Category Archives: 2016 Archive


Posted December  14, 2016

If you have been reading the previous posts you will know that I was sort of “handed off” by my employer Walter, with a captain named Sven to this couple Amy and Justin to do the same duties on their boat as we had done for Walter on his trawler and then at his townhouse in Brussels. It was December 1994.

This boat was both massive and incongruous. Now I am not a boat nut the way Sven was so I will relate the description he would rattle off and then try to explain it the way I understood it.

It was a twin headsail ketch with a full-length keel. So for those of us who are not boat people, it had two masts, one in the back third of the boat and the main one at around the midpoint in the boat. From the midpoint of the boat back about a third of its length to the rear mast, (basically between the two masts) a large pilothouse consisting of a lot of glass breaks up the deck. Its from here that a skilled operator can maneuver this monster regardless of the weather. It was essentially a motorsailor – a boat that is both a sailboat and a powerboat with a design that is dedicated to both capabilities but with compromises for each.

En Plein Air



I was to learn over the next few years about its history, mainly after Sven would have a few drinks and like to wax on about such things. It was designed and its construction started in the late 1920s at a shipyard in Brooklyn, New York and was to be a luxury yacht for personal use.

There were actually two under construction at the time. One was for a large industrialist and the other was quietly being built for an unknown buyer.  While never confirmed this second buyer was widely thought to be the shipyard owner and there was officially only one being constructed. Sven speculated that the second one was being done quietly as the designer and the industrialist both thought that it was a custom “one-off” that they were having built. When the big financial meltdown hit in 1929, the shipyard was in a financial mess and the industrialist reneged on the contract and both that custom designed one that was much further along as well as its clone,  sat in the shipyard waiting for someone with cash to resurrect one of the two projects.  That financial strength came in the form of a fellow who had a long history of bootlegging.

The deal was struck for him to buy the one that was not as advanced but that they would strip out parts of the other one to make the transaction work. A separate shipyard was even used as the new buyer was quite secretive and the builder had some of his own secrets to bury.  The reason for this seemingly strange approach was that the new buyer wanted the boat to be a meter (almost 40 inches) longer than originally designed. He also wanted a variety of other modifications including hidden storage facilities, and mechanical equipment that was much larger than a boat like this would usually have. He could not afford to have it sitting in low wind conditions so needed a sailing vessel that had extensive power available.  It was just over 59 ft in length, had oversized water tanks, oversized engine, and large battery storage.

By early 1932, while not finished at that stage it was seaworthy enough to leave the shipyard under power, with masts intact but no sails, no interior finishing and under darkness. By April of that year having been finished in the Caribbean, it began its work life.

For many years “En Plein Air”, as it was christened, moved up and down the Atlantic from Jamaica to the United States. The ship was named by the bootlegger’s girlfriend, a painter. While the French art term translates to “in the open air” the owner liked the name as it suggested to him “in plain sight” as he could sail seemingly with impunity with contraband in its hidden compartments.

By the mid-1930’s the need for the black market transport of alcohol was not necessary but still continued because of the lucrative trade in avoiding taxation and duties until the late 1930s when the owner died under murky circumstances and En Plein Air was sold to a European wine producer who wanted her as a luxury yacht.

Lying in a dock in northern France, early in the occupation of France by Germany it was several months until it became clear to the drydock owners that the owner was not coming back for her and once again she was sold by the shipyard to a private owner for not much more than the value of the storage costs and repairs to that point.

The new owner was not known but the boats new function was.  In the early days of the occupation of France by the Germans while there was conflict there were as many supporters of the “collaboration” as those who saw it for the occupation it was but thought their lives would be better without a conflict. In contrast of course as time went on what became known later as the resistance was quietly building its strength. En Plein Air was one of many boats that had been reconfigured slightly to allow the smuggling of goods and people. This boat with its two major hiding spots, oversized engine, oversized fuel, and water tanks as well as other hidden storage spots took little modification for its new purpose. At the time it flew various flags, had its name painted over many times and moved about the Baltics, around the north sea and  Poland, the Netherlands and France, and as far south as Spain and North Africa. This was all related to me by Sven, a bit of a naval history nut, and immensely proud of En Plein Airs heritage.  He related it with great zeal and I have no reason to doubt the details.

