Mark Miles was a farmer of baby-sized vegetables before joining the 72-foot sailing yacht Pacific Wave and being named best chef overall at a 2009 charter yacht show.
Chef, 72-foot sailing yacht Pacific Wave
Date interviewed: November 2009
Congratulations on your first-prize win as the overall best chef at the November 2009 charter yacht show on St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. What did you cook?
Thank you very much. It was a meringue-based Pavlova with quite a lot of whipped cream, fresh strawberries and mangoes on top, and an orange and mango sauce. About 40 boats entered the competition, so I was very pleased to win.
You have been a co-owner and operator of Pacific Wave for about a year now. Were you a full-time chef on land before moving onboard?
My background is farming and straight agriculture. I was farming in the U.K. and in southwest Portugal. Initially, I was big into livestock, principally sheep. I was going to show the Portuguese how to do sheep properly. That was my aim.
I ended up growing vegetables because the sheep thing didn’t quite work out as I’d planned. The vegetables turned out great. The climate was superb, the soil was excellent, and I grew a lot of root vegetables. Many baby carrots, baby red beets, little tiny specialist potatoes, that sort of stuff.
How did you get from farming to cooking?
While I was in Portugal, a local woman from the village would come and look after the house for me, and she introduced me to the local Portuguese way of cooking food. That’s what really got me into cooking properly.
The local dishes include a lot of seafood, and they use salted cod for a baked cod pie that is pretty yummy. There are a lot of pork and chicken dishes mixed with seafood, too. There’s one called Alentejana where they mix pork with clams, tomatoes, and garlic. It’s fantastic.
This is not fancy cooking. Nobody is decorating plates. But it’s quality, strong, robust, earthy food using the best, freshest local ingredients. That was the message that I took from cooking in Portugal, and that I still use everywhere we go today.
Do you incorporate your favorite Portuguese recipes into the charter menus?
I like to throw at least one of those dishes in during a week’s charter, but it would be a bit overpowering to make everybody eat a week’s worth of Portuguese food if they weren’t used to it.
So you’re an entirely self-taught chef, and you just won the cooking competition at the boat show. That’s impressive.
I did formal training to get a degree in agriculture, and there were some food hygiene and food preparation courses in that. But cooking courses, no. I’m not a formally trained chef.
How have you enjoyed your first year running Pacific Wave as a charter yacht?
We’re starting our second winter season now. Being a two-crew boat, there’s always a lot going on. I envy the bigger boats with a dozen different people, and the chef can just be the chef and spend the whole day cooking. Our day doesn’t work out like that.
Lynn and I both drive the boat, we both share the work of the boat, and we share the food preparation. Lynn does a lot of the starters, and I do the hot meal cooking. The hardest part is doing a full day’s work, and getting to a destination, and then having to swap hats and turn myself into a chef. Managing that balance between working the boat and doing the cooking, that’s the hardest part.
But with that said, I think our first season went very well. Our guests seemed to really enjoy the food.
Are you doing three meals a day for your charter guests?
Yes, we offer three meals daily plus hors d’oeuvres before dinner. Lunch is lighter fare—two courses, generally with pasta or salad as the principal dish. Then it’s three courses at dinner plus hors d’oeuvres. And cooked breakfast as well.
Beyond the Portuguese background, do you have any specialties?
I like to make my own pasta on the boat. We do a shrimp, tomato, garlic, and chili dish atop homemade pasta. It’s simple, but it’s a fantastic lunchtime dish. Everything is fresh and delicious.
For dinner, one specialty we do is this dish of layers. On the bottom would be aubergine, or eggplant as some people call it. Then there are sliced beef tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella cheese, and on top of all that you put a fresh mahi-mahi steak, and over the whole top you do a sauce made of capers, anchovies, vinegar, and sugar. The fish is hot, and the rest is cold, and served as a dinner dish it’s a fantastic range of flavors.
Sounds tasty to me. What else can charter guests expect from the galley aboard Pacific Wave?
Being a farmer, I understand where the raw materials come from. We’re very keen on using the freshest organic eggs, for example. If a dish requires an egg, then make it a good egg. If a dish is based in tomato, then don’t go get un-ripened, watery tomatoes. Get fleshy, juicy, red, ripe tomatoes—and use lots of them.
The understanding of the raw materials is what is important to us when it comes to cooking, and I think that really sets us apart.