio 1 on the bluetooth and crack on with crew dinner. But Jhel came back into the galley having served the fruit plate, saying that the Mr would like some more melon. I certainly wasn’t going to disturb my boss during his holy ‘horizontalisation’, so I carved the rest of the melon with the most precision I’ve ever employed. No wedge had any untidy bits. They were placed into a perfect semicircle fanning the plate. It was a tiny job that I will probably look back on and laugh at, but at the time it felt like a big deal. I served the melon by myself. It was a big deal.

Having head chef Michael with me at the moment is a complete dream, as he is willing teach me pretty much anything that he knows before he leaves (which is a hell of a lot). We did a brunch themed lunch, complete with poached eggs, Hollandaise sauce, and English muffins made from scratch. The tips and tricks he is passing onto me are invaluable, and are making me a thousand times better at cooking every day. At least, I like to think so.


As I was poaching the last of the eggs, Michael roped in Steve to sprinkle a pinch of cayenne pepper over each, and Graham to pop a sprig of parsley on top. This was a rather labour intensive, ‘a la minute’ lunch, that I wouldn’t necessarily do again in a hurry.


We have white boards up to use for meal planning, which are usually 2 or 3 days ahead, because we need to pull out all our meat and fish from the freezer to defrost. This lunch was for the day we sailed the 9 hour journey to Marseilles. From my recent experience, I knew it would be best to be in a position where I could take myself away for some quiet time, if the need arose. So the day before, all my prep was done, and a simple assembly job was required in the morning. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!


But all was well, and my seasickness tablets did their thing. There was a good hour where all I could do was yawn, but it more or less kept the malaise at bay. Dinner was a Sunday roast, complete with mammoth sized Yorkshire puddings.


Please forgive my appearance – after a day in the galley I tend to end up greasy haired and rather shiny of face.


Happy with our work, ready to tuck in.



So that marks the end of the Med season. The boat will be taken out of the water in Marseilles, for extensive work and repairs. Amazingly for us, the galley is getting a whole new floor, fridge & freezer, even stainless steel cupboards. During that time, which we think will be around a week, it’ll be my job to think up store bought lunches and dinners for the crew, that require no kitchen facilities. Unfortunately, the Marseilles shipyard has no takeaways, restaurants, or pretty much anything useful in its vicinity, so Michael has warned me I’ll need to rely on regular trips to the Carrefour. We’re talking build your own baguettes, ready made quiches, rotisserie chickens…it’ll no doubt require some creativity on my part so that everyone still actually eats well. During the day it’ll be high time for me to sort out the walk in fridge downstairs, taking everything out and giving it a good deep clean. The same will be done to the walk in freezer, and the dry stores. I just need to figure out how to spend any length of time inside the freezer, without dying of frostbite. Even popping in for a leg of lamb is tantamount to a mission to Everest base camp!

A tale of two cocktails

We finished off the last post with me excitedly getting ready to hit the town of Antibes, for cocktails at Cafe Brun, dinner at the Blue Elephant, followed by more cocktails at the Wine Bar. Us gals all got ready together between two cabins, me rather cack-handedly curling Jhel’s hair, Maria expertly doing everybody’s makeup, with the boys patiently waiting upstairs in the crew mess. By some serendipitous stroke of luck, they pretty much all individually decided to whip out a checked lumberjack shirt. Coincidence? I think not.


From left to right, we have Dylan, the South African deckhand, who loves juices with kale and especially squidgy chocolate brownies with a crispy top (no pressure there). Gabriel, the Uruguayan engineer who wishes for more pasta dishes to be put on the rotation. Steve, an English deckhand, Hamish, the New Zealand chief engineer, who comes out with whatever is on his mind, no matter what it may be, Graham, the English chief officer, who is second in command below the captain and told me my granola was burnt (I’m not bitter, I promise), and Rory, another English deckhand.


You can just about see Captain Colin in the background – but the woman is just a randomer. From the left we have Maria, me (obvs), my roommate Lovely, and Jhel.

We strolled over to our first bar, where we had a big old private room for the fourteen of us. After a round of delicious espresso martinis, I was happily slurping my strong old fashioned when head chef Michael told me he would be going back to Monaco the following day to sort out some housekeeping duties. It would be down to little old me to cook lunch and dinner for that day, plus prepare lunch and dinner for the following day, to be kept in the fridge as ‘weekend food’ for people to help themselves. Promptly, the old fashioned was pushed away and Rozza was on sparkling water for the rest of the night. Well, it was certainly fun while it lasted!


After hammering the cocktails we wandered down to the Chinese restaurant, where Michael and Colin had been uber organised and placed a massive order beforehand. Unfortunately, with it being a Friday night they were rushed off their feet, and we waited, either starving hungry or getting steadily more drunk, for about an hour before the food came. But it was delicious when it did – we had spring rolls, spicy beef salad, noodles, king prawn curry, a rather decent spread. There are no photos to show, because my hunger took priority.

