Talk about dinner with a view:
If you love sailing and seafood, this Maine food cruise deserves the number one spot on your bucket list – though you don’t have to be an expert at sailing or cooking to enjoy it!
The four-day culinary tour showcases fresh, farm-to-table meals cooked over a wood-fire oven – all while you sail the waters off the coast of Maine in a 1920s former oyster schooner, the J.&E. Riggin.
We asked the Riggin’s Co-Captain and Chef Annie Mahle about her connection to the coast, what inspires her menu onboard, and why even the most amateur sailor should give this food cruise a whirl.
Why culinary cruises?
Over the course of a week on the Riggin, there are so many guests interested in the process of making bread, fermenting pickles, chopping onions…you name it, people are curious. We thought it would be fun to pull the most eager of them onto trips dedicated to the learning and teaching of food and techniques.
Have you always been a sailor?
Not at all. When I graduated from college, I wanted to take a year off before going on to graduate school. It wasn’t called a “gap year” then. I decided I wanted to learn how to sail, I wanted to travel, and I did not want to call home for money. My first job on a sail boat sort of landed in my lap and my adventure hasn’t really stopped. Oh, and p.s., I never did call home for money.
What is your own connection to the coast?
I grew up in the Midwest and I’m so grateful. My yearning for adventure and something new pulled me to Maine. When I stepped out of the car that first day I arrived and took a deep breath in, I realized that this place felt like home in a way that the city of my roots did not. No matter where [my family and I] travel, we will always return home… to Maine.
What’s the culinary experience aboard the J&E Riggin like? What surprises people most?
On the Riggin we create breakfast, lunch, and dinner for up to 30 people every day. These meals are locally sourced and nearly everything is made by hand – down to the jams, mustards, pickles, and breads. People are constantly asking me about when I make all of this food, thinking that it’s done ahead of time. There is no “ahead of time,” there is only now. Also, guests have a hard time absorbing the fact that not only is all the food we serve made on board, but it is made using a wood stove, in a super small space, with only a 2×3 foot counter.
You use fresh foods from your own garden and local farms and farmers markets. How does this inform your menu?
Completely. Cooking this way is such a creative and inspired way to approach food. Rather than deciding on a menu and forcing the ingredients into that mold, I let the ingredients form the bones of the menu. It might sound a little out there, but I sort of touch and taste everything that comes into the galley and let my intuition create the path to meals. For example, a new, spring beet, small and formed by a chilly early summer will taste very different from a hearty fall beet grown over the warmer months of July and August. They should be treated and shaped differently, almost as if they are two different vegetables.
Favorite part of your job?
Creating food and community around food. My favorite moments on the boat are when all of our guests are sitting around the table, and the galley is filled with the babble of conversation and happy people nourished by healthy, yummy food. That is a life well lived for me.
Also, I love waking up in the early morning to light the stove and watch the day emerge. The view from my “office window” is about as perfect as it gets.
And to someone who’s apprehensive about the whole sailing thing?
There is nothing that beats the feel of the wind on your face while wending your way through a multitude of granite-studded islands blanketed by evergreens. Or eating a Maine lobster cooked over a campfire while sitting on the edge of one of those islands while the water ebbs with the tide. Or setting down your lists and agendas and to-dos for a short period of time and just being free to sleep as much as you need and be nourished by the joy of good food prepared on your behalf.
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