The boat was in impeccable shape operationally and cosmetically kept to look in questionable repair. With only Captain Sven and myself to man it, the sails were up only on the open sea on a straight haul, so anywhere near a port or high traffic areas, we were under power.

Its purpose now in the 1990s was largely the same as during the war – transport dissidents, journalists and others at risk in a very volatile time. When most people in western democracies during the 1990s were enjoying unprecedented wealth, there were a series of conflicts in the world that were becoming more acute every year and while transport by plane was desirable the old fashioned movement by small boats was still the easier approach, at least at that time.

We had several ports all of which were not in the main centres but in smaller communities close to Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Southampton, Marseille, Helsinki and Dubrovnik. There were a few others that we would go to occasionally but these were the main destinations.

And this brings us to Amy and Justin. They were about my age or a little younger so about 40 when we started working together, but unlike me, unbelievably fit, and very focused. While they represented to be a couple they were not very affectionate together and seemed more like working partners than a couple. While attractive they both had fairly non-descript qualities. She was about 1.68 metres ( or 5’6”), medium brown hair, blue eyes and slim. He was about 1.8 metres (5’11” ) and a more muscular build but still slim with a fairly shaved head hiding a receding hairline.  They were both Caucasian and on the pale end of the band.  Other than when at sea Amy and Justin did not stay on the boat and had other accommodation or safe houses in each of our ports.

The routine became quite clear after a short while. Either Captain Sven or myself would be told to find new clothes. “New” meant either new from a store or high quality used clothes which we would wear and wash over a period of time. Whoever was the designated one of us, Sven the larger or me the average size, would wear them all the time and be seen on the deck or around the boat or in the local market buying food at whatever port we were in.  If a female was needed Amy would do the same routine and would have a few wigs she would wear as well. Then one day Justin would take the clothes and we would be told to stay below decks and our clothes would show up with new people in them strolling onto the dock and to the boat, usually with local grocery bags to carry their few possessions. We would go back to wearing those clothes for a day or so and be seen on deck and around the port then we would be off with our cargo of dissidents, journalists, or gay people on their way to another destination.

Sometimes in international waters “the cargo” would be out of their hiding spots but always below deck based on the risk of satellite and drone visuals but when we were leaving or arriving into port at least six hours before,  the cargo would be “put on the shelf” in the two hidden spots.

When the boat had been built originally it was extended by over a meter but the designed interior space had actually been reduced in total length by almost a third of a meter so the effect was not noticeable, even when the plans were consulted, but the two ends housed hidden rooms that were two .65 meter (or over two feet) in length and almost the whole width of the boat, although the one at the bow was pretty tiny given the shape so it was the aft hiding spot that was the workhorse.

A flexible pipe to and from each compartment supplied fresh air in from the main cabin which could also be used to talk to them, and a flexible tube out of each one with a small fan like a computer fan pulled the stale air out and to the engine room. The only access to the two compartments was like a jigsaw puzzle. A trim piece on the floor at the entry to the fore and aft cabins stayed in with gravity and dowels and when lifted, then allowed the tongue and groove floorboards in that cabin to be removed one at a time. This allowed the whole wall (in the case of the one at the bow) and a portion of the wall (in the case of the stern) to be tilted out from the floor and lifted out. So with a carpet on the floor, the sequence would involve a series of steps not contemplated by someone standing on that carpet and the closest we ever saw someone come was to remove the carpet looking for some form of a door, or looking for some hidden door in the removable wall, and when not finding one moving on to other spots on the boat.