Once we’d eaten, the sensible few of us took a stroll back to the boat. We have a passerelle key for each bunk, but both me and Lovely left ours in the cabin. I don’t even know what it looks like. But the passerelle is the sort of gangplank that is lowered to connect the boat to the harbour. It is down during the day, with just a little sign saying not to enter, so we can come and go as we please. But late at night it is raised up, for security reasons. The crew have told me some interesting stories of poor, drunken yachties attempting to clamber onto their passerelle without a key, and coming a cropper. Going on my to do list – locate the key!

With a fresh head, and all other crew with the day off, my day began at 8am with my first job being to start the process of baking ciabatta bread. A beautiful piece of sirloin steak was in the fridge for me to use, originally destined to become a full blown roast dinner. But with me being on my own and having double the workload of a usual day, it was relegated to the future of becoming a humble steak sandwich.


The loaf was a success, with a chewy crust and a fluffy centre. With the steak sliced on a platter I served caramelised onions, a barbecue sauce, spinach & goats cheese salad and a spicy tomato couscous. In the fridge went two Quiche Lorraines (bacon and Gruyere), a meat & cheese laden lasagne, turmeric roasted salmon, with assorted salads. A banana & walnut loaf was left on the side. No one was to go hungry over the course of this weekend.

My day off was spent exploring the town of Antibes, kicking off with a 4 mile run along the coast. The beauty of docking at these harbours is that they’re generally rather runner friendly. To keep the coast on your left was the advice given to me, as the other side is a bit grim. It’s a great way for me to attempt exercise, without the fear of getting lost.

With Michael back the following Monday, my sights were set a little higher. An ambitious suggestion from the girls of Tom Yum Kung (a sweet and sour Thai soup with prawns) had me raring to go. But first, what keeps me occupied from 8am-9am each morning is the job of clearing the crew fridge of leftovers from the night before. Emptying numerous tupperware into the bin and putting them through the dishwasher is a necessary task, which I’ll be a dab hand at soon enough. The crew have a smoothie or juice each morning at 10am. So my first trip down to the walk-in fridge was to stock up a tray with about 20 carrots, 5 beetroots, a couple of fennel bulbs, 10 oranges and a knob of ginger. These get pushed through the juicer to fill up a jug, and the crew help themselves to a revitalising booster throughout the morning. Here is where Madeleine Shaw’s book, Get The Glow comes in. Michael is so used to creating the juices that he knows what goes with what. But these recipes will see me through the first few months, as I don’t want to get in a rut and end up making juices that taste, by and large, the same every day. The fact that they have catchy names is also a bonus, as I can write that up on the whiteboard for everyone to know what exactly it is they’re drinking.

My next daily task is to chop fruit into a large bowl, to go with the lunch spread. This is a given every day, so it’s good practice to get it done, cling-filmed and put in the fridge. Michael has shown me a magical way of prepping a mango. Like most (I presume), my technique is to roughly guess where the stone is, cut through and hope for the best to get roughly half the flesh in a piece, with the skin still on. Once it’s scored into squares, you turn it inside out and slice off the cubes. But this is so inefficient, sloppy, and half my squares end up as tiny triangles hacked to bits.

Michael’s method is utterly genius! You top and tail the mango, as if it were a lemon you want to slice into wedges, so that you have a flat base and top. Slice the skin off the mango, so that it’s peeled. Then you can see the stone, and cut down either side of it, leaving you with perfectly rectangular pieces of mango that you can cube to your liking! My apologies if that explanation was entirely boring, useless, or downright obvious to you readers, but it blew my mind and has saved me so much time, and heartache, while fruit chopping.

To make the Tom Yum, firstly the Thai red curry paste had to be made. My book called The Professional Chef by the Culinary Institute of America came in handy for this. Our wifi is temporarily down, and this tome lives in my iBooks, so it was nice and easy to search through. At this juncture, Michael softly suggested that trying to please the girls with overly complicated recipes could well put me ‘in the s***’ by 10.30am. But this was totally do-able! And I was making this soup for me, as much as them. As it turned out, it wasn’t too much of a labour of love and it tasted bloody marvellous, with the men helping themselves to a hefty portion, too. Usually, I would eat with everyone else at 12pm, then go back to finish prepping dinner at 1pm. But we were all doing a half day, so Michael wanted us to clean down and close the galley in more of a hurry than usual. Utterly disastrously, when I went out to help myself to the spread, there was a sad little puddle of Tom Yum at the bottom of the pot, with one hidden lonely prawn amongst the dregs.


Tom Yum Kung, before the crew came down upon it, with the obligatory fresh fruit salad behind.


Chicken satay, with coriander and crushed peanuts. This wasn’t the satay sauce recipe that I usually use, and it lacked the same punchy flavour. Definitely one I will bookmark to make again, but with my usual recipe when the wifi is back in action. A simple rocket, fennel, and radish salad at the back.


Asian butterbean salad from Rachel Phipps’ wonderful blog. This salad is totally incredible – I urge anyone to make it for any type of lunch spread, Asian or not. A salmon, dill & lettuce combo is behind, made using the leftover salmon from the weekend.


