Blog > Chef Spotlight: Interview with AJ (Annette) Sharpe

Chef Spotlight: Interview with AJ (Annette) Sharpe

by Dayle Reimer on Jul 12, 2023

Chef Spotlight: Interview with AJ (Annette) Sharpe

Take an abundance of ‘southern hospitality’, combine it with a passion for the sea and scuba diving, and add an amazing culinary talent, and you have a description of Chef Annette Sharpe. AJ is well-known in the charter world, having worked on a number of charter yachts, continually expanding her culinary skills and award list along the way. Currently, she is a freelance chef on luxury yachts in the Caribbean, Florida, the Bahamas and Mediterranean, but last season you would find her in the Virgin Islands on the luxurious 105 ft motor yacht, Outta Touch, delighting guests with an incredible once in a lifetime experience.

We spoke to AJ and asked her to tell us about her background and inspiration for becoming an award-winning charter chef, along with the challenges and rewards of creating amazing dishes while on a moving vessel.

  • Please tell us what inspired you to become a chef. 

I grew up in coastal North Carolina, spent most of my childhood on the water with an uncle who was a yachtie, so I had a lot of time on boats, big yachts, small boats, fishing boats, and I got a lot of experience on boats. As a teenager, I crewed on some of the commercial fishing boats which is part of how I paid my way through college. 

My love for cooking is inspired by two people in my life. First, in my young years, we understood my grandmother’s love for us through food. It's how she loved us. She was not necessarily a warm and fuzzy, affectionate grandmother, but we always understood how much she loved us and welcomed us through food.

The way that manifests in my charter chef role is on the last day of charter, assuming it fits with guests’ preferences, I prepare breakfast that my grandmother prepared for us: homemade sausage, gravy, homemade buttermilk biscuits, hash browns, and eggs to order. That was what she did for us. Her message was I want to send you on your journey with a full stomach, so that is what I give our guests on their last morning on board. 

My father bought and ran a restaurant in coastal North Carolina and had an entrepreneurial spirit and love for the restaurant business. He died when I was only four but I still feel that his spirit is a big part of what I do today. He created a barbecue recipe that I still use when I do barbecue ribs or pulled pork, and share that story with our guests as well.

DSC_5914-min.jpgSalmon, burratta, and pickled onions nestled in locally grown micro greens with heirloom tomatoes.

  • We’d love to hear more about the background that led you to this profession.

I always said growing up that one day I'm going to be living somewhere in the Caribbean working, earning a living with something that I love doing. Even when I went to college and got a degree and started on that corporate treadmill as Chief Operating Officer for a laboratory in the Memphis area, even through all of that and having a family and kids, I still didn't let go of the fact that one day I would be doing something like this. And so here I am. I had a dream and I stuck to it.

As a young adult I had the opportunity to work with a chef in Charlotte, North Carolina who owned a restaurant. I helped him open another restaurant and build the menu. That's where I began to take my love of food and culinary skill and elevate it, understanding how to love people with my flavors and my food, and working further on the art of food presentation.

DSC_6769-min.jpgCaviar waffles.

  • What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of being a charter chef?

One thing that's a challenge and also rewarding is just being in the islands. The challenge of finding ingredients and the things that you want or need to create and do your menu. But the rewards of that are also being in the Caribbean and having such wonderful local ingredients and flavors and culture here that you can draw from, to create your meals and give guests not only a fine dining experience, but a fine dining experience with local flair. I think that's important for guests who come here. So, both a challenge and reward.

From a reward standpoint is when I see through my guests that they love what I put into what I do, that I share my grandmother's passion. When I get the sense through them and what they say and how they feel about my food that they are experiencing that love, I know that I'm honoring my grandmother, and that definitely is one of the biggest rewards for me.

  • If you had to present your best dish for competition, what would it be? 

In 2021 I won the culinary competition here in St. Thomas at the Charter Yacht Show, both for the main dish and dessert. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and quite frankly I felt honored too because I know how hard every chef that enters contests like that works, and what they put into the dishes they present, so I was absolutely blown away by that recognition.

I presented a Red Hind Grouper using a torched technique to cook, which left the skin crispy but the flesh under the skin very white and flaky and moist. I presented that with pickled beets and pickled radishes as well as a local sweet potato puree and saffron sauce. It won best main entree.

5.jpeg1st Place Entrée at 2021 St Thomas Charter Show - Red Hind Grouper.


For my dessert I used the flavors of a Painkiller drink in my pannacotta and called it the Pain Kata. It actually tasted like a painkiller, with passion fruit on the side and a fruit medley that cascaded out of the passion fruit.

1.jpeg1st Place Dessert at 2021 St Thomas Charter Show - Pain Kata.

I also have been fortunate enough to participate in culinary programs. In England, I went to Ashburton and got a ton of plating experience and ideas, which I loved. Most recently, I went to South Africa to a culinary program in Cape Town and got another level of inspiration both from the program itself and from other chefs in the program. 

A lot of my inspiration comes from other chefs that I work with down here in this market. We have a great tight-knit group of chefs here and we share ideas and pictures. I also participate in a number of online groups and we share ideas. 

I love going to nice restaurants and getting ideas from dinners when I eat out and talking to other local chefs here on-island. I just try to keep it fresh and new and keep changing and tweaking what I do so that I don't get stuck in a rut.

8.jpeg"Instead of farm-to-table, I do ocean-to-table as often as I can."

  • Can you tell us about a particularly memorable experience you had with guests on a charter?

We had some guests on board, a very nice couple celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary with their friends. One evening I prepared a seafood lasagna that I had not prepared in the last seven or eight charters. I decided to do it on this particular charter and that night I served it. One of the guests asked me if I knew what the anniversary couple had for dinner on their first date. It was seafood lasagna. They had never had it again until I served it for them that evening. 

It was certainly a very touching moment that just brings to fruition that somehow I know how to love people through my food. I don't believe in coincidence. I know that was given to me from  inspiration from my grandmother or my father or it just came to me that I should fix this dish that evening for these guests. It was certainly very memorable. 

  • How is working and living aboard a yacht different from a land-based job?

It’s different from a land-based job in so many ways. It's like night and day. But I do think it's a blessing. To be able to have this kind of lifestyle and do what I love and be on the water is like a trifecta of winnings. It just couldn't be any better. And yes, it brings challenges but I welcome those challenges. I have found that some of those challenges actually turn into some of my best dishes. Like the cliché make lemonade out of lemons, I always try to turn challenges into something good. Living on a yacht sometimes presents those challenges. When you're in the galley and your pots and pans are sliding across the stovetop, you just use it to stir your sauce. It's all great. It's a great sauce stirrer, the motion of the ocean. 

  • What do you do in your spare time?

I am an avid scuba diver and PADI dive instructor and love being under the water. In my spare time I spend every moment I can under the water.

I also enjoy reading and scouting for recipes, looking at cookbooks, even in my spare time. For me, that's enjoyable and gives me time to really think about different things I want to do in the galley. 

I think the bottom line is I love what I'm doing. I love sharing my experiences and my culinary experiences with guests. And I hope they enjoy it too. 

collage 6 fotos (35 × 20 cm) (1)5.png

Outta Touch is a 105’ Intermarine Savannah motor yacht with luxurious accommodations for 8 guests. Send an inquiry now to learn more about chartering this fabulous yacht.