There were about half a dozen other small hiding spots, that ranged in size to hold something the size of a loaf of bread down to one that would have not have been large enough to hold two decks of cards. They were all hidden the way jewelry boxes with hidden compartments work.

You can probably tell from my description above there were actually five of us involved in this crazy endeavour – four humans and a pretty cool vintage yacht. Under sail, Captain Sven could get her going pretty well and under power (no sails) she would cruise all day long at about 8 knots (15 km/hr, 9 mph) and Sven could take it up for shorter bursts to almost 12 knots (22 km/hr, 14 mph). These speeds, of course, were not enough to outrun looters or government boats but quick enough to move out of areas fast enough to not be noticed and to get somewhere without the extra time needed.

One of the coolest parts of the boat for me, other than the hidden hiding spots was the power. The boat, when in France in the 1930s had been changed from American to European power, but sometime before Sven and I were brought on it had a major retrofit of all the electricals. Things that could be low voltage were low voltage. There was a wind generator that fed a set of batteries, and a generator that ran on methanol. Actually Sven scolded me one day when I used this description as it actually doesn’t run on methanol, it uses the methanol and has some kind of “methanol-reformer” that used the methanol to convert to something else. This generator from Vancouver could run for days on almost nothing and only gave off a bit of distilled water as its exhaust. I used its water “exhaust” to water the plants on my little potted herb garden on the boat!

But beyond this amazing generator, the switching from a company in Germany was the most impressive. The switches were automatic and would figure out when the batteries were getting too low and would turn on the generator. The boat engine did not have any kind of generator on it so the electrical power for the boat came entirely from the batteries or the generator so there was no additional drag on the engine to generate electricity. So when we would be in port we would never run the engine to generate power, it was the solar or wind generators feeding the batteries and if they were running low the generator would kick on and supply the power as well as charge up the batteries.

I never knew who Amy and Justin worked for, but knew that Walter was somehow involved and when Sven was pushed on it would only comment “They have friends everywhere”. This is also what he said when I first noticed their array of passports and assumed they were fakes. “No, they are all obtained from the passport office of each country and under different names. They have friends everywhere”.  It became a common explanation for much of their arrangements. I carried two passports myself, one originally from France and later the Eurozone and one from Canada as a dual citizen. My father had been French and my mother a French Canadian. Captain Sven was Danish and had only one passport from Sweden for some reason.

I had a food budget and was always paid in cash and was supplied with cash to pay for everything. There was also a small stash of cash kept in an “obvious” hiding place in case we were ever boarded by looters (I don’t want to romanticize them by calling them pirates) when at sea so they would find the stash as our hidden treasure and not be looking further. We kept several expensive-looking watches and a couple of fake diamond rings and two credit cards with limited capacity on them for the same purpose in that spot. The real stash was in one of the smaller hidden compartments on the boat.

Whenever we were in the U.K. I would make arrangements with Captain to leave the boat to go to do a bank deposit of my wages and once or twice a year would go ashore to have a checkup and some dental review.  For the first couple of years, I would try to see my grandmother Bebe once or twice a year until she passed in 1996. Otherwise, I went for about a decade essentially on or near the boat.

Part of my role was security. We kept no conventional guns on board but kept a series of modified defensive tools on hand. About every twelve feet we were within arm’s length of one of our modified flare guns. They were essentially sawed-off shotguns dressed up to look like flares. In the kitchen, I had been provided a hand blender that was equipped as a stun gun. In all my days on the boat while we were overrun by looters several times we never had to use any of these but Captain did a regular drill while at sea to test the equipment. When he first introduced me to it all I was joking about James Bond and he became all serious and reminded me that looters would kill for a pack of cigarettes and most of the authorities we were outmaneuvering,  while more professional than the looters,  would still have no remorse in killing us all,  while in,  or close to, International Waters. As a result, when we would be in potentially bad situations I kept my hand blender close and at times slept with it under my pillow.