Michael standing proudly over the lunch spread. Next time, I’ll ask him to take a photo of me instead!

He had his apron made specially for him somewhere in France, as he was fed up with plain black ones. I’ve been lucky enough to have been offered his second one to wear, so we can match in the galley. The girls say it’s a big honour, as the aprons mean a lot to him. I feel a little bit like a butcher with it on, but wear it with pride, nonetheless.

My firsthand discovery: the reason new yachties are called ‘green’

My arrival in the Riviera was like something out of a Hollywood movie. Or Made In Chelsea: South of France. A silent and brooding Frenchman in a sleek black private car drove me from Nice to Monaco, where the boat was docked, in amongst all the others gathered for the upcoming boat show. First things first, the chief stewardess took me to where I will be living for (hopefully) the next year or so. All the cabins, except for the captain’s, hold two people in single bunk beds. We have a single desk, that has thus so far only been used as a holding area for miscellaneous items – I doubt any real study-related activities will be had. My top bunk is plenty comfortable to sit back and type my blogposts, complete with a view of the open sea through a porthole. Each room has its own ensuite, in which the shower is both powerful and hot.


The crew mess is where we eat lunch and dinner. It’s just next door to the galley, so it’s not far for me to travel to lay the table and serve. Also in the crew mess is an L shaped sofa with a big TV, that miraculously has Sky. These days, travelling the world doesn’t mean you have to miss the Bake Off. The crew fridge is stocked full of snacks, leftovers, juices, yoghurts, you name it. The freezer is Magnum central. By the toaster and microwave, the cupboards hold all the breakfast items, plus a naughty drawer with every type of chocolate under the sun.



What came as a surprise to me, despite my stewardess friends advising me not to go OTT on the toiletries, was that quite literally EVERYthing you might need is provided by the boat. Shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste, moisturiser, dry shampoo, cotton buds, nail varnish remover, even obscure things that you think only you use – it’s like having a mini Boots onboard. My uniform is also fabulous. A navy blue mens round neck tee shirt, chef’s trousers, with the super sexy thick socks ‘n’ clogs combo. There is a no shoe policy on the boat, with clean white socks left for us to use beside the main door, the etiquette of which I’m still trying to figure out. But my clogs are allowed indoors, and that’s all that matters.


My welcome night was spent enjoying a beer in Monaco, at a place called Stars & Bars, with three of the yacht stewardesses. My roommate is a girl called Lovely, who as you may presume, is indeed rather lovely. They filled me in on the fascinating ways of yacht life, I tried to suss out some of their favourite foods, and we came back to the boat before curfew trying to dodge the rain. While the guests are onboard, the curfew is midnight. Otherwise, we are free to come back any time we please.

The morning began at 8am with a bit of a daunting, ‘Right, what shall we cook today?’ But after throwing some suggestions around, it was mostly a case of using up leftovers and ingredients from the guests’ dinner the night before. The guests all actually left the boat at 8am that morning, so it wasn’t just me responsible for cooking crew food on my first day. Thank goodness! *Breathes sigh of relief.* The galley is small, but everything is squeezed in uber efficiently. All of the cupboards are identical, so it will take some time to get used to the whereabouts of every pot, pan and utensil. One of my initial tasks over the next few days is to clear out every cupboard, give it a good clean, and put all the ingredients back full, labelled, and in an organised fashion. So that they end up resembling a supermarket shelf. It will make life abundantly easier for me, and appeals to my penchant for having everything in good order.

The head chef whipped up roast chicken legs, hummus and crudités, goats cheese soufflés (from the night before) and turbot with a tomato sauce. My contributions consisted of my trusty sweetcorn fritters, sweet and sour plum chutney, tomatoes with avocado, a spinach, date & almond salad and banana & Nutella muffins for afters.




But before lunch was served, the shit hit the fan.

We left Monaco in an intricate reversing manoeuvre that had me awestruck, to make tracks to Antibes. As far as anyone was aware, the sea was calm, and there was nothing to worry about. But lo and behold, there was an enormous swell in the ocean and the boat was literally reeling from side to side, relentlessly. After a futile attempt to fry my fritters in the galley, while simultaneously turning paler and breaking out in cold sweats, there was ultimately no choice but to retreat to my cabin, and sit on the floor in the bathroom, waiting for something to give. Then, like an angel, a stewardess called Jhel came in with a mug of ginger ale, and told me to come up to the bridge deck for some fresh air. The following hour and a half was spent crouched in the shade on some steps, clutching a plastic bag and willing the waves to cease. All that was going through my mind was how the heck am I going to cope on the blimmin’ Atlantic crossing?! We’ll just have to cross that bridge. (How I wish there was a bridge we could cross, by car).


Phillip Green’s yacht, Lionheart, in Monaco. Bigger than all the others.

