- 85m | Golden Yachts | 2018
As a young child, Chef Valentina Argyropoulou was a fussy eater. However spurred on by her mother’s love and dedication to getting her daughter to experiment with new and innovative dishes, Chef Valentina soon realised that it was actually in food that her passions lay. Now combining her love of travel with her ability to craft delectable dishes on board, the head chef of O’Ptasia is a culinary wizard.
Describing her cuisine as everything from fusion and ethnic to traditional with a twist, tasty and colourful, the 31-year-old chef takes pride in sourcing only the finest local ingredients for her dishes on board. “Sometimes even small fishing boats approach us with fresh fish,” she says. “It’s worth giving it a try as it also supports the local community.”
From her ideas and inspirations to the signature dishes she loves to serve on board a charter, Chef Valentina takes us through the galley of superyacht O’Ptasia.
Can you tell us a little about your background?
I was born and raised in Greece, and moved to Athens at 18 to study Culinary Art, which is when I discovered my love of travel. I love exploring different food cultures and ingredients. I landed my first job as a yacht chef five years ago, three of which I spent on O’Mathilde before moving to O'Ptasia.
What motivated you to become a chef and where did you train?
It might be a really common answer, but everything started with my mother’s love. As a kid I was very difficult with the food, so she was always trying to find interesting ways to feed me, even when she was really tired. I still remember how satisfied and happy she was when I had even a bite.
She taught me that you can express all of your feelings through food, and make the people around you happier with a well-cooked meal. I decided that being a chef is something that would suit me, so I went on to study Culinary Arts and later worked at restaurants and hotels in Greece, Germany, France and Belgium.
Who are your chef heroes and who has influenced your style of cooking?
I prefer chefs who respect and protect their team. Chefs who stay calm and quiet yet productive and energetic during the rush hours. As a female chef I adore all the women who stand in kitchens - they are all great examples for me!
Two of my favourites are Anne Sophie Pic from France and Dominique Crenn from San Francisco. I love their elegance and their humanity.
How did you come to work as a superyacht chef?
It’s quite as simple as that a friend of mine had started working as a yacht chef, and he suggested I try it too. I did, and suddenly I realised just how much I love doing two things - cooking and traveling.
What is your favourite type of cuisine?
I love Mediterranean cuisine, and I have many fond memories of cooking up dishes from around the region. I like fusing ingredients and creating innovative dishes that people might not have tried before.
What would you say is your signature dish?
I mostly prefer cooking with seasonal ingredients. One of my signature dishes is the Chocolate Sphere - a chocolate ball filled with chocolate mousse, Valrhona Caramelia (an exquisite milk chocolate that gets its notes of caramel from real dairy-based caramel), and berries. You then pour hot chocolate on the top of it and the sphere melts away in front of the clients.
How would you describe your culinary style?
Fresh, seasonal, ethnic, fusion, traditional with a twist, simple, tasty and colourful!
Where do you get your inspiration and ideas for menus?
Talking with the guests is the typical way to create their menus. Inspiration comes from
small things every single day such as the places we visit, the weather, or even when I see a fresh ingredient at the market. Reading books and trials sometimes can also get some great results.
What’s the secret to cooking high-quality food on board compared to ashore?
Firstly, the suppliers. I speak with them regularly. Secondly the maintenance of the ingredients on board. All the equipment I use (vacuum machines, deep refrigerators etc.) help to keep the quality of the food to high standards.
Do you prefer to use local ingredients when on charter?
I always go to the local markets and buy vegetables, bread and local products. Sometimes even small fishing boats approach us with fresh fish. It’s worth giving it a try as it also supports the local community.
What are some of your favourite destinations in terms of local produce?
My top three are Santorini for its famous fava beans and excellent wines; Aegina for its incomparable peanuts, fystiki Aiginis; and Syros for its great gruyere cheese (Saint Michalis) and the local sweets (halvadopita).
What’s the most unusual ingredient you’ve come across on your travels?
It would have to be the banana flower or banana blossom!
How do you manage special dietary requirements - are vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free now standard requests?
Every guest on board is special, so I have to respect their eating habits. I always talk with them to get some advice, and organise my provisions to ensure I can make a suitable menu for them.
How do you cater for young children?
I love it when we have kids on board! They are so simple and so demanding the same time. I mainly discuss their meals with the parents - it’s funny when the kids ask for something that their mum said no to! I try to convince their mother that it’s ok for them to have it that one time.
What would be a typical spread for a family party?
I love having the opportunity to meet so many different people and cultures on board. Food creates memories and I feel very lucky representing our own culture through my dishes!
What do you most enjoy about working as a superyacht chef?
I usually get emotional when we have to say goodbye, which I find a highlight.
Selection of mini croissants, pancakes, crepes, summer fruits and a variety of Greek yogurts.
Gazpacho soup with summer tomatoes, avocado, spiced croutons and olive oil.
Tuna fillet with black risotto.
Palvola with berries.
Beef carpaccio with truffle oil, sundried tomatoes, dried black olives and 'Sa Mihali' Greek gruyere cheese.
Lamb chops with crust of Mediterranean herbs, artichokes and chimichuri sauce.
Bitter chocolate ganache with strawberries.