Chef Spotlight: Interview with Katie Saunders, Relentless II 80 Ft
by Dayle Reimer on May 10, 2023
The world of culinary arts has expanded rapidly in recent years, with people seeking new and exciting gastronomic experiences. Food and drink have become an art form, with enthusiasts eager to explore new tastes and flavors, and gourmet yacht charters are at the forefront of this movement.
This begins a new series featuring some of the best charter yacht chefs in the business, starting with award-winning Chef Katie Saunders of the 80 ft. luxury sailing catamaran, Relentless II. Katie has long been one of our favorite chefs since she began her charter career in 2017 on the 58 ft. sailing catamaran, Yes Dear. Through the years she has advanced her skills and experience (and yacht size), collecting rave reviews from guests along the way. Read on to learn how she got into the field, insights into her cooking style and more.
"A plate is just a canvas waiting to be painted."
Tell us a bit about your background and how you got into cooking and yachting?
In my mid/late 20’s I had an opportunity to work with a catering company in the front of house until I was entrusted with a little prep work that soon led me to being full time in the kitchen. Lots of following recipes and peeling potatoes. However, working with my hands was rewarding and I began to understand the early process of food handling. Learning where ingredients came from piqued my interest. On top of that, I had some of the best mentors! Hilarious, hard-working women who owned the kitchen and made me feel so empowered!
I continued on with industry work including bartending, resort management and working on the line at a small organic cafe in the USVI. Eventually I met a crew on delivery bringing a fairly large motor yacht down to the Caribbean and we became fast friends. This led to an opportunity to work on yachts based out of New York heading down to the Bahamas as stew/cook, second stew and finally chief stew. However, I always gravitated towards the galley. Sometimes I found that if I did a handful of dishes and helped the chef execute a seamless service, I would be given little tutorials and some mentoring. I felt inspired and decided then to pursue the galley.
I moved back to the USVI, away from the superyacht industry, and found myself on sailing catamarans. My first catamaran was S/Y Yes Dear, a veteran 10-guest boat. It was challenging with only two crew but it was a great teacher of wearing many hats, sailing, and high-volume cooking.
How would you describe your style of cooking?
As sustainable as possible! As charter chefs, we find ourselves cooking for an array of different clients and trying new recipes/diets on the fly, especially with quick turnarounds. I do a lot of research in my spare time but the majority of learning happens on the job. You must be flexible but still not compromise the quality of the food you create. Purchasing local not only is a healthier option for both client and environment, it also gives back to the local community! The more local you buy, the more you help those local businesses to thrive and produce more of the good stuff!
“Unbelievably over the top amazing meal after meal. (We photographed every one!)”
Do you have any great time-saving tools you use in the galley?
Simple. Mise an place! Basically, a clean workspace (clean as you go), prep, and time management. No kitchen gadget will get you further. When I prepare ahead of time I have more time for growth in the galley, to be more creative and try new techniques. It may seem like a very simple principle but prep lists will make you organized and at the top of your game!
Green Tea Tuna Bowls.
Where do you get inspiration for dishes or plating?
My inspiration is my community of chefs. We all get brain-blocks from time to time so following a creative chef’s Instagram or getting together with my culinary peers is a great way to draw inspiration and test recipes! Continuing to be innovative by watching techniques, taking courses and applying those things learned to my dishes, even if just a few times each charter, has helped me to continue growing and be excited to hone my craft.
Also, learning about fresh local ingredients keeps me excited to broaden my palate. My favorite local farmers on St. Thomas, Michael Garcia and Eron Brown of Sugar Brown Farms, take the time to show me their garden and it inspires new dishes. I follow Michael around the footpaths of the garden as he hands me different herbs and greens to taste, then explains their origin, how long it took to grow, the conditions they need to thrive and how they or other chefs have used them. I am humbled by the effort it takes to offer these amazing organic gifts and be educated in the process!
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of being a charter chef?
With all industry work, it’s challenging. Demanding guests, limited resources and tools, small spaces, changing itinerary due to weather or otherwise, crew dynamics. We step up, do the work, and make the impossible possible!
It’s so rewarding to cook for guests, creating food that nourishes while pushing the envelope on what that looks like. I enjoy the challenges of creating a beautiful and colorful dish but most important to me are the flavors. I believe that should be the main focus of any dish.
“Katie's meals were delicious and we ate way too much. We loved her passion for her work.”
Saunders won the Dessert category at the 2018 Charter Yacht Show in St. Thomas with her Dragonfruit Panna Cotta with Pineapple Dust and at the 2020 Charter Yacht Show with her Vegan Chocolate Mousse. At the 2020 edition, she also won the 2nd place at the Entree category with her "Rubix Cube" crudo.
Relentless II is a fabulous brand new (2022) 80 ft Sunreef sailing catamaran accommodating 8 guests in 4 private ensuite cabins, available for charter in the Virgin Islands. Send an inquiry now to learn more about a charter on Relentless II.