Now, it seems that my arrival has been pretty darn perfectly timed. The crew have just finished an epic 8 week season in the Med, with the guests onboard for the entirety of it, meaning 12-14 hour days and no days off. With them now gone, it is high time for the hard workers to have some well earned R&R. Tomorrow night we are being taken out for a crew dinner, which supposedly only happens about once every 6 months. Cocktails at 7pm, followed by dinner at a beach club in Antibes, all courtesy of our kindly captain. How lucky am I?! Yes, it’s been just shy of 48 hours since my joining, but this is just a fantastic way of easing me in gently, and welcoming me to the fold. A fold that has been simply superb, thus so far.

As Troy Bolton once said, “This could be the start, of something new.”

Wednesday 14th September. The day began just as all good days should – in floods of inconsolable tears.

Saying goodbye to family is never easy. But it’s exponentially more difficult when you are an extreme home-body such as myself. There’s just something about parting ways before security that gets me every. Single. Time. Far better for everyone involved, this time we kept our goodbyes inside the homestead, as it was just shy of 6am when I had to leave to catch the red eye to Gatwick.


But heck, this was such an exciting time, that a quick spritz of duty free Prada Candy had me feeling right as rain.

On the agenda for day one of joining the boat was a quick hop over to London, before boarding the two hour flight to Nice. Both legs were delightfully co-ordinated by British Airways – my personal preference over the bright orange monstrosity of an airline that my budget usually allows. Luckily for me, these flights were paid for by a generous travel agency who deemed me worthy of the superior airline. A complimentary cup of tea makes a big difference to my day.

It was a good job they bestowed me with the 23kg bag allowance too, because cookbooks do not come light.

My job-to-be involves cooking for 15 people of widely differing nationalities, so it had me thinking it was best to come prepared. Despite my firm favourite dishes of spaghetti bolognese, Cumberland sausages and the like, Sabrina Ghayour is the chef of my dreams. Her recipes are Persian, but close enough to home that you aren’t baffled by every other ingredient on the list (enter Ottolenghi’s NOPI – more of an aesthetically pleasing book to adorn your coffee table with, than an actual cookbook to sink your teeth into). Sabrina Ghayour makes roasted carrots interesting by adding cumin seeds and soft goats cheese. Her salmon comes coated in a spiced rose petal and sumac crust. Both of her cookbooks, Persiana and Sirocco, were first to go in my basket.


Second to go in was a trusty baking bible by the silver fox, Paul Hollywood. With every gadget under the sun residing in the yacht’s galley, it didn’t come as a surprise to me that no bread is bought, it is all made from scratch. This made me almost giddy with delight. Cooking for one doesn’t quite necessitate baking an entire loaf, incorporating an unusual flour, laden with complex fillings. But cooking for 15 hard-working, hopefully carb-hungry folk, most certainly calls for a yeast orientated centrepiece every now and then. Bring on the bread.


The rest of my culinary catalogue lives inside my brand new rose gold Macbook. *Angels sing*. Living inside my iBooks we have Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite, Rick Stein’s India, Pizza Pilgrims, Honey & Co, Honestly Healthy, Get The Glow, Inspiralized, plus a few pastry and general cooking bibles from the likes of Anthony Bourdain, in case of any cooking of the ‘classics’. But from grilling my friends in the industry, they assured me that mostly all crew love simple, healthy, satisfying food, that hasn’t been messed around with too much.


Armed with my trusty notepad and pen, Boots-own brand sea sickness tablets and an ever so slightly nervous disposition, here it goes. Wish me luck.

A Day In The Life Of A Private Chef

Twelve days into a month long job in the picturesque region of Ramatuelle (near St. Tropez) means it’s high time to let my friends and family know just exactly what it is I’m getting up to out here. To try and sum it all up in three words…it would have to be food, sun and mosquitoes.

For a bit of background, last year myself and a great friend who I met at Ashburton, Nell, signed ourselves up to all the temporary chef agencies out there, with the hopes of finding a position ANYwhere, be it at a shooting lodge up in Scotland, a Manor House in the English countryside, pretty much anything we could get. We actually offered ourselves up as ‘two for the price of one’, applying for single chef’s positions with the view of sharing the accommodation, and the wage.

We struck gold with a two week job in a beautiful villa in Ramatuelle, owned by a family from Notting Hill, who’ve had this place for fifteen years, spending practically every holiday here. It is a home away from home for them. Every year, the three children have their respective school and university friends over during a jam-packed few weeks, whilst the parents have their family friends to stay. That’s where we come in. To feed them!
This year, much to my (and the family’s) disappointment, Nell was busy working at a fine dining restaurant in Spain. Fortunately for me, my position as a sous/crew chef onboard a private motor yacht doesn’t start until September. So when I was asked back to cook for the whole month of August, it was an easy answer. Admittedly, I toyed with the idea of going alone. It would have been absolutely do-able, but the ‘down time’ would have probably been too isolating for a whole four weeks. (I mean, I love my kindle, but not that much). So this time, the family sorted out another Ashburton graduate to accompany me – a girl my age called Katie.

Now to our typical day, á la villa, from dawn ’til dusk.

