The Wandering Chef

Being a head chef on a yacht offers unique challenges and different perspectives. For Matt Loory, it meant one more adventure in a young career that’s been packed with them.

By: 

FL Mag Staff

Published date: 

Nov. 1, 2017

The private train. The private island. The collection of yachts. Matt Loory’s resume reads less like the career path of a young chef, more like a list of locations for the next 007 film.

Granted, there are also a couple Orlando-area chain restaurants thrown in. OK, Bond film with a suburban interlude.

But if he’s found himself in some unusual kitchen situations, he’s learned from that how every other detail may change, but the act of preparing quality food never does.

“Cooking is cooking,” he says. “You can saute shrimp and you can grill steak anywhere.

“It’s all the other stuff. It’s how (on a yacht), the saute pan has slid from your burner.”

Loory’s upbringing didn’t lead a life in kitchens – although clues were there for a life on the road. He came from a journalism family. He was, he says, a “CNN baby.” His parents worked there; his grandfather opened the network’s Moscow bureau.

“I was bred to be in journalism – to go to j-school and do all the fun stuff,” he says. “Life had other plans.”

He discovered cooking several years out of high school.

“It gave me all the same rush as television production,” he says. “If you make a mistake, it’s live and it’s out there. As in journalism, you’ve just got to keep going; you can’t dwell on that mistake.”

When he mentioned culinary school to his parents, they had one piece of advice – get a restaurant job, and hold on to it for three months. His first job wasn’t exactly glamorous – he got hired at a First Watch – but he held on. Onto culinary school.

By day, he’d do the 6:00a.m. to 3:00p.m. shift at First Watch and by night, he’d study at the Le Cordon Bleu-affiliated Orlando Culinary Academy. “I grinded it out for a full year,” he says. “I was just cooking.” Afterwards, he stayed on at First Watch for several more years before getting an email from a school friend. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey was looking for a head chef to run the kitchen on the private train that hauled the circus around the country.

Thinking that there’s got to be a book in this, Loory said sure.

“It was incredible,” he says. “I traveled the country for two and a half years by train. Who gets to do that, especially in this day and age?”

The job was like a master’s degree in American cuisine – in different parts of the country, Loory would seek out popular restaurants, shop at local markets and just generally discover food.

He went back to Orlando not looking for any responsibility – a restaurant offered him the sous chef role three times before he took it. After honing leadership with Ringling, he worked more on creativity, plating – the details of raising his own game.

The jump to yachts came through another unusual offer – to spend a summer as the chef on a private island in Maine. The job came through Bluewater, the company that’s primarily one of the main players in yacht staffing, and when he’d successfully completed it, Loory had an in with yachts.

Thanks to his experience with the circus, he also wasn’t fazed by the biggest change land-based chefs usually have to adapt to.

“Hey, that’s cooking in a compartment that rocks and rolls,” he says of his introduction to a yacht galley. “I can do that.”

Last fall, he went to get the necessary certifications, then came to Fort Lauderdale looking for work. He met with a couple big companies – and was told he needed to change his resume. The yacht world, he was finding out, worked differently. It was frustrating.

Then, sitting at the corner of 17th and Cordova, he saw Neptune Group Yachting. He walked in.

Crew agent Lauren Coleman broke it down for him. Getting a job on a yacht isn’t like getting a job in a kitchen. You’ve got to be able to prove you’re somebody people want to be around for months on end. Do you smoke? How are you with people? Are you one of these high-strung prima donnas?

“Yachting is pretty much about first impressions,” Loory says. “Lauren sat down and spent an hour and a half with me. Instead of just saying ‘change your resume,' she told me what I needed to do to my resume.”

He went home, knocked out a new resume and four days later was ready to go.

The years since have offered varied yachts and jobs. It has at times been a crash course. For example, food planning and buying is important for any chef – but it takes on new importance for chefs who won’t see land for a few days and who might find a port town with limited resources when they do. It’s one thing on the circus train when you run out of sliced turkey between New York and Boston. “It’s a whole other story when you’re in the Caribbean, you’re four days to your next port and you’re out of bread,” Loory says. “‘Well chef, you should have brought bread.’”

As he’s gone on in that culture, he’s become impressed by the amount of creativity and think-on-your-feet wherewithal that goes into yacht galley work.

“I’m constantly inspired by the people I’m around … the people I work with and the places I’ve seen,” he says.

He’s also learned to appreciate a job where you’re not just a chef.

One recent gig on a privately owned boat was his first experience working with kids around – a family with 8- and 11-year-old kids on a trip around the Bahamas.

“They would hang out in the galley with me,” he says. He’d bring them in, show them things, teach them how to bake cookies. “It was very very cool. That’s part two of it, you’re not just there to make Michelin-starred food and pull rabbits out of your hat.

“That’s why I’m here – to make you happy. It’s not the other way around – I’m not here to stroke my ego.”

For now, he’s happy for this adventure to continue. “The circus gave me the country; I’m using yachting to see the world.”

And in the future? He’s got goals, one in particular. It’s nothing big – he just wants to have a Michelin star by the time he’s 40. But there’s time.

“I just turned 27 in August,” he says. “I’ve got 13 years.”


The Dish: Tandoori Chicken Benedict over Naan with Curry Lime Hollandaise

For the Tandoori Chicken

Marinade
• 6 boneless chicken thighs seasoned with salt and pepper to taste
• 1 cup Greek yogurt
• 1 tb lemon juice
• 1 tsp allspice
• 1 tsp ground black pepper
• 1 tsp cayenne
• 1.5 tbsp garam masala
• 1 tsp ground ginger
• 2 tsp salt
• 1 tsp smoked paprika
• 1 tb minced garlic
• 1 tb sambal oelek (garlic chili paste)

Method
• Combine all ingredients except chicken in a mixing bowl and whisk until fully incorporated.
• Place chicken thighs in a gallon Ziplock bag and cover with marinade; move thighs throughout the bag to ensure the marinade fully covers each thigh. Refrigerate for 3-24 hours, turning every few hours depending on how long you plan to marinate the chicken.
• Place thighs on a roasting rack over a foil-lined pan and place in a 350-degree oven for 40 minutes, turning the thighs at the 20 minute point. Chicken is ready when a thermometer reads 165 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh.

For the Curry Lime Hollandaise

Ingredients
• 1 stick (4 oz.) butter
• 2 egg yolks
• 2 limes (zest and juice separated)
• 2 tb curry powder
• 1 tb garam masala
• 1 Tsp cinnamon
• T/T salt and pepper

Method
In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Remove from heat once fully melted; cover to keep warm.

Place egg yolks and lime juice in a food processor and pulse to incorporate. Once yolks begin to look frothy, slowly add butter 2 tablespoons at a time to ensure the emulsification doesn't break. Once all butter is added and velvet consistency is met, fold in spices with a spatula.

Eggs: In a saucepan add 1 qt of water and 1 Tb of plain white vinegar. Bring water to just under a standing boil (whips of steam should be releasing from the sauce pan at this stage). Swirl water with a spoon and crack eggs into the water, poaching for 2 ½ to 3 min.

Assembly: Place naan in oven with chicken for the last 5 minutes of cooking just to warm up.

Naan will be on the bottom of the plate with a piece of chicken laid over it. Carefully remove eggs from poaching water with a slotted spoon and lay gently on the chicken (press the bottom of the spoon into the chicken to create a divot for the egg to rest in). Ladle Hollandaise over the eggs and chicken. Garnish with lime zest.