The San Pellegrino cup is held in Venice every year and involves 50 top-of-the-range boats, 10 of the world’s top chefs (plus 40
or so keen amateurs) and two simultaneous races. In one contest, the yachts attempt to tackle a 10-mile course in the quickest time. In the other, us chefs take to the tiny onboard galleys to rustle up the best meal they can before their boat crosses the finishing line.
The other chefs I was up against were Norbert Niederkofler, head chef at Restaurant St Hubertus in the Italian Dolomites. He was cooking the rather odd-sounding Krapfen (doughnuts) with mushrooms, prawns, and squid, also Emmanuel Stroobant from Belgium. At 7.30 on the morning of the race and despite having flown over special Japanese fish at great expense from his base in Singapore, he is to be found standing in the middle of the Rialto market, brokering a deal with a fishmonger for the fatty belly of a tuna. I was cooking with the organic lamb I brought from Britain, with courgette flowers, baby aubergines, artichokes, sage, basil (green and the more potent purple), shallots, lavender, artichokes and fresh borlotti beans.
So off we set but it’s not before long that I start feeling a little queasy from the smell of frying garlic bulbs and artichokes, combined with the searing temperatures below deck. I then resort to outsourcing easy jobs to the crew, like splitting lightly blanched haricot vert.
I spent more time on board on deck than in the galley and by the time we cross the finishing line (in third place) some four hours in, we take the world’s slowest route to the judges’ boat so that I can plate. We drop the 6 plates of plated food off to be judged and then we have to wait. I did not know at all what was going to happen and where I would be placed. 3 hours later I heard that I had won, I did not believe it until I had the lovely Venetian glass plate in my hands as the newly crowned winner.