The alarm goes off at 7am, time enough for a half hour swim in the pool before the family starts to get up. On a good morning I do 100 lengths (that’s happened about twice). Our humble abode is the little pool house, down at the bottom of the garden. It is snug (code for cramped), and we get all sorts of weird and wonderful wildlife finding their way inside. Crickets, lizards, spiders…you name it. My tolerance levels have had no choice but to increase.

The pool, in all its early morning glory. 

At 8am we walk up to the main house. I pocket a few fresh figs on the way, as I bloody love them (and no one else seems to! Bizarre). One of us turns off the security system while the other opens the front door. A scary, deep, digital voice booms ‘Arretè!’ through the entire house, and we can enter without the Gendarme being called. First things first, we let Daisy out of her cage and let her have a roam outside. Daisy is a long haired sausage dog, who is thirteen years old and doesn’t seem to cope with the heat all that well. She’s very slow, and gets all doe eyed when we cook especially juicy, fatty pieces of meat. We’re under strict instruction not to feed her, and we totally don’t. Promise.

After opening all five thousand of the shutters, doors and windows, the one with the driving licence (me) hops into the Renault people carrier (nicknamed ‘The Beast’, by me) for a pain au chocolat & croissant run. Whilst the one left behind sets up for breakfast. This involves laying the table, putting out our lovingly homemade granola, with assorted jams, honey, coffee and tea. By the time I return, that’s all done, so we start chopping fresh fruit for the table. Most days it’s peaches, as we always seem to have a glut of them, but often it’s melon, pineapple or mango. Any figs I try to sneak into the medley end up in a sad, forgotten, soggy mush at the bottom of the bowl. We make eggs, bacon, tomato, mushrooms & toast to order, when any of the family or guests fancy a cooked breakfast. During all of this we find a quick moment to eat our own grub, which for me is the homemade granola with figs (obvs), apple compote (Katie calls it Pomme-pote) with Greek yog & milk. If there’s a stray pain au chocolat, which there funnily enough always is, that gets eaten too.

First things first, I drive ‘The Beast’ with my bin liners in da back.

Across the way from the Spar, the Croissant Chaud pop up, where the kind lady gives you ‘one for the road’ if you buy over ten.

We go for the pain au chocolat and the croissants pur beurre. I’m partial to the odd pain au raisin.

Upon my return, the table is beautifully laid.

The breakfast bar, minus Greek yoghurt, milk and chopped fruit, which is all kept in the fridge until the last minute.

Anything cooked for brekky is made on request.

After everyone is fed and watered, we sit down with the matriarch of the family and discuss the day’s menu. We mostly have free reign with lunch, with the general rule being a quiche or tart, a carb-based dish, with the usual suspects of heirloom tomatoes, green salad with Parmesan, sliced baguette, assorted hams and a cheese plate. We try all sorts on them, recently having a bash at a ricotta & sundried tomato shortcrust pastry tart, sweet potato & feta muffins, with a chicken Caesar salad. Homemade Caesar salad goes down ridiculously well with everyone for some reason, and is great for us, as it uses up roast chicken and day-old baguettes. 

Poached salmon & dill fishcakes.

Sweet potato, feta, chilli & sunflower seed savoury muffins.

Chargrilled sweetcorn, avocado, feta & tomato quinoa salad.

Sweetcorn fritters with crispy bacon and roasted red peppers.

Avocado & Asian noodle salad.

Pesto courgetti with mozarella & toasted pine nuts.

Quiche Lorraine with summer couscous & courgette fritters.

Our pick of the ‘scraps’.

But before we can embark on the lunch prep, we must write an epic shopping list and take a trip to the Spar, making sure to include the oh-so glamorous job of taking the bins out. Here in Ramatuelle, you have to drive your rubbish to a communal bin area, and fling it all in. This aspect of the job is on a par with the washing up, with regards to how much I enjoy doing it. The Spar is a ten minute drive away, during which I get overtaken by the odd Ferrari, Porsche, or any car that is too impatient to deal with my terribly slow gear changing (I unashamedly drive an automatic at home). We get all meats, cheeses, bread and store cupboard items at the Spar. There is a well stocked fruit & vegetable market over the road, but our employers prefer the top end quality of a green grocers a bit further away, called Laurent Primeur. Imagine a Wholefoods, complete with the synonymous price tag. Everything in there is immaculate, as if God himself has carved each aubergine from the original, perfect aubergine that once was. The sales assistants even carry your overpriced vegetables to your car. That’s why they are able to charge nine euros for a pomegranate.

The ever-reliable Spar, with a cracking butchers, bakery and cheesery (?) inside.

We usually get back to casa del villa at 11.30am, to serve lunch at 1pm if the family are going on their boat in the afternoon, but 1.45pm if not. Once they’ve helped themselves to the spread, we then dig in before they come back for seconds. During the course of the morning, I tend to nibble on the odd apricot, peach, really any fruit that’s lying around and looks like no one will be brave enough to go for. In the oppressive heat, fruit tends to go off rather quickly, especially as the family like to have it all out, nicely displayed in bowls. More for me!