At least once every sixteen to eighteen months or so we would be in a safe port and the same crew would show up, no matter which port, put up tarps, do some work on the boat while we were ashore and there would be a new name on her. Its bad luck to change the name of a boat so these were painted on top. Captain used to always tell me “she knows who she is and knows she’s only acting”.  He was quite deep it seemed to me, especially when I would be drinking.

Ah drinking.  I did a lot of that, but only when in port, and only when we did not have “cargo”. So we would go for periods of time when it would be quite a dry time and then a bit of overindulgence. I never saw Amy or Justin drink. I think it was partially because when in port an important part of their job would start when ours would be in hiatus. And then it would be time to get some new clothes, and sometimes cut and bleach or color my hair, and do it all again.

So I went off on this diversion to tell you about my life with Amy and Justin that started in the 1990s. At one point in a future piece, I will relate the significance of the flag we sometimes flew.

The whole time, other than security, or helping Sven on manning the boat when in transit, my role was to feed our cargo. Sometimes they were malnourished, and always underfed and my cooking was very focused all during this time on nutrients, protein, and hydration. When the cargo would leave us, I would pack from one to three days of food for unrefrigerated overland travel. At some point in a future post, I will set out some tricks I learned for getting nutrients and protein into a person quickly.

In previous posts, I have related what we were doing at the end of the decade. Well at new years 1999, in contrast to a decade before, I knew exactly where I was. We were about to leave the Mediterranean on a typical run from the Dalmatian coast  to Helsinki, our longest run, and  as we cruised  under power by Gibraltar to the north and Tangier to the south and watched the fireworks, Captain and I shared a tea on deck with a full and quiet cargo on the shelf, and stayed ready for what might come.


Posted Aug 4, 2016

In some of the upcoming posts I will be diving into the crazy life I took on when I left Walter, so before we head down that much more serious rabbit hole, I thought I might stay up in a lighter place and talk about some of the cooking I did for Walter and his guests.

Every Tuesday (there were only a couple exceptions to this timing) Walter would have a small dinner party. Sometimes it would be eight or ten but was usually only four to six guests. They were not always exclusively Belgian guests but they were almost exclusively people based in Brussels for their work so had caught the “fries addiction”.

Some stereotypes exist for a reason. Regardless of what else I would be serving for a meal, the assumption was that there would be some fries on the table, like cutlery or table linens, and a chef who could not impress in this regard was at best a cook, and certainly not a chef. The first time I tried to do fries for one of Walters dinners there were a lot of raised eyebrows. Everything else could be fabulous but without the fries – well, what a letdown.

Jim related to me a similar problem from the cooking school he and Janice had (see the Links We Like).  There would be times where an extended family would come for a private evening where the focus was a traditional holiday or occasion and the culinary focus was to be a dish that was “just like grandmas”. Invariably Grandma would be at the dinner. The chef would be provided with the recipe a few days before the event and sometimes a terrine or plater from the grandma in question to make the dish seem to be just the same.

The first few times it was a disaster. Grandmas recipe might call for a teaspoon of rum and her practice had been to put in half a cup! Beyond this it was also politically incorrect for the dish to be as good as Grandmas – that would be a blasphemy!

So what became the standard practice was for the house chef to simply say “ I would love the opportunity to interpret and do a variation on this wonderful recipe” which let grandma off the hook if it was better than hers,  as everyone could rave about it but still say its not as good as hers and the chef could be sure a great meal would be produced and enjoyed.

My experience with Walters guests was much the same. I couldn’t live up to the expectations for the Belgian fries, so I did roasted (not fried) home fries, with lots of different dips and it was always a hit.

What follows is the most popular dish and variations on the meals I would do at Walters. We would usually have some canapes and champagne or prosecco as the guests would arrive, a soup or appetizer starter then roll into the entre with the vegetables, followed by a homemade ice cream with homemade biscuits or biscotti for dessert with espresso. While there were many variations and different dishes served over the few months I was there, a very popular one was the pork tenderloin so that’s what I have described here. The home fries were the only constant for every dinner party!


