If your charter will include a large event, say 50 to 150 people, chef Hilbert Sluiter has the background to serve as a top-notch caterer.
Chef, 147-foot motoryacht Trust
Date interviewed: May 2010
You just prepared a creative, ambitious, and delicious luncheon. The octopus appetizer was tender and juicy, enhanced by the mashed potato and spicy paprika powder. And the pan-fried duck breast main course was cooked to perfection alongside the apple calvados sauce. Where did you learn your culinary skills?
When I was 11, I told my Dad that I wanted to be a chef. He took me to a chefs’ school in our home country of The Netherlands, and by about age 20, I was in a managerial school for chefs.
They were very good schools. A Michelin-starred chef at a restaurant where I worked once told me that people from my school only need to be told things once, compared with other chefs who need more training.
Did you excel at any specific types of cooking during your early years?
I did a lot of bakery and pastry in school, and it became a big advantage for me when I started working in restaurants. Not everyone can do baking and pastry. Chefs needed me, so I could stay around and learn more and more from them.
What were the early restaurants where you worked?
I cooked in the World Trade Center in Rotterdam, which is a luxury restaurant that hosted a lot of big parties. We handled parties for up to 150 people in one space at the same time as a party with 100 people in another space.
That training is helpful on charter yachts when guests want to host events. I’m able to do that. We did a 70-guest party during a charter this summer and were able to work without help from a catering company.
How did you move from restaurants onto boats?
A friend got me a job as a cook with the shore crew for the Volvo Ocean Race. I cooked for the crew and their guests onshore, doing events when needed. We spent two and a half months on site in Newport, Rhode Island, which is where I discovered charter yachts.
That was in 2005. I joined my current boat, the 147-foot Hakvoort motoryacht Trust, at the end of 2009. It’s the first true charter yacht I’ve ever worked onboard, and it’s been interesting. Everybody says that working on boats is different, but I disagree. Cooking is cooking. I’ve had to work on my own without staff. I know that if you’re not nice, nobody helps you. On this boat, I’m nice to the crew, and we all work well together.
I was particularly impressed with the wine pairings at lunch. The 2008 Terras Gaudas Albarino complemented the octopus beautifully, while the 2000 Chateau Bertineau St. Vincent Lalande de Pomeral added weight to the duck. How did you select the bottles?
I work closely with our chief stewardess, Rosa Rodrigo, who is Spanish, as well as with our sous chef, Tinasih Keeven, who is Dutch. I choose the menu, and then they select the wines using their backgrounds from tastings all across Europe. Rosa [at right in the group photograph] is especially good at Spanish wines, and Tinaseh has a home in Burgundy, France, so she knows the French wines well.
They were excited when we were in the shipyard in Italy. They got to go deeply into Barolos. I also enjoy tasting wines. If we get some good samples to taste, then we can decide what food would go best with them.
Do you prefer some wines to others?
I like the Spanish wines better. Without insulting the French, I have to say that I find French wines to be like French cooking. It’s good, but they’re a little bit arrogant. They think that they’re the best, but that’s because they don’t look around past their own country.
Is what you prepared today representative of your specialties?
I like to do fish. And I never save money on sauces. A sauce can be a signature on a dish, or on an entire meal.
How do you determine what charter guests will enjoy?
I try to talk to them before the charter. It’s my job to please the guests, not to be arrogant. This is not a restaurant where I cook what I want. I have my own style of cooking, yes, but always with their preferences.
And I always have a backup plan in case someone does not like something. It’s better if I can find out in advance, but there is always a backup plan.
Do you serve a lot of buffets or plated dishes during charters?
I do a semi-a la carte style. We have menus, but with a choice. So you can choose a fish or a meat, for example. That’s for lunch and for dinner. At breakfast, I cook whatever the guests request to order.
Does that get more expensive for the guests’ provisioning budget?
I don’t think so. Maybe it’s because I’m Dutch, but I look a lot in the markets for quality versus price. We were once in France, and they wanted 40 euro for what should have been a 20-euro lobster. I refused to pay it. The guests don’t want me spending their money needlessly. I can look for quality within any budget.
Trust is part of the Ocean Independence charter fleet. She takes 10 guests with 10 crew at a weekly base rate of €175,000 in the Mediterranean. Any reputable charter broker can tell you more or help you book a week onboard.