Whilst they’re eating, we do a big wash up and any prep for the rest of the day. When there are thirteen hungry teenagers swimming and roaming around being obscenely active all day, it pays to have something up your sleeve for the afternoon. Katie isn’t much of a baker, so I get to bake to my heart’s desire. Usually it’s something chocolatey – brownies, banana & Nutella brownies, macarons, all flavours of cookies. We often do a big batch and freeze cookie dough rolled into logs. At the moment we have milk chocolate chip, and oatmeal & cranberry on ‘standby’. There is a more health conscious family coming soon, so my notebook is filling up with raw ‘super’ seeded flapjacks, dairy free coconut & cashew slices, basically anything you can put a goji berry on and call healthy.

Banana & Nutella muffins.

The son’s 21st triple chocolate birthday cake. That’s white chocolate on the top, not cheddar cheese, btw.

At about 3pm, we halt proceedings and have our afternoon break. There used to be a chef and his wife who would confidently stroll to the pool and plonk themselves on a lounger, to while away their hours off. That’s not quite what we do. Usually we go back to our room, I have a lightning change into a bikini, grab my kindle and lay outside, for my daily vitamin D. That gets a bit much, so I roll over and fall asleep for a bit. Then I fetch Katie, we find some shade and do a spot of YouTube yoga. After showering, we lay on our beds and watch a bit of a film. By that time, it’s 7pm and time to go back up to the house.

My daily sunbathe. Usually flat on a towel, on the overgrown grass at the bottom of the garden. It’s so private, you may think you can do like the French and go topless, but in actual fact there is a hive of gardening activity, which I learnt the hard way. When the family are on their boat, we can go upstairs for a swim and a more comfortable perch on the loungers.

The donut is my fave, followed by the pizza slice, then the lilo, which is perfect for reading my kindle (uber carefully).

Canapés and drinks are at 8.30pm, with dinner served at 9.15pm. This is WAY too late for me (being someone who eats dinner at 6pm at home), so I have a small meal of whatever’s lying in the fridge before starting to cook again. Sometimes with a big glass of grenadine to give me an energy boost. Every night, they like a dip with crisps and crudités. We do various flavours of hummus, guacamole, baba ghanoush, tzatziki, that sort of thing. For the actual canapés, we can go to town. Favourites of theirs have been our mini dill scones with cream cheese & smoked salmon, goats cheese & caramelised onion puffs, and sundried tomato palmiers.


Melon wrapped in Parma ham.

Mini dill scones with cream cheese & smoked salmon.

For dinner, they like an informal setting. We lay the table with lots of candles, and put the food on the side, dished up in beautiful bowls and colourful serving platters that don’t match. Most days, our employer will say, ‘We fancy chicken,’ or ‘We fancy lamb,’ so it’s up to us to decide which way to cook it, and what to serve it with. There is a plethora of Middle Eastern books in the house, which we make really good use of. Persiana, Ottolenghi’s first book, Plenty, and Jerusalem are just a few. Other favourites are River Cafe, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Veg Every Day, Jamie Oliver’s first ever cookbook, and the Leith’s cooking bible. We take inspiration from all of those, but I’m just as likely to make something I’ve seen on a blogpost or Instagram page. Some unusual dishes have been real hits lately, one being a blood orange & radicchio salad with sumac & dill. We try not to repeat dishes, but if we find a real goodun, then it might appear twice. Ottolenghi has an amazing way of serving broccoli, that has made me not want to have it any other way, ever again. Par-boil the florets, drizzle with oil and season, before griddling them on a high heat to create char marks. Sauté slivered garlic and chilli in olive oil, then toss with the broccoli. Divine!

Griddled aubergine with saffron yoghurt.

After clearing dinner, we put on a pot of coffee and brew either mint or verveine herbal tea, from the garden (naturally). When it’s just casual, dessert can be a lime granita, berries & creme fraiche pavlovas, something light and simple. When there are guests, we can bring out more of the big guns with a rich chocolate torte, lemon tart, or cheesecake. Once dessert is cleared, we’re usually at about 11.30pm, and it’s high time for bed.

Chocolate macarons.

So that is my typical day from start to finish, or at least what it has been like for the past two weeks. We’ve cooked for a maximum of nine, which we can barely fit around the table as it is, and from Saturday onwards we will be cooking for thirteen. So that might well be a different kettle of fish, and may even call for a new blogpost. À bientot! 

Popcorn, Peanut Butter & Chocolate Fudge Torte

IMG_3739A word of warning – this one is not for the faint-hearted. John Whaite, winner of the Great British Bake Off 2012, came up with this blood sugar-spiking recipe as a bake he deemed suitable for enjoying on Christmas Eve, as described in the GBBO Christmas cookbook. Now, I don’t know about you, but the idea of spending Christmas Day fighting a stonking sugar comedown doesn’t quite tickle my fancy. But in any case, the marriage of toffee popcorn (a childhood favourite bought from Spar Express many a time), salty peanut butter and a decadent chocolate fudge had me waiting for an opportune moment to unleash this beast on unsuspecting hungry folks. It was admittedly nowhere near Christmas-time, but it went down a treat.