Working at Walters was quite a treat for me. The kitchen was not always rocking like a boat, had lots of counter space, many specialty appliances and lots of refrigeration. These, of course, were all things that I had not experienced for a while, as most yachts, even large ones, don’t dedicate a lot of space to the kitchen.

Pork Tenderloin, Veal Tenderloin  or Beef Tenderloin

All three of these meats work and depending on the size of your guest list, and of your budget, each of them has their merits. So if it’s a dinner for two I would do a smaller pork tenderloin, or if a group of four, then two pork loins, but if it’s a group of six or more going to the loin of beef or veal is often the better route. Some guests also have issues with pork which will also help you decide which meat to use. In general, there are cuts of beef I like better so most of the time when doing this recipe I would go with the pork even if it involves multiple tenderloins if there is a larger group.

  1. Trim off any excess fat, wash the loin, and dry completely with a paper towel.
  2. rub with olive oil, or go 4.
  3.  coat with herbs. This can take on many forms and depends on your taste. In general, I always like to use fresh herbs for my cooking but for this kind of treatment I prefer dried herbs with two exceptions. Finely chopping a sprig or two of fresh Rosemary per pork tenderloin, and a couple sprigs of Tyme as well is a great route to go. or If like me you are functioning in a small kitchen most of the time you can use a premixed type– eg Italian (usually with oregano, rosemary, thyme, and basil, but some have garlic and other herbs) or Herbs de Provence –(which adds to the Italian mix several other components: savory, marjoram, and lavender) but ultimately you are the one in control and may choose to go heavy on one type or another. Once the herbs are on make sure you rub again with oil as you want the herbs to be soaking up that oil and sticking to the meat.  As you do the dish more often you will also experiment with specific tastes – finely chopped garlic (two or three cloves per tenderloin), or going exclusively with thyme mixed with the zest of one lemon per tenderloin. When doing this one I would often grill slices of lemon and use them as a garnish on the finished dish with their grilled mushy juices adding flavour to the pork pieces.
  4. an alternative to rubbing with oil then adding the herbs is to put the herbs in a small bowl dry, then just add enough oil to make a paste of the oil and herb mixture and then put this on the meat. When you are familiar with it, the technique works well but usually results in a much more robust coating of herbs than the other way.                                                                     Pre-Coating: I have found that when working with beef, after coating with herbs, having it sit, covered in the fridge for several hours or even overnight before bringing it out and having sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes (while your range pre-heats) before cooking is really worthwhile. But unless it is preferable for dinner scheduling this pre-coating and sitting time is not as beneficial with pork tenderloin. In some kitchen settings I would just roast directly on a roasting pan and turn it after about fifteen minutes  but I prefer to cook the loins on a rack off the floor of the roasting pan and to then pour as much water as  possible into the pan below the rack leaving at least one centimeter (1/2 inch) between the water and the  rack.   This helps keep the oven area moist as well as giving more air circulation around the roast. The outer surface of the meat will still crisp up, but the effect is to have an even moister final product than otherwise. It also makes cleaning up that roasting pan a breeze.
  5. Place pork tenderloin or multiple tenderloins in a preheated oven at 175c (350f) for about 50 minutes.  Now oven temperatures are an interesting thing. The higher you go up, of course, the shorter a time needed. So if you are in a scramble time-wise you could preheat to 204c (400f) and just go for about 30 minutes, or to 260c (500f) and shave it down to about 20 minutes.                                                                                                                  So why, with so many options did I start with the suggestion of 175c (350f) for 50 minutes? Well because: most of us are the only person working in the kitchen; are not serving just this one component; are working with        equipment that is not perfectly tuned and prefer to make the whole process more forgiving. When a piece of        meat that has been cooking at 175c (350f) for something like 45 minutes to an hour is removed from the oven it continues to cook but not much, while a piece that was cooking at 260c (500f) that is removed will continue to  cook while resting, making the judgment of serving time much more difficult. Many home cooks or                        recreational  chefs don’t have exceptional equipment and a variety of products are not recommended for oven    use at really high temperatures. This is particularly true of non-stick finishes that will often top out at a                 recommended 175c(350f).                                                                                                                                                           Working with a beef tenderloin is a bit different both because of the dimension of the loin as well as the proper cooked point to be achieved. A typical time for the beef will be 45 to 60 minutes at 425f.
  6. Time, of course, is just the starting point – the real test is the internal temperature of the tenderloin. If you have a thermometer or your range is equipped with a probe, you are trying to get the internal temperature of the pork tenderloin to about 65c (150f ) or a little lower for the beef loin to 60-62c (140-145f)
  7. A lot is often made about “resting” and there is no question that the meat will benefit from a ten minute resting time (particularly the beef) but the reality is that you don’t need to build this into your time. Just get it out of the oven and work away on your final prep, serving the various components etc. For most of us mere mortals that takes about ten minutes.
  8. Cut into slices at a thickness you like – eg 1 cm or 3/8 inch. In general, cutting it in thinner slices is more formal and wider is more casual. Then layer/stagger a serving on the plate, much like toppled dominoes.
  9. You can accompany the dish with gravy but the herbs and the roasting produce a nice product without it and an easy one to add is a chutney, mint jelly or hot pepper jelly on the side for the pork, and a chutney, or horseradish for beef loin.

