Most Michelin-star-quality chefs have a trick or two up their sleeves, a secret spice or galley gadget that helps define their culinary identity. For Michael Wilson, chef aboard the 185-foot (56.4-meter) Delta My Seanna, that gadget can also play vinyl.
“I use a record player,” Wilson says of his technique for creating chocolate spirals. “I saw it done on YouTube with a clay pottery wheel. You can make some nifty patterns with your garnishes, so I got one and did some experimenting. But it broke, so then I got a record player off Amazon. Same idea, only the record player had a lot of extra unnecessary stuff to it, so I took it all apart. I just needed to spin a plate on it.”
Experimenting and improvising are habits that define Wilson, whose early training was helping around the family kitchen in Wiltshire, England. He trained at the school formerly known as Salisbury College in the United Kingdom, and then moved to Barcelona, Spain, to learn textures, modifiers and molecular cooking.
Keen to see the world and stimulate the mind, Wilson then ventured to the Far East to study at sushi schools in Tokyo and Singapore, and at the Macaron Pastry Training Centre in Bangkok. He’s also a graduate of the National Culinary School in San Diego and the Chef Academy in London.
Well versed in vegetarian, vegan, Thai, gluten-free and fusion cuisine, along with fish butchery and game fabrication, Wilson made the move to yachting in 1998. He has circumnavigated twice as head chef aboard charter yachts, amplifying his repertoire of international cuisine while experimenting with different ingredients.
“Fresh is key,” Wilson says. “I make everything from scratch, from hors d’oeuvres to formal meals to the midnight snack, so I mostly use local products. Right now [in Antigua], I’m using a lot of coconut, grouper, goat, banana…for more specialized stuff, we’ll have it ordered in from elsewhere, such as fresh flowers from Holland or beef from the U.S.”
Wilson’s secret to serving as many as 12 guests is simplicity.
“Just keep things as simple as possible to make it work for me,” he says. “Say we’ve got vegetarians aboard. Keep the menu the same, just replace the protein. And I can get pretty creative with that as well. When you have two minutes to plate 12 dishes, you’ve got it keep it simple and keep it moving. If a dish comes out too late, it’s ruined.”
Free time for Wilson consists of taking culinary courses and exploring other chefs’ tasting menus everywhere he goes, always looking for new takes on cuisine. And despite all he’s learned, he still approaches life aboard the way he advises younger chefs to behave.
“Be prepared,” he says. “On a boat, there are so many variables, so you always have to expect the unexpected. The actual cooking process is only a part of it. And there’s no room for the negative when on board. You have to look through it, stay positive and make it work for you.”
His chocolate swirl technique certainly worked for me.
For charter information: burgessyachts.com
Chef Wilson’s Tropical Caribbean Tasting Menu
Fresh banana blossom salad
Roast black grouper with bamboo rice, topped with tropical mango sauce
Jerk-spiced goat with local seasonal vegetables
Island-style chocolate crunch
Perfect Wine Pairings | Master Sommelier Virginia Philip
Festive times of the year make wine and food pairing sheer joy, and that’s true with this meal that starts with a fresh banana blossom salad. It pairs beautifully with the Champagne Barons de Rothschild from Reims, France. This exceptional cuvée is a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. From the same family of the famed Château Lafite Rothschild, this wine exudes aromas of pear, almond and fresh hazelnuts, marrying hints of white flowers and faint toasty notes that complement the flavors of the fresh banana blossoms.
Arnaud Baillot’s Montagny Premier Cru Vieilles Vignes from Burgundy, France, 2016, is the perfect accompaniment for the second course of roast black grouper. This wine, made from 100 percent chardonnay, comes from the commune of Montagny just south of Beaune. The terroir of limestone gives the wine a Chablis-like clean, vibrant flavor that sings in harmony with the fish. This wine has a lightly toasty character as well as bright acidity. The apple and citrus flavors, with touches of wood and concentration from old vines, pair well with the tropical mango sauce.
For the entrée of a jerk-spiced goat with local seasonal vegetables, try a medium-bodied red such as the Escarpment pinot noir from Martinborough, New Zealand, 2015. Winemaker Larry McKenna has 30 years of experience with Martinborough pinot noir, and his expertise is on full display in this blend from various plots around the town. Inspired by the classic wines of Burgundy in France, this elegant Kiwi wine displays aromas of flowers, tea and cola. They lead into flavors of blackberries, vanilla and spice, framed by soft, ripe tannins that pleasantly pair with the chef’s play on spices.
To finish off our meal, the decadent dessert of island-style chocolate crunch calls for M. Chapoutier’s Banyuls Vin Doux Naturel from Languedoc-Roussillon, France, 2015. It has a sweet persistence and pairs extremely well with chocolate. This wine is made from 100 percent grenache. It has powerful aromas of ripe and juicy black fruits, stewed fruits and cocoa. On the palate, this wine shows both power and fineness of tannins.
Champagne Barons de Rothschild, Reims, France, $79
Arnaud Baillot’s Montagny Premier Cru Vieilles Vignes, Burgundy, France, 2016, $37
Escarpment pinot noir, Martinborough, New Zealand, 2015, $39
M. Chapoutier’s Banyuls Vin Doux Naturel, Languedoc-Roussillon, France, 2015, $25