For the sponge

  • 5 eggs
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 120g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 50g butter, melted

For the peanut butter & popcorn mousse

  • 75g toffee popcorn
  • 200ml double cream
  • 90g smooth peanut butter
  • 50g condensed milk
  • 100g soft cheese

For the chocolate fudge

  • 250g condensed milk
  • 50g smooth peanut butter
  • 50ml double cream
  • 200g dark chocolate

For the caramelised popcorn decoration

  • 100g caster sugar
  • 50g toffee popcorn


Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line the base of a 23cm round springform cake tin with greaseproof paper. My circular cake tins were all a bit too diddy, so I plumped for a square one. Break the eggs into a large bowl, and whip up with an electric whisk for 1 minute until they are light and fluffy.

IMG_3714Add the sugar and whisk on full speed for 5 minutes, until the mixture has quadrupled in volume and you reach the ribbon stage.

At this juncture, I had to jump ship and switch bowls, as the mixture seemed to take on a life of its own. I had created a monster.

IMG_3715IMG_3716IMG_3718IMG_3719Using your suitably XXL sized bowl, sift over the flour and cocoa powder, add the melted butter and gently fold together.

IMG_3720IMG_3721Pour into the prepared cake tin, and bake in the oven for 25 minutes.

IMG_3722When the sponge is nicely risen, and an inserted knife into the centre comes out clean, invert it onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely, keeping it inside the tin.

To make the mousse, use a food processor to blitz the toffee popcorn into a chunky rubble.  IMG_3723IMG_3725IMG_3726Add the cream and mix for another 10 seconds, until it has just thickened. Add the peanut butter, condensed milk and soft cheese, then blitz again briefly until it has all come together. It should be a thick and spreadable consistency, so now you can transfer it into a bowl and pop it in the fridge until later.

IMG_3727Cut the cooled cake in half. Get rid of the greaseproof paper, and place one half of the sponge back in the tin, pressing down gently to make sure it’s at the bottom.

IMG_3733Scoop the entirety of your peanut butter & popcorn filling onto the sponge, and spread it out evenly. Use a palette knife or the back of a spoon, until it is smooth and reaches the sides.

IMG_3734IMG_3735Top with the other half of the cake, and pop it in the fridge.

My sponge flopped all the way down onto the wire rack and ended up with these indentations, but thankfully the ganache-to-come saved the day, and hid all unsightly grooves.

IMG_3736To make the fudge topping, put the chocolate, condensed milk, double cream and peanut butter into a saucepan, and stir gently over a low heat.

IMG_3728IMG_3729Allow everything to melt together, until it eventually becomes a smooth, glossy fudge. Pour it over the cake and put back in the fridge to set for at least an hour.

Finally, the last step! To caramelise your already caramelised popcorn. This may seem a tad unnecessary, potentially a case of over-egging the pudding? But nay! The topping was actually what most people who tried it exclaimed their love for. It kept them coming back for more, so don’t be scared to be generous with it and bloody well pile it on.

Firstly, place a sheet of greaseproof paper over a kitchen surface. Heat a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the sugar, and slowly let it melt, stirring occasionally for about 8 minutes, until it becomes a dark caramel.

IMG_3731 Add the popcorn, quickly stir to coat it all, and tip onto the greaseproof paper to cool down and solidify.

IMG_3732Remove the cake from the fridge at least an hour before serving. Run a blunt knife around the edge to release it from the tin, and transfer to your chosen plate. Decorate liberally with the broken up popcorn, et voila, you have created a rather festive masterpiece!


Honey, Pistachio & Walnut Baklava

IMG_4142The other day, I was accompanying my Mum on her (what seems to me) daily mammoth trip to Boots, when we were beckoned over at the entrance by an interesting bunch of twenty-somethings with the offering of freshly baked pastries. A dreadlocked figure handed us both a diamond shaped sticky looking morsel in its own little paper boat, and we happily tucked into what was the tastiest baklava I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. My automatic next move was to ask for the recipe, but they insisted on educating us about the entire history of Israel first. Once we’d pocketed a library’s worth of notes, nodded and exclaimed at the appropriate moments, I deemed it suitable to strike up the baklava conversation again, but it turned out nobody knew the recipe after all because someone’s mum had made it.

So to the drawing board I went!

A mish-mash of cookbooks, blogposts and recipe websites gave me a delicious outcome of sweet, flaky, crispy goodness that lasted a good 10 days. It actually developed a much more intense flavour over time, so definitely think ahead and bake some a good couple of days before you’d like to serve it. Your taste buds, and your guests, will most certainly thank you.