Roast Home Fries

This is a foolproof, dead easy recipe that can be dressed up or down as needed. On most occasions, I like to work with white potatoes, not the yellow fleshy ones but all of this is personal preference. I also don’t remove the skin so part of the exercise begins at the market in choosing nice looking potatoes. I don’t go by weight – but by the size of nice looking potatoes available and that will tell me how many I need per person. A typical one that is about 8 to 10 cm (3-4inches) long is enough for each person but you will want to do some extra as the taste of these encourages gluttony.

  1. give them a good scrub under running water with a brush then cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, then cut each of those in thirds, again lengthways. This will yield a total of six long pieces per potato with a profile (if viewed from the end) of a triangle.
  2. put the pieces in a stock pot to just covered with water and bring to a boil. Turn off the burner and let sit for five minutes. Check the potato pieces with a fork – you don’t want them to go soft.
  3. drain and let sit out of the water to dry for a few minutes.
  4. place in a large bowl, add a glug (a “glug” I have found to be about a tablespoon but can be up to two tablespoons) of olive oil, whatever amount of salt and pepper you are liking and turn over lightly with a big spoon– we’re not trying to beat up the potato slices, just to get them covered with oil and seasoning.  Using Canola Oil or a vegetable oil instead of olive oil will get them a bit crisper if that is how you like them. I will usually use Canola oil if its available for this reason.
  5. put the seasoned potato slices on whatever you have – parchment paper or Silpat on top of a baking sheet, or sometimes I will put them on a rack on top of a baking sheet. It all works.
  6. these will then go into the same oven you are cooking your meat in but depending on the thickness of the pieces it will often take less time than the meat so you will manage the timing of when they come out based on how they are looking.

Turn them at the midpoint or when you see one side getting a good roast patina. When they are ready,  get them out, cover with foil until the other components of the meal are ready.

Variation – you can do a much more elegant looking product (and save yourself a step) by cutting the pieces thinner and not parboiling them in the boiling water first. If they are cut thin enough  (eg  I cm or less than 3/8 inch) you can just oil and season them and put them straight in the oven.

Other Vegetables

I really love roast vegetables but with the meat being roasted and the fries being a big roasted item I would usually just steam some brussels sprouts, or broccoli or some nice heirloom carrots or slice up some fresh tomatoes to compliment.

