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Conch Life
The Florida Keys
2009 – 2011
Diana on the Bowsprit
~ Diana on the Bowsprit ~
Marathon
Reality Cooking
It seems the television broadcasting executives have concluded that, ironically, people want to be entertained by reality. Maybe not their own reality, but that's beside the point.

Although TV has become less of a diversion for us while living at anchor, (the boat swings too much to keep a satellite dish aimed properly, and cable just hasn't been brought out into the harbor) on those rare occasions when we do want to veg in front of the tube, we rely on internet broadcasts. I'm not a big fan of the most popular reality programs, but strangely enough I've discovered I do enjoy the cooking shows – Hell's Kitchen, Top Chef, Chopped, and the like. But I must say – these contestants got nothing on me!

I don't believe there is any greater challenge than cooking a gourmet meal (or any meal for that matter) in the galley of a small sailboat. I would like to propose a script for my own personal version of a competitive, reality cooking show – maybe call it 'Cook on the Hook.' The premise is to provide a week's worth of healthy and delicious meals for two adults on a tight budget.

The Challenge
The first part of the challenge is to acquire the proper ingredients for the entire week's fare. The contest begins on a 33' vessel swinging from an anchor, in the middle of the water. A small rubber dinghy must be navigated to the one, closest grocery store on the island, conveniently located about a mile from the dinghy dock where participants are charged an exorbitant $5 parking fee. There goes a hefty part of the budget!
Cooking in the Galley
~ Cooking in the Galley ~

The participants will soon discover that a small island grocery store is not the ideal place to find a variety of gourmet fare. Substitutions will quickly transforming a 'Pomegranate Glazed Duckling on Chanterelle Couscous' recipe into a 'Mango Glazed Cornish Hen on Portobello Risotto' dish. Factoring in the budget, participants will further be discouraged by the costs incurred for shipping non-native, out of season goods over miles of ocean, and thus be forced to alter the recipe once again. Plain Chicken on Cream of Mushroom Soup Rice it is!

All provisions must be hand carried back to the dinghy, so large quantities are prohibitive and excessive packaging must be kept to a minimum (HA!). Groceries are then motored across open water, rain or shine. Did I mention it's 90 degrees out and any frozen foods will likely parish en route? Of course, if they do survive the dinghy ride, they will retain only a slushy consistency in the shoebox sized freezer whose only truly efficient attribute is draining the boat's batteries.

The second part of the challenge is storing the food. The contents of boxed items must be poured into sealed containers to prevent insect infestation. Plastic wrapping must be removed to reduce daily garbage generation, and cans must be marked and coated to minimize rust damage. There are numerous, albeit small lockers located everywhere so mental mapping must be done. Otherwise, time is squandered while a vexing game of hide and seek ensues. Items stored in the locker over the engine must be able to withstand high heat without major degradation should a long motoring situation occur.

Loading the ice box is a particularly challenging feat unto itself, as items demanding cooler temperatures must be located closest to the cold plate, and containers placed in the back recesses must be identified by touch. Warnings to 'Keep Refrigerated' are daringly ignored as capacity is grossly exceeded. Finally, the contestants will be made to witness the alarmingly accelerated rate at which fresh produce begins to rot in an uncontrolled climate.

Don Happily Doing Dishes
~ Don Happily Doing Dishes ~
The Arduous Arena
Limited space and electricity on a boat means few appliances and so the galley is not equipped with so much as a microwave; however a toaster is on hand to put a light crunch on the surface of bread, all the while making the inverter hum audibly while voltage drops to distressing levels. A propane stove is available with two burners and a menopausal oven that provides random hot flashes of temperatures between 250 and 700 degrees Fahrenheit.

After several commercial breaks, the most taxing portion of the challenge begins – executing the meal preparation. Since the lids to the dry locker and refrigerator also serve as counter space, an experienced chef will know to extract all the ingredients for the entire meal prior to beginning a single dish. Otherwise, an exasperating round of musical chairs breaks out as cookware, mixing bowls, cutting boards and food are shuffled around to access any desired component of the evening's cuisine otherwise buried in storage.

While blindly groping for a bottle of sauce from the dark recesses of the refrigerator, our contestant may encounter a petrified mushroom from some past era, or perhaps a head of broccoli, now yellowed and moldering on its 4th day in cold storage. Alas, all the components to the recipe are gathered, and lighting the stove can no longer be delayed.

After a dozen or so futile clicks, the barbeque lighter sparks and poof, the cabin transforms into a sauna, rapidly melting the butter and cheese on the counter. Timing is crucial, as pots and pans must each share their appropriate turn on one of the duel burners. To add even more tension and excitement, the vessel may be underway on a 15 degree heel over lumpy seas. This will require the use of the stove's gimbals, allowing it to swing level while the chef is pitching and swaying at several odd, opposing angles.

The Process of Elimination
The program censors will, of course, bleep out the curses that are sure to explode from the contestant's mouth while trying to get the lighter to ignite after accidentally turning down the burner's flame to the point of extinction – for the third time! Or perhaps the camera can capture the disgruntled look on the participant's face when, colander in hand, they encounter a sink piled full of indiscriminately employed pans and utensils. Points will be deducted if more than a gallon of preciously conserved fresh water is required for cooking and cleanup.

The end of each episode will conclude with the evening's meal presented to a judge for tasting. However as the competition progresses, so too will the stress.

Yummy Lobster
~ Yummy Lobster ~
In the beginning, the judge may be calmly seated in the salon, leisurely enjoying the offered fare; however, at the finale of the competition he will be located at the helm maintaining a beam reach, and will hastily gobble up the gourmet meal like a pelican in a pond full of pinfish. At this point, chefs will be evaluated based on the meal's resistance to sloshing and blowing, as well as the number of seagulls attracted to the dish presented.

Although taste and presentation should be the determining factor for winners and losers, I believe as the week progresses, elimination will happen naturally. Rotten and dwindled food stores, motion sickness, extreme conservation of water, depleted alcoholic beverage reserves – there are innumerable situations that will cause the contestant's to beg to be taken to the nearest beach bistro. I would venture that if, at this point Padma Lakshmi told a chef to "Pack Up Your Knives", she would risk getting pushed overboard.

And the Winner Is …
These scenarios are essentially my reality cooking. It took me years to learn how to function in Re Metau's galley. Luckily, my judge is an understanding, accepting person who has agreed to wash the dishes as a reward for my cooking efforts. And my grand prize is an extraordinary life on a beautiful blue water vessel, cruising upon warm tropical waters with a man who is frequently willing to take me out to dinner.