Eating Clean in the Exumas

New Life chef

The waters of the Exuma Cays in the Bahamas must surely be rated among some of the best in the world. But, perhaps Cathy is a bit biased since these waters were the natural playground for her two young boys in the early 2000’s. Low tides would produce sandbanks stretching for miles and they would spend countless hours with friends searching for sand dollars, conch and coral. It may sound cliché, but it truly was paradise for her boys growing up; barefoot, with the sand between their toes. Her family recently returned to the boys’ birthplace over the July 4th weekend. It had been over 11 years since they left and an invitation to sail on their friend’s private boat, New Life, made the decision to go back a no-brainer. With two athletic sons and a hotelier husband, saying that food is of paramount importance on their travels is an understatement. They live to eat, they don’t eat to live. New Life’s chef, Sarah Jane McCann did not disappoint them. 

It was a luxury to have such an accomplished chef prepare their meals, yet, more interesting for ethical muse was that Sarah Jane is vegan and was able to produce exceptionally clean meals from her small galley. Don’t mistake clean eating to be a diet, it’s actually a lifestyle. It’s all about reading labels and being conscious of what you put in your body. Being aware and making choices to include whole foods, and eating as close to nature as possible.  

You know the drill. Grab your favorite beverage and curl up in a cozy spot to read Cathy’s interview with this clean eating chef who practices what she preaches…

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Why did you become vegan? Due to digestive and skin ailments, I slowly became a vegan by taking certain foods and animal flesh out of my daily diet. I did this as a self-study for clean eating and I love how it changed my life and wellness. I feel more energetic and have better looking skin, hair and nails. Switching to a 100% plant-based diet allows me to properly digest and absorb all of the nutrients I was not able to take in while eating animal products. At one point I was practicing a 100% raw vegan lifestyle, but I missed rice and grilled vegetables way too much.

How does this influence your style of cooking when on board? Having the protein be the least fussed over part of the meal allows the veggies to shine. This way the meals are light, colorful and satisfying. This style of cooking has worked wonders for me, so why not raise awareness of healthy clean eating with others.

What type of challenges do you face as an onboard chef as compared to a kitchen on land? There are many, but I think it’s the lack of cool or cold food storage for the amount of foods that need to be provided on this particular vessel. Especially in the Exumas, there are very few, if any, proper grocery markets or local farms to gather ingredients from. This means planning ahead and purchasing in Nassau.

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How much time did you need to plan for our three night stay on the boat with six guests? I need at least a three-day notice but I have had less. Also the number of guests can change at anytime, along with dietary restrictions. I generally keep the yacht stocked with my go-to dry goods and frozen organic fruits for smoothies. I try not to use peanuts in any of my recipes as it is one of the most common allergies. I also have a general idea of how many meals I will be preparing and will go to the grocery store with that in mind. I have learned not to get frustrated with the lack of ingredients, but instead I grab what I can get a hold of and make a meal plan out of what I can bring back to the boat. Yes, it takes longer when shopping, but I need to adapt to any situation and be prepared for extra guests and added time out on the water.

Not only do I provision for foods, all drinks, cleaning supplies, sunblock, first aid, toiletries, but special requests are also a part of the list.

Describe a typical day at work. 

0600   Wake

0700   On deck

0730   Pull up anchor and get under way to the next destination. Breakfast preparation and coffee or tea for  those early risers.

1000   Set anchor and serve breakfast. Make beds, clean bathrooms and do laundry.

1200   Prepare lunch which is usually a large salad with grilled fish or lobster.

1400   Lunch service on the aft table under the sun shade.

1800   Cocktails and appetizer platter.

2030   Dinner: Appetizer – a vegan soup such as an acorn squash with pea sprouts. Main course – organic multicolored carrots with baked lemon asparagus to accompany a french-sliced petit rack of lamb. Dessert – Organic maple syrup and coconut glazed pear in puff pastry with fresh cream drizzled with raw honey and Ceylon cinnamon dust.

2130   Turn down service for each cabin with chocolates, Fiji Water, fresh towels, low lights and fluffed pillows. (The hotelier husband was happy.)

2300 Bed

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What is largest group you have cooked for? Describe the meal and challenges? I worked with an amazing team of chefs where we cooked for over 400 people at YCCS Virgin Gorda during the Loro Piana Regatta. The sheer volume of foods produced for a week straight and the transportation of all of the product was an intense collective team effort.

What does the word sustainability mean to you? The ability to work with products in our everyday lives, that if used and reused properly will have less of an impact on our environment and will help reduce our footprint of use and waste, aiding in replenishing what we have consumed.

How do you channel sustainability into your everyday life? I recycle containers for multiple uses. I use raw vegetable waste as fertilizer when I have a garden and use fish scraps for chumming the water when fishing. I go out of my way to use as little plastic as possible.

How do you channel sustainability into food prep? I try to source locally grown produce and hand line caught local fish wherever I go.

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What do you do to stay educated about new trends? I try to attend health conscious food festivals, and keep researching the health benefits of all natural foods.

There has been quite a buzz about coconut oil recently. What do you use it for? I use raw, organic, fair trade, unfiltered coconut oil for just about everything. I use it to replace all butter in baking, sautée dishes, soups, and sauces. In the morning, for myself, I spread it liberally on my sprouted grain toast and have even used it as a moisturizer and sunscreen.

How do you like to spend a day off? Eating an abundance of fresh fruit, going to a yoga class, scuba diving in a good live reef with sharks, relaxing on a quiet beach or on the top of a hiking trail. Going out for a nice dinner with friends at sunset, then heading home and relaxing with an  herbal tea, meditating and taking a “too long” hot shower to get comfortable. I sleep deeply after cracking up watching Jimmy Fallon on TV.

Any tips to keep seasickness at bay? Never get tired. Never get cold. Never get hungry. Eat ginger. I put it in most of my foods.

If you weren’t a chef what would you be? A travel guide.

What’s your favorite indulgence?  Sleep.

What’s you favorite part about being an onboard chef? Seeing everyone satisfied and happy. (And yes we were!)

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