Sitting down with Chef Benoit Mercier on a crisp November day, I could hardly tell that the acclaimed chef was about to embark on yet another frenetically paced winter charter season in the Caribbean. At his home in the picturesque countryside near Montreal in the province of Quebec, Mercier is relaxed and jovial, a man clearly at peace.
In the time since we profiled him in Cellar & Galley back in 2015, he’s been working on a new side business during the off-seasonson: a Japanese holistic practice called Reiki. It’s based on the idea that a life-force energy flows through us and causes us to be well. If one’s life-force energy is low, then he is more likely to get sick or feel stress. If it’s high, he is more capable of being happy and healthy. Reiki is administered by passing energy into a client’s body through hands, but without making physical contact.
“I’ve worked on people who had soreness, pain, even paralysis,” Mercier says. “I once worked on a client who was suffering from total paralysis in his arm. After a 40-minute session, he was able to pick up a glass. That was amazing. Another client was dealing with lingering pain from a past broken ankle. His soreness completely vanished after the treatment.”
The practice crosses over to another of Mercier’s passions: the culinary arts.
“You can do so many things with food using energy,” he says. “You can energize your water, your coffee in the morning. The next time you have a cup of coffee, hold it in your hand and say, ‘I want to be happy and smile a lot today.’ You’ll see it works.”
Mercier started cooking for his family at an early age, preparing breakfasts on the weekends. His curiosity led him to culinary school at the École Hôtelière des Laurentides in Quebec. Since graduation, Mercier has traveled the world, visiting more than 30 countries and working in restaurants alongside top chefs. Among them was the Michelin-starred restaurateur Hiroyuki Hiramatsu in Tokyo, where Mercier learned to apply the feng shui discipline to the culinary arts.
“I learned how a kitchen could be run without a word spoken,” Mercier says.
It’s a principle he still employs to this day as chef aboard the 130-foot (40-meter) Westport Far Niente. His zest for life and his passion for making people happy are contagious. An executive chef on yachts for nearly 20 years, Mercier is well versed in diet trends from vegan and gluten-free to raw and ketogenic. In 2015, he graduated from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York as a professional coach in improving health and happiness through nutrition.
“People are eating much lighter than they were 10 years ago,” Mercier says. “Dietary preferences have become more extreme in recent years, especially among the UHNWI crowd. The latest craze is the ketogenic diet: a high-fat, little-protein, low-carb diet that forces the body to burn fats rather than sugars. A lot of bodybuilders are going keto now. You have to be really creative. I make a lot of gluten-free meals. For example, I do a carbonara using coconut milk instead of cream. I also make a dairy-free chocolate mousse with coconut milk, and I use a lot of raw nuts in desserts. I even make a cheesecake with zucchini.”
Chef Mercier's Private Tasting Menu
Mercier’s advice for aspiring chefs is simple: “Never give up. Don’t ever take ‘no’ for an answer. I’ve seen too many talented chefs give up before they got their big break. Stay true to your passion, and good things will come.”
If any young chefs working on yachts need some positive vibes, I know a guy.
For charter information: Churchill Yacht Partners, churchillyachts.com, or any charter broker