Dips for the Roast Homefries

So this is where I really solved the problem of Walters guests – the fries snobs. While they were allowed to like the home fries because they were sufficiently different than what they were familiar with, setting out a number of dips put it into the category of “better than expected”. Yes, I put out a conventional aioli, but also put out tomato salsa, maple syrup, an orange roulade or jelly, a mixture of Dijon and mayonnaise etc.

Walters kitchen was also an example of Djangos Kitchen Rule #2 – “work with the tools you have”. Walters kitchen had lots of counter space so I was not restricted. It also had lots of specialty tools on hand – a deep fryer, a rice maker, an ice cream maker, both a large and small blender, air fryer, panini maker, pressure cooker, so I was certainly spoiled in comparison with my usual kitchen situation. But my point is this – often a specialty appliance can be used in many ways. A rice maker is also a great tool for making tapioca or rice pudding. An ice cream maker is not just for making deserts – use it to make a nice palette-cleansing sorbet which adds some elegance between courses.

Even major appliances are often not appreciated unless, like me, you are coming from a small kitchen on a boat. That second oven or warming drawer set at about 160f is great for warming plates or keeping various cooked foods warm.

One of the biggest things I notice with kitchens on land is the abundance of refrigeration and freezer space. Use them. A nice salad can be made ahead and sit in that huge fridge. That cavernous freezer is great for buying meat on sale, freezing and having on hand. No, you can’t keep it there forever, and yes, it is better to work with fresh, but for most people buying the better cut of meat on sale and freezing it is a very good approach. You will also find that many time-consuming recipes may lend themselves to making the second batch and freezing.



So this little culinary diversion has kept us from getting back to the story of what my life with Amy and Justin was like. Stay tuned, it will be my next post.


Posted April 16, 2016

A lot of people boat recreationally and many live on a boat year-round in the Netherlands but the recreational boating season is much like most northern climates. It starts in the early summer and by mid-September, the rain, work, school, and temperature all gang up on the recreational boater and its time to wrap it up.

A couple of posts ago I was telling you about my summer as a chef and babysitter during the summer of 1993. It had been a great experience and a wonderful summer up until the cruising holiday the family took and my trip to Rennes to see my grandmother and my trip to Canada.

When I made it back to Harlingen and my duties on Marc and Lottes boat,  the season was winding down fast. In the last week of  August, the twins were heading off to university and the girls were getting ready for school. Marc and Lotte kept me around for a couple of weekends in September when they would entertain other couples but the income from only working two days a week was getting eaten up by having to buy food, and my camping rental. I was also pretty despondent and confused flowing partially from the death of my parents but more from the overall disappointment that I hadn’t been a good friend to my old friends, a good son or grandson, had no real ongoing friends and was only a step or two above a vagrant financially.

So when Marc and Lotte said they would like to chat with me I was pretty sure it was to wrap it up but was surprised to learn a friend of theirs with a huge yacht was interested in having a liveaboard chef that would start immediately. I was thrilled and that weekend met Walter, his Captain Sven, and his thirty-meter steel trawler with an amazing kitchen. The whole intro Lotte and Marc went through was all focused on how trustworthy I had been with their kids. There were a few references to the food and my timeliness etc. but it seemed to all be about my honesty. Later I would learn this was Walters only real criteria.

It’s a bit embarrassing when someone asks you if you need a hand moving to your new digs and you realize that you can carry everything you own on your bicycle. I rolled up my tent and bedroll and my few clothes and rode my bike to my new employment and lodging which was at a nearby, very private,  marina.

Walter was a quiet controlled man who measured all his actions. Everything was done with ease and with reserve. He was tall, balding and about ten years older than me it seemed so would be about fifty. I had no idea why he would need a chef but the employment was to be for a three-month trial, starting then at mid-September until close to year-end.

It was a bit of a surprise to go shopping that day and be told by Sven that we would be on the move the next day, heading down to Brussels where we would be based for the next three months. Brussels gets cold in the winter so I was pleased when after only about a week we transferred to Walters townhouse in quite an expensive area of Brussels. I was never to go back to the trawler as the next few months were all spent at the townhouse.

