Chef, 53-foot sailing yacht Ashlana
Date interviewed: June 2009
How did you become a chef?
I’m from the Adirondacks in Upstate New York, a region most people know best from 1980, when Lake Placid hosted the Winter Olympics. I had always wanted to cook, and I did some food service work during the Olympics, but because I had kids there was no chance to go to a culinary institute.
Eventually, I found my way into catering and developed a business in and around Albany, which is the capital of New York State. I just loved it. I realized that I have two gifts in life: finding great parking spaces, even at Christmastime, and cooking so that everything comes out perfect and all at the same time.
Why did you decide to work onboard yachts?
I spent 15 years working at a nonprofit organization that helped women start their own businesses. While I was there, I met Tom Hampson, who was a custom furniture builder and fine woodworker. He had been boating since he was 7 years old. We fell in love, he became a captain, and in 2006 we bought this boat to put into charter. We live aboard Ashlana now. We’re the fourth owners, and we just love it.
What do you think makes special?
Ashlana is a 53-foot Little Harbor that was launched in 1992 as designer Ted Hood’s personal yacht. She’s really special because of that alone, but also because Tom uses his woodworking skills to keep her beautifully maintained. He really knows his craft. He did the woodwork for the private home of the owner of Home Depot.
How did you adjust to life as a charter yacht chef?
I’d never lived on a sailboat, and I had to learn about small spaces. Tom told me that he would take me to whatever culinary store I wanted and buy whatever I needed, but that it all had to be compact enough to fit in Ashlana’s galley. I traded in my Kitchen Aid for a wooden spoon.
Someday, I’ll go back to all of that, but right now this is fun. Our guests walk away so inspired. They say, “I can’t believe you did all that in such a tiny galley.”
What are your specialties?
In general, my specialty is that I do everything from scratch. And I mean everything, even the morning Danishes.
Style-wise, I’m all over the place. I love to do a rack of lamb or a whole turkey. I do a great lobster salad for lunch. Homemade cookies are always coming out of the oven. I do a great mango-papaya salsa. I don’t do curries because I can’t stand the smell, but I love Mexican food, and I’m very creative with salads. Guests seem to like it when I make French toast with really good bread and vanilla in the egg batter, plus carmelized cinnamon and sugar on each side, and of course warm maple syrup.
One other thing that is worth noting is that we always do plated meals. There is no buffet-style here on Ashlana.
What do you think makes Ashlana a standout in her size range?
Other charter yachts in our category do not look like Ashlana on the inside. To build this boat today, with all the cherry and teak wood, would cost about $5 million. That’s unheard of for a boat this size. We really are a modern classic.
How do you organize the meals for a charter?
The guests fill out their preference sheets, and I always look at them, but I also call the guests in advance of the charter. If they wrote that they like fish, that’s great, but I want to know what kind of fish. If they checked the box for lamb, fine, but do they want a rack? Or chops?
I usually spend a half-hour on the phone getting those kinds of details, and then I prepare a daily menu for the charter. If I do it that way, I can go out and get every last, little thing that the guest wants.
What is the strangest request you’ve had to accommodate?
We had one couple who chartered with us, and all they wanted was to be under sail by 11 o’clock each day with a Budweiser and warm chocolate-chip cookies in hand.
Where do you like to cruise for finding great ingredients?
Up in Southwest Harbor, Maine, I found out where they bake all the breads for the area. They freeze it for me now, right out of the oven.
I take the same approach no matter where we are in New England or the Caribbean. The first thing I do is scout out the local markets.
What kind of charter guests are your favorites?
Our boat takes four guests. We’ve had wonderful families, wonderful couples, all kinds of people. In general, we love kids, but not younger than age 6. It’s just not safe. I say that as a mother and a grandmother, not just a chef.
What else should CharterWave readers know about you and Ashlana?
We’re happy to be as formal or as casual as the guests want. We can dine with you or dine separately. You have your choice of three cabins, and we'll take whichever one is left. We’re happy to let you take the wheel. Tom will teach you how to sail if you’re interested. We love to look for private little coves and pamper our guests.
Ashlana is part of the Nicholson Yachts charter fleet. She takes four guests with two crew. Any reputable charter broker can tell you more.