When you sail a few days food does not matter, but after weeks at sea you tend to be choosy about what you eat," remarked Sir Francis Chichester at the end of his voyage around the world in Gipsy Moth IV. "When you cruise with us," says Danielle de la Sabli√®re, "you are on board only a week or two. But Gérard and I are always here. The food has to be good all the time."
Gérard and Danielle own and operate a 64-foot ketch, the Eudroma, which earns its keep, and theirs, in the grooviest way its owners have been able to think up—by charter cruises in the Caribbean. Gérard is the sailor and Danielle the chef, and, fortunately for the charterers, Danielle is just as choosy as Sir Francis.
A charter cruise is a relaxing vacation—mostly swimming, sunbathing, skin diving and sitting around picking up seashells. Eudroma sails the Caribbean route between the Virgin Islands and Grenada, making stops for sightseeing and shopping in calm and beautiful anchorages at Antigua, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia and St. Vincent. The tempo varies from island to island: one day a beach picnic in the Grenadines with only the lizards and the yellow-breasted sugarbirds for company; later a party at Nelson's Dockyard in Antigua complete with the gonglike rhythms of the BOAC Speedbird Harmonates steel band and son et lumi√®re effects in the harbor.
As Eudroma cruises up and down the island chain, Danielle shops for food and plans the meals. Her menus are as varied and exotic as the island markets. There is plenty to choose from: French food flown into Guadeloupe and Martinique, a fantastic fish market in Antigua, a huge American supermarket in the Virgin Islands, land crabs and sea eggs in St. Lucia, flying fish that leap aboard and crayfish speared by Gérard.
"I have to improvise," says Danielle. "I ask our guests what they like, and then I hope I can buy it. You can sail around for a week looking for fresh lettuce or a pound of tomatoes. Only in Guadeloupe and Martinique am I sure to find them. So many of the islands are too dry to grow anything but tropical fruit and vegetables—the Grenada market sells mostly nutmegs, and St. Vincent grows nothing but arrowroot. The first time I saw the American supermarket in St. Thomas I went wild and spent $300!"
But for fruit and vegetables Danielle prefers St. Lucia and the French islands. "The Pointe-√†-Pitre market has everything," she says. "It's both French and Creole. I have to drive right across Guadeloupe to get there, because we anchor on the other side, at Anse Deshaies. But it's worth it. The fruit tastes better than anywhere else. They even fly in lettuce, fresh, thick cream and haricots verts from France. Right next to them there are land crabs, with their feet tied up in sugarcane leaves so they won't walk off."
Unlike many cooks afloat, Danielle does not rely heavily on cans—nor does she have a freezer. Instead she buys top-quality, superfresh food and backs it up with canned fruit juices and a few vegetables, such as asparagus, hearts of palm and celery, to make lunchtime salads when the island markets run dry. Tea and coffee, herbs and spices, oil and vinegar and a vast restaurant-size jar of hot French mustard complete the permanent collection. "I can't keep too much around anyway," Danielle says. "I have worse storage problems than a girl in a Pullman kitchen in Manhattan."
Danielle was raised in Belgium, and she met French-born Gérard in Sicily, where he was leader of the Club Méditerranée village in Cefal√π. They were married in 1966, and one of their wedding presents was Eudroma. Along with Eudroma came a cookbook, La Cuisine est un Jeu d'Enfants (Cooking Is Child's Play) by Michel Oliver, published in translation in the U.S. by Random House.
They began life afloat in the Mediterranean and then sailed across the Atlantic to Antigua, where they joined V.E.B. Nicholson's fleet of 37 sailing ships available for hire.
Eudroma is a Marconi-rigged ketch with a 100-hp marine diesel inside. She was designed by Fred Shepherd and built in England in 1937, which makes her older than either of her two owners. She is a double-ender—a style particularly favored by Shepherd—and sleeps six in comparative comfort. The charter fee for the boat is $1,253 a week from Dec. 15 through May 1, $994 off season. Fuel, operating expenses and Danielle's marvelous meals are extra: a flat $8 per guest per day.