  • 1 packet (270g) of filo pastry sheets, thawed
  • 200g butter, melted
  • 125g walnuts
  • 125g pistachios
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 150ml water
  • 90g honey


To kick off proceedings, begin by making your syrup (it needs time to cool down, which is conveniently while you’re assembling the baklava). In a saucepan combine the sugar, lemon juice, water and honey. Bring to a boil over a high heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, and then let it bubble away for 5 minutes without stirring. Once it’s smooth, thick and glossy, remove it from the heat and set aside to cool.

IMG_4132Preheat the oven to 160°C. Liberally butter an 8×8 inch pan, and trim the filo sheets so that they fit snugly into your pan. Once they’re the right size, lay them out on a table top and cover with a damp tea towel so that they don’t dry out.

To make the nutty filling, pop the walnuts and pistachios into a food processor.

IMG_4128Pulse until finely chopped.

IMG_4129Transfer to a bowl, and mix in your cinnamon.

IMG_4130IMG_4131Place your first filo sheet into the baking pan, and brush generously with melted butter. Layer another sheet over that, and brush again with the butter. Repeat this until you have a layer of about 4-6 sheets of filo, remembering to brush each time.

IMG_4133IMG_4134IMG_4136Spread about half of your nut mixture over the top.

IMG_4135Repeat this with another 4-6 buttered filo sheets, followed by the other half of the nuts. Finish off with the last few layers of filo, and brush the very top with butter. Now this final step is very important, which I stupidly forgot to do. Cut the pastry lengthways into 4 strips, then cut across diagonally to create those lovely, signature diamond shapes.

In my haste to get these in the oven, I shoved them in and remembered halfway through the baking time that they hadn’t yet seen a knife. So as you can tell, my pastry was already crisp when I cut them, and I sadly didn’t end up with beautifully neat lines.

Luckily, this had no impact on the flavour, merely the aesthetics!


Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the top is an even golden brown.

Remove the baklava from the oven and pour the cooled syrup over the whole thing. You should hear it sizzle, which means it will stay crisp, and not become soggy. Let it cool on a wire rack, uncovered at room temperature, preferably overnight. This allows the syrup to penetrate each layer, also acting as a bit of a preservative, making it last for 1  to 2 weeks.

IMG_4140IMG_4141Dig in, and marvel at your epic mid-morning coffee breaks to come. Mazel tov!

Salted Caramel Brownies

IMG_3761Dang, these are good.

Chunks of homemade salted caramel running through the squidgiest brownies that ever were. If you happen to have a horde of Easter chocolate to use up (like I did) then I highly recommend you put it to good use and bake these little beauties. The original recipe calls for 50% dark chocolate, but my Lindt egg just happened to be the perfect weight, so ended up being sacrificed for the job. My brother has hailed them as the best thing I’ve ever baked, putting them firmly at the top of the list to bring in for his birthday at work. This recipe makes about 16 squares…so to make enough for the 250 hungry accountants he works with, I may have to whack out the ole calculator.


Salted caramel

  • 100g caster sugar
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 40ml double cream


  • 85g chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 115g unsalted butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 85g plain flour


Start by making your caramel. Put a piece of greaseproof paper over a plate, and lightly oil it to make sure the caramel comes away easily when the time comes. Warm the sugar in a saucepan over a medium heat, stirring occasionally so that it melts evenly. Cook until it’s a light copper colour.

Take the saucepan off the heat, then stir in the butter, cream and salt until combined. Return to the heat and bring back to a simmer, cooking for about 5 minutes, until it is bubbling away and looks a nice shade of caramel.

IMG_3749Pour over your greaseproof paper plate, and pop it in the freezer to firm up.

IMG_3750It will take about 20-30 minutes, so in the meantime you can start on your brownies.

Preheat the oven to 180°C , and line an 8×8 inch baking tin with greaseproof paper. Melt the chocolate and butter in a glass bowl over a saucepan filled with gently simmering water. Stir until completely melted, smooth and glossy.

IMG_3751Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla and salt.

IMG_3752 Fold in the flour with a spatula, or a large wooden spoon, until completely combined.

When the caramel has sufficiently firmed up, take it out of the freezer and use a sharp knife to cut into 1 inch squares. Please excuse my haphazardly sized ‘edge bits’. They didn’t quite make their way into the brownies, but that funny looking fella did make his way sneakily into the picture frame.

IMG_3753Try a piece and just think, how clever you are for having replicated the middle of a rolo entirely from your very own kitchen! Well done, you.

Gently fold in most of the squares into the batter, and pour into your prepared tin.

IMG_3755Artfully place your chosen few over the top, to give people a bit of a clue as to what lies beneath.IMG_3756Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, until crispy on the outside but still moist and fudgey on the inside.

IMG_3757Cool them in the tin for as long as you can, preferably putting them in the fridge overnight to firm up. It will make cutting them a doddle, and you can stack them up high and mighty to impress yo friends.

IMG_3759Do let me know of any clever ways you have of using up leftover Easter chocolate (if any of it ever ends up leftover, of course). I’ve always had my eye on creme egg brownies, but only having the one this year left me a bit reluctant to give it up in any baking scheme. Maybe next time!