An exclusive interview with our extraordinary Corporate Executive Chef, Victor Mancilla Gonzales:
What does it mean to be a Corporate chef at sea?
Being aboard a vessel as a chef is an addictive experience; the adrenaline is palpable in every moment of the day. For years, managing not only a substantial crew but also forming a familial bond with them, while simultaneously overseeing the preparation of over 18 thousand meals a day for more than 4000 people, is an indescribable sensation. The heartbeat and the rhythm of your walk throughout the entire space become intertwined with the pulse of the kitchen. Life on board becomes a singular focus on gastronomy and service, where the challenge of creating the perfect culinary experience is paramount. It’s not an easy endeavor, but the fulfillment it brings makes every effort worthwhile.
Transitioning to a Corporate Executive Chef role requires adaptation; although the responsibilities multiply, the day remains immersed in paperwork. The beauty lies in the fact that everything presented on the vessel is a creation of the chef. While the operation may differ, assuming this role elevates the chef’s experience to a new level of expertise and sophistication.
What does your day-to-day look like?
The life of a chef on board a vessel demands meticulous logistics, strategic planning, and seamless teamwork to deliver an exceptional culinary experience. The day begins early, ensuring all culinary venues are open and stocked with the right ingredients. A comprehensive walkthrough of all areas for sanitation and quality-tasting inspections is an integral part of this routine.
As the morning unfolds, attention shifts to emails, costs, and paperwork. The day is a dynamic blend of managing openings, conducting cooking classes and shows, engaging with passengers, overseeing lunch and dinner tastings, and coordinating various events. Emergencies are a constant presence, underscoring the importance of effective teamwork, clear communication, and precise instructions to navigate challenges. Amid the whirlwind of activities, the chef’s body and mind prepare for the next challenge. Taking a moment to pause, rest, and recharge becomes essential to gear up for the demands of the following day.
As a Corporate Executive Chef, the day is filled with numerous meetings, menu engineering, budgeting, and cost analysis. Continuous follow-ups with the on-board team, extensive organization, and paperwork contribute to making it a markedly different day. While the focus shifts away from hands-on cooking in the kitchen, the mind is constantly engaged in conceptualizing new products and creations. Additionally, there’s a significant amount of time devoted to liaising with suppliers to ensure the procurement of top-quality ingredients at the best prices.
Despite the shift in responsibilities, it’s always satisfying to conclude the day by returning home and preparing a delightful meal for loved ones. This balance between the corporate demands of the role and the personal joy of cooking for family provides a fulfilling closure to the day.
What do you enjoy most as a chef?
Being a chef provides a unique opportunity to explore the realms of nature, chemistry, and physics—an entire world of creation. Each day is a canvas filled with a spectrum of emotions, and what I find most gratifying is witnessing the impact my food has on people. Spending time with my kitchen team, delving into their experiences with food, and intertwining culinary creations with stories is truly awe-inspiring.
I have always maintained that as a chef, you gain insight into a culture through its food. This, I believe, is the distinctive advantage of being in the culinary world. Regardless of nationality, you become an open book, ready for new adventures and the chance to understand people on a deeper level. The joy of being a chef lies not just in crafting dishes but in the connections and shared experiences that food fosters among diverse individuals.
Could you please show us a photo of you at a chef event?
The chef’s table presents a rare opportunity on board, allowing you to craft something truly unique and special, diverging from the corporate norm. It’s a chance to let your creativity soar and deliver an extraordinary culinary experience. The image captures one of my recent chef table events as an Executive Chef, just before transitioning to the role of Food and Beverage Director on a luxurious 5-star vessel.
What is your favourite thing to cook?
A traditional Paella is an extraordinary Spanish dish that serves as a perfect stage for cooking an array of ingredients simultaneously. It delivers a palate-explosive experience with a unique flavor profile that has the power to transport you to my cultural roots.
Can you share a quick recipe for the paella dish you most enjoy making?
Seafood Paella for 2:
Picture a moonlit dinner, candles flickering, and the enchanting aroma of Seafood Paella filling the air. Saffron-infused rice, a canvas of Spanish spices, creates a love-infused masterpiece. Each bite, a symphony of shrimp, mussels, and squid, tells a romantic tale. The socarrat crunch mirrors a tender embrace, and the smoky paprika and saffron weave an aromatic love story. Shared glances and subtle flavors make this Seafood Paella a culinary declaration of affection, turning a meal into a celebration of romance. For a delightful pairing with Seafood Paella, consider a crisp and refreshing Spanish white wine like Albariño or Verdejo. These wines complement the flavors of the seafood and bring a bright acidity to balance the dish. If you prefer non-alcoholic options, a sparkling water infused with a splash of citrus or a classic lemonade can also enhance the dining experience.
- 1 cup Arborio or Bomba rice
- 250g mixed seafood (shrimp, mussels, squid, etc.)
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 tomato, diced
- 2 cups seafood or chicken broth
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads (optional)
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Olive oil
- Lemon wedges for serving
- Prepare the Seafood:
- Clean and prepare the seafood. Peel and devein the shrimp, scrub the mussels, and clean the squid. Set aside.
2. Infuse Saffron:
- If using saffron, infuse it in warm water and set aside.
3. Sauté Vegetables:
- In a paella pan or a wide, shallow skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onions and garlic. Sauté until onions are translucent.
- Add diced bell pepper and tomato. Cook until the vegetables are softened.
4. Add Rice:
- Stir in the rice to coat it with the vegetables, allowing it to toast slightly.
- Add smoked paprika, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine.
6. Pour in Liquids:
- Pour in the white wine and let it simmer for a couple of minutes until it reduces slightly.
- Add the saffron-infused water or broth. Bring it to a gentle boil.
7. Cook the Rice:
- Spread the rice evenly in the pan and let it cook without stirring. Allow it to absorb the liquid and form a crust at the bottom (socarrat).
8. Arrange Seafood:
- Once the liquid has reduced, arrange the seafood on top of the rice. Press them slightly into the rice.
- Reduce the heat to low and let the paella simmer until the rice is cooked, and the seafood is done. Be cautious not to overcook the seafood.
- Once the rice is cooked and the seafood is done, remove from heat. Cover the paella with a clean kitchen towel and let it rest for a few minutes.
- Serve the seafood paella hot, garnished with lemon wedges.
Enjoy your delicious homemade seafood paella for two!