A sail around the world with Gerard and Danielle would be no gastronomic hardship. Danielle has a splendid sense of organization and will produce fondue bourguignonne or stuffed land crabs with equal aplomb. Unlike Sir Francis she does not need to bake her own bread, since Martinique supplies French bread as good as that of Paris (and also the best rum in the Caribbean).
Gérard is as much at home underwater as Danielle is in the galley. He teaches his charter parties skin diving and leads them on fascinating explorations of the coral reefs. The fish are there but, fortunately for skin divers and unfortunately for anglers, they are so well fed they aren't very hungry. To catch a fish in the Caribbean a spear is better than a fighting chair. Gérard allows himself to be pushed into the water to spear the smaller, striped and spotted fish—angelfish, chub, doctorfish, snapper, parrot fish, grouper and butterfish—that Danielle needs to make a Creole bouillabaisse.
Bouillabaisse, like General de Gaulle, is the subject of endless lively discussion on the part of the experts. To hear some talk, any bouillabaisse made outside the city limits of Marseille is doomed to failure since it lacks the rascasse, a fish of alarming aspect that is the soul of the dish and supposedly is found only in that particular corner of the Mediterranean. But Danielle, a girl with a mind of her own, aided by Gérard, who was born at the other end of France from Marseille, believes that the secret of a perfect bouillabaisse is not fish from Marseille but fish fresh from the sea—any sea. "There must be many kinds of fish," says Danielle. "The flavor of the soup depends on this. So I make it only when Gérard spears a lot of fish and we have a lot of guests aboard."
Danielle cooks her bouillabaisse on the beach, in a large enameled casserole on a bonfire. She picks up her ingredients in the course of the cruise—vegetables and fresh herbs from Martinique or the Pointe-√†-Pitre market in Guadeloupe; saffron, the spice that gives the soup its color and character, she finds in St. Croix. Olive oil is one of her permanent stores.
While the guests drink planter's punches and let the sand slip through their fingers and Danielle sits in her bikini crushing garlic for the sauce rouille that traditionally accompanies bouillabaisse, Gérard lights the fire and scales and cleans the fish he has caught. If he has speared langoustes (the Caribbean lobster or crayfish) these go into the soup, too, although they are not strictly necessary. He cuts the big fish in thick slices, leaves the small ones whole and divides them into two groups, the firm and the flaky. The more delicate fish go into the pot last.
A bouillabaisse must cook very quickly—the casserole is half in the fire—and in 15 or 20 minutes it is ready to be ladled into soup plates over slices of French bread. Eudroma's guests gather around and taste. Served on a small scalloped beach, shaded by mango and breadfruit trees, bouillabaisse has undergone a sea change. Marseille seems a long way away.
Bouillabaisse is a dish that travels well, and can be made with equal success using Mediterranean, Caribbean or North American fish. In the U.S. redfish is a good substitute for the elusive rascasse. The accompanying sauce is made in Marseille either from homemade mayonnaise or from a mixture of olive oil and bread crumbs, seasoned with garlic, pimiento and cayenne. Here is a variation on the classic recipe, using a commercial mayonnaise, which acts as a stabilizer. A hot-weather bouillabaisse calls for a sauce that will stand up under the sun.
2 tablespoons prepared mayonnaise
1 teaspoon hot French mustard
1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon vinegar
‚Öì cup olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 roasted red pepper, crushed
‚⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt, black pepper
Beat the mustard and egg yolk into the mayonnaise. Then add the vinegar and the olive oil, slowly. Stir in the garlic and red pepper. Season with cayenne pepper, a little black pepper and salt to taste.
GETTING READY FOR GUESTS, Gérard and Danielle de la Sabli√®re (above) buy provisions in the market of Pointe-√†-Pitre, Guadeloupe. Their ketch, Eudroma (right), is the floodlit setting for a steel-band welcome to skippers and charterers at home base in Antigua.
CARIBBEAN BOUILLABAISSE uses multicolored angelfish, doctorfish and parrot fish. Olive oil, vegetables, herbs and spices do not change in the Creole version of a famed French dish.