I arrived for lunch aboard 74-foot (22.5-meter) Sunreef 19th Hole about 10 minutes ahead of the invitation time. Chef Marianna Cicala was stirring something in a big pot, appearing neither hurried nor harried despite being in full view of guests including me. Her on-deck galley is separated from the salon only via a long counter, creating a convivial atmosphere. Thank goodness that Cicala, a Neapolitan firecracker with curly dark hair and a deep smile, is happy to divulge in detail the ingredients in her dishes.
When the other luncheon guests arrived, the stewardess whipped out some tangy tapenade, lettuce pesto and a bowl of freshly roasted hazelnuts. Lunch at the cockpit dining table comprised a series of inspired small dishes—one tasty treat after another. Each dish was distinctively flavorful without being overly complicated. Three-citrus mahi-mahi tartare came first, followed by an octopus, potato and olive salad served in a red cabbage leaf, chased by homemade gnocchi garnished with julienned zucchini and shrimp topped with slivered almonds. The dessert choices were grilled pineapple in phyllo dough with toasted pistachios and chili sauce or a slice of the most yellow and sublime lemony lemon almond cake I ever tasted.
Thirty-one-year-old Cicala grew up in Naples, a city at the heart of Southern Italian cuisine. “I love to eat, so I knew I better learn how to cook,” she says with a laugh. She has university degree in business economics, but her heart led her to a career that combines her two passions: sailing and cooking. From age 14, she was racing, eventually competing in national and international regattas. In her 20s, she joined the 470 sailing circuit and cooked for the whole team.
Cicala looks for ways to inform herself about food and its preparation. She completed an internship at Ristorante Da Mariano on Procida, an island off southern Italy, and then became chef aboard a 72-foot (21.9-meter) Southern Wind sailing yacht owned by a Danish family who sailed extensively around the world. Aboard that yacht, Cicala mastered cooking in a small galley while heeling at a 45-degree angle. She experimented with international flavors. The family invited her to spend time in Copenhagen, where she cooked at Le Sommelier, which Fodor’s calls the “grande dame of Copenhagen’s French restaurants.”
Today, Cicala reads culinary books, magazines and articles, and asks countless questions. She is also an avid diary-keeper and intends to write a book. Cicala says she never relies on a fixed repertoire; she knows that the key to great food is using the best and freshest ingredients available. When the market gives you lemons, you make lemon almond cake.
For more information: sunreef-charter.com, or any charter broker