For about three months at the townhouse, my routine was fairly well …routine. Every day I would make breakfast for Walter, usually two soft boiled eggs on dry brown toast with fresh-squeezed orange juice and a little fruit cup and one espresso and the three papers that would arrive in the night or very early in the morning. He would be up early and work out while I was preparing breakfast, then he would eat alone while reading the papers and head out to work. Captain Sven only showed up a couple of times a week and explained that he worked for others as well.  A driver picked up Walter and took him to work and after a few inquiries, I  never did learn what he did for a living.

Every Tuesday evening he would have a small group to dinner and after serving the first and second courses I was to go off for a walk and return by nine when I could serve dessert and coffee. It was always the same and became clear that while the participants were different each week it was always a business meeting of some kind as at about the point I would arrive back to serve desert the conversation would turn to the personal conversations that at most dinner parties would happen much earlier in the meal.

By 9:30 or so everyone would be gone and I would be doing clean up.

Walter, for so controlled a person, seemed at times to be very forgetful or sloppy. A billfold with lots of cash was sitting on the back of the powder room toilet, a laptop left out on the terrace on rare warm September afternoon are two times I remember in particular. Each time I would pack them up and put them in Walters study for him.  Later I learned that these were tests of my integrity. When I learned this later I also suspected it was another test when four of the dinner guests and Walter went to the hospital with one of the guests with an allergic reaction and one woman stayed behind who became very friendly and wanted to go into Walters bedroom and I needed to be quite clear that was not going to happen. She was very nice and it had been almost a year since I had been with a woman but Walter had some pretty strict rules about behavior in his house and I wasn’t about to let someone down who had given me a fresh start.

During the few months in the townhouse, Swen who had begun our relationship on only a cordial basis had become much more friendly.

I liked the life I had with Walter. It was very predictable and gave me the opportunity to save some money and to write to my Odie each week. Beyond those letters to Odie, I also started writing letters to my parents. Ok, a little weird with them dead and all but it was a good way to say some things that I should have said when I was a kid, when I was a teenager and when I was an adult. Some things that I was sorry for. Some things that they should have taken better control of and some things that I wished had just happened differently. I didn’t have anywhere to send the letters of course but the letters were a very good tool for me. They were also part of my time at Walters where I was rebuilding myself. I still only owned my bicycle, my kitchen knives, and my clothes but my little account from Canada was growing each month and I was putting away most of what I was making working for Walter. Each day I would grocery shop and prepare a nice meal for Walter and occasionally Sven would join me in the kitchen for a meal as well. A housekeeper would come and go periodically and sometimes I would send home some scones or muffins for her and her family.

When I had started it was made clear that by the end of the year or so the contract with Walter would end but I also had the sense when I first was hired that it had the potential to continue in some form afterward.  I learned what form that would take one Tuesday night in mid-December. There were just two dinner guests that night but I had been asked to set five places and to prepare not the usual five courses but just three and to join Walter, his two guests, and Sven.

Walter had not told me ahead so I was in my whites and it seemed a bit strange at first. A proposal was laid out for Sven and me to leave Walter and join this pair who would have been a few years younger than me on their boat for an ongoing position. It became clear over dinner my whole time with Walter had been a test, and presumably, I had passed. Sven seemed to be in on the plan but I had come to trust both him and Walter so it was with this background that just over a year from being fired and left on the dock in Amsterdam I was on what was about my fifth job that year. For the second time in four months, someone was laying out my future for me. I wasn’t sure if this is how I should let my future unfold but they seemed like a nice couple, it was an ongoing position and otherwise, I would be unemployed. The next day after making Walters breakfast, Amy and Justin picked Sven and me and my bike and pack of gear up in a large van and we went to their boat. Sven it seamed had already taken his gear there.