David Shalleck with Erol Munuz
Category: Food and Wine
David Shalleck had cooked in a number of noted American restaurants. But like any cook worth his knives, he wanted to be a chef. He needed more training, so he took a two-month gig as head chef of a London restaurant.
It was, he saw immediately, a restaurant in serious decline. But he wasn't going to be there long enough to whip it into shape --- he let it be.
Then Alice Waters --- founder of the legendary Chez Panisse restaurant and a chef who knew Shalleck --- came to dinner.
She had a terrible meal. And told Shalleck about it in detail. “Chef” means “chief,” she reminded him. She left him with a question: Are you ready to be one?
Shalleck went to France for an internship in Provence. Again, he flopped. “What is in your heart, David?” the chef demanded, as she fired him. “Did you leave it at home?”
Four years of Italian apprenticeships later, David Shalleck was ready for command --- of a ship's kitchen. No ordinary ship: Serenity is a 124-foot, 150-ton schooner built in the 1930s. Its new owners --- “Il Dottore” and “La Signora” --- have just bought the boat for $5 million and spent another $3 million modernizing it. Shalleck is too discreet to give us their real names (or, for that matter, the real name of their boat), but it's clear that they are Italian billionaires who own helicopters and jets and multiple houses and have about 50 people on their personal staff. For most of the summer, they weekend on the boat; in August, they live on it. Are they exacting? Believe it.
“Mediterranean Summer” is Shalleck's account of that season cruising off France and Italy. It's not as satisfying as stepping off the chopper and onto the boat and ordering up dinner for 20 in an hour --- what is? --- but it's the best view of the “downstairs” life you're likely to read in a long time. And for a very simple reason: on a boat, everyone's pushed together. Everything's more intense.
Again, the job begins badly. La Signore asks for pate. Shalleck produces it. Which earns him a visit from the boss: “Daveed, what is this...dog food you sent us?” Ah, so “pate” means “foie gras.”
The job turns Herculean: 20 for dinner Friday, lunch for 24 Saturday, cocktails for 100 Saturday night, Sunday buffet for 24. Got all that? 200 guests in one weekend. With all the food coming out of a small galley.
“Mediterranean Summer” is a satisfying travel book. It is a riveting sailing story (on a yacht, the chef is also needed on deck with the crew). It's a fascinating peek at international society and the ways of the very rich. It's a psychological thriller (will there be a mutiny? will the American chef's Italian cooking satisfy his Italian employers? ). And, most of all, it's a delicious book about food, with 26 recipes thrown in for good measure.
“Al dente linguine tossed with a touch of white wine, olive oil, garlic, fresh-chopped Italian parsley and hot red pepper flakes. Thick slices of large, pungent tomatoes dressed with a little Dijon vinaigrette. Stove-top-grilled bread, thickly sliced and drizzled with olive oil. An arugula salad.”
And that, washed down with a dry, crisp Chablis, is just the crew lunch --- imagine Shalleck's descriptions of what he served his employers.
No, don't imagine. Read. And then start making his delicious meals.
To buy “Mediterranean Summer” from Amazon.com, click here.