The Key Ingredient to a Dining Cruise – interview with Head Chef Skye

There are many fine restaurants in London, but how many can boast of a changing view of the heart of the city as well as a first class chef?

We spend a lot of time talking about the joys of a dining cruise on the river and it is a great thing indeed to tuck into canapés as you watch the London Eye and the Shard appear in front of you; sit down to a beautifully light first course as the Houses of Parliament drift past; tuck into your main as you pass through Tower Bridge and enjoy coffee as the impossibly modern buildings of Canary Wharf light up the sky and the historic Greenwich National Maritime Museum offers you a taste of the history of London. But what about the food itself? And who is behind Thames Leisure’s culinary creations?

I interviewed our Head Chef – Skye Coxe to find out more about life in the ships galleys.

What are the challenges of serving food on boats?

The kitchens of boats are notoriously small, so we have to take everything we need with us – pans, trays, colanders… you name it. Then of course there is all the food. We end up making a LOT of trips from the van to the boat! We then have the problem of getting it all in – depending on which vessel we are using, the equipment and food must be passed up over the side. We have learnt over the years not to pack heavy boxes as it is just impossible.

The small kitchen also makes preparation work and plating difficult for a dining cruise. Over Christmas we were making roast dinners for 120 people; it takes experience and a level head to perfectly cook and produce turkey, potatoes, nut roast, pigs in blankets and stuffing when you have just a tiny galley to work in. Staff could only plate up for 10 at a time, so Thames Leisure always provide experienced waiting staff to make sure the turnaround is a quick as possible.

Thames Leisure offer a Barbecue dining Cruise – how does that work?

The bbq needs to be transported onto the boat, just like everything else.

We have to factor in a number of issues when we barbecue; grease on deck; smoke blowing the wrong way; food being carried from top deck down to galley for service. It all adds to the drama!

Do you get sea sick?

I don’t, but high tides and choppy weather do make it harder. It is very hot in the kitchen and on the older barges there are no windows in the galley. I have seen some very red-faced waiting staff and chefs popping out on deck for a breather!

Do you serve up any sailing / boat / London themed food?

I like to ensure the food is seasonal and locally sourced. We don’t really theme to the water, but do use London roast and ground organic coffee and London smoked salmon. We also use sea vegetables in the spring and summer, like sea purslane and samphire.

Do you cover all dietary requests?

We have lots of dietary requests: vegetarian; celiac; dairy free; vegan; organic; sustainable. I can also cook for halal on request.

Do you cater for theme parties?

Yes. They are great fun and a good challenge for the team. We have done several Chinese and Indian events and I have also had to fit my food in with the theme of a party; the one I remember is “red and black” – red was easy but black food was much trickier. The guests loved it though!

What is the most unusual request you have been asked for?

Next week I have to supply 40kg of roast meats for a party. They want everything from quail to turkey and the plan is for one table to be laden with roast and raw meats

How important is seasonal produce in your food?

Very. We also try to use organic dry store and meats where we can. It depends on the budget.

Do you have a ‘style’ of cooking?

Good honest food that is not ‘messed about with’. I always use good produce and ingredients to begin with, and when you do that they shouldn’t need to be mucked around with too much.

What do you enjoy most about cooking?

It’s artistic. It uses all your senses; I love the different colours, smells and tastes of different ingredients, and how they change when you prepare, mix or cook them. I am a great believer in getting your hands dirty and rubbing raw produce with seasoning and oils. As it cooks you smell the most amazing aromas – the dish changes before your very own eyes.

What would you recommend for a 3-course summer cruise?

I love English heritage tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella. We use English raised and milked buffalos from Laverstoke for our cheese; they graze on Hampshire fields full of herbs and clover, which I think produces a mozzarella that is sweeter and creamier than the Italian versions. It goes really well with my homemade basil pesto and soft freshly baked focaccia. It is the perfect starter.

For main I would serve a light fish dish such as bass with sauce veige. It goes nicely with the soft fluffy English fir potatoes that are perfect at this time of year. I like to toss the potatoes with watercress and freshly podded beans, samphire and fresh dill. I love the contrast of salt and sweet, so to contrast the samphire; I would cook some caramelised fennel.

For dessert, it has to be English summer berries with big fluffy rustic meringues and thick jersey cream! Very simple, very delicious and very London!

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