Wine and food provisioning do not receive a lot of airtime at superyacht industry conferences or in editorials. Yet, it’s an area which, for the owner or charterer, can make a significant difference to their enjoyment of the entire superyacht cruising experience.
Of course, employing top chefs to cater for guests’ culinary needs goes a long way towards ensuring that food and wine served on board are well-received. But what else should you know about successfully provisioning a superyacht? And how does yacht provisioning differ from other environments?
For yacht provisioners, a grasp of complicated logistics, minute forward planning and a far-reaching network of suppliers are their key concerns, especially when supplying yachts bound for remote locations.
Some, like specialists Provide and Supply, use key cities such as Amsterdam, Paris, London, Brussels, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Santiago, New York and Miami as primary hubs for consolidating expediting complex requests.
“We can supply you with blue lobster from Normandy in Antarctica, Patagonian toothfish (Chilean Sea Bass) in the Maldives or simply 100 kilos of potatoes for a crew of 50” states Greg Mikusinski, the Founder of Provide and Supply, a company dedicated to yacht provisioning. “There is no ingredient we cannot find or any destination we can’t reach between our network of Michelin starred chefs, suppliers and logistics partners around the world.”
In addition to a steady and consistent supply chain, provisioners need an understanding of trade agreements, international air transport conditions and unique customs procedures for foreign flagged vessels. Not being aware of the kinks in the logistics chain can disrupt a fast and safe delivery. For example, if your overseas provisions arrive on Friday they are likely to languish in the port of entry until Monday, as customs generally don’t work at weekends. Perishable provisions sent via courier to remoter areas may suffer a worse fate, as most international couriers do not serve these regions or they don`t have the cold storage facilities required.
For Carlos Miquel of South American Superyacht Support (SASYSS), the complicated logistics involved in ensuring that supplies arrive at the yacht on time and in good condition can be onerous. “It can be a very long way from farm to yacht table!” he points out. The solution can be to encourage chefs to consider serving local and possibly less well-known foods. Miquel recommends hiring a local guest chef or taking a leaf out of his company’s book by complementing regional foods with local high-end Chilean wines.
SASYSS sometimes arranges for chefs to visit central markets and stores in cities such as Patagonia or Santiago to see what is locally available and to check that these supplies meet the right standards. The difference in quality between locally sourced foods and those that have been through an extended transportation and cold storage process is easily discernible. What’s more, the benefits in terms of supporting domestic suppliers are gaining importance as the yacht industry seeks to reduce its carbon footprint.
Of course, chefs must be mindful of not upsetting guests who prefer to stay within their culinary comfort zones and whose default position is to go with dishes they know. Researching well in advance the dietary needs and preferences of guests avoids these kinds of gaffs and means that the right provisions can be planned and purchased.
This is especially important in more remote areas, like Antarctica, where weather conditions can delay itineraries. In these challenging circumstances, Carlos Miquel tells us that it is down to the chef who needs to “plan for extra provisions, so the guests don’t end up eating frozen dinners or peanut butter sandwiches!”
So, what makes provisioning for yachts so different to other land-based environments? The specific nature of yachts means that planning food and wine supplies can be a daunting task. For explorer yachts heading off to remoter destinations, the need to plan for a long period ahead can pose a considerable challenge to chefs and provisioners alike.
There will almost certainly be no or limited opportunities to shop locally en route. “They need to plan well to have at least 10-14 days of provisions for guests and maybe even longer for crews, depending on arrival/departure points,” explains Miquel. “Chefs don’t have the luxury to go shopping if they run out of an ingredient, or change their mind on what to serve,” he concludes.
Furthermore, with many yachts having limited space on board for cold/freezing storage, chefs have to pull off a skillful juggling act between using foods that are perishable, cold or frozen and non-perishable foods. As yachts go further afield in the quest for novelty and adventure, the prevailing view is that provisioners must learn to adapt to the changing demands of owners, charterers and, by extension, of crew. Greg Mikusinski points to the necessity for greater storage on board yachts bound for remote destinations or “a consistent supply chain to areas lacking cold chain options.” An enhanced emphasis on freshness during the selection process also eliminates the need for regular “top-ups”.
With so many moving parts, successful provisioning requires an eye for detail. The provisioner will often need to co-ordinate the timing of a shipment to exactly the right day – or even the hour – that the provisions need to be delivered.
And as you might expect, the business of supplying a superyacht with food, wine and of course, fuel is also expensive. Is cost a key component of provisioning? “Depending on the complexity of the logistics, there is also a cost aspect involved,” remarks Carlos Miquel. “But for some yachts for certain things, cost is not an issue!”
Although price is important, provisioners emphasize that the level of service, expertise and quality are what counts in building their reputations. “Of course, price is important and we therefore source our products through our multinational partners who have big purchasing power,” explains Andrew Azzopardi, General Manager at No.12 Fine Wines & Provisioning. The key to sourcing fine wines, however, is authenticity. “It is our job to take the provenance of each and every wine seriously,” he states.
Based in Mallorca and Malta, both significant yacht hubs, the company has recently added gourmet foods to its repertoire. When asked what is important in his business, Azzopardi was clear. “Our people are available all times and… we go the extra mile to help out with any problems, even when not wine/food related. It is the passion for work that has made the team successful.”