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Authors: David Shalleck

Mediterranean Summer

BOOK: Mediterranean Summer
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To my mother and father

—D.S.

For my family

—E.M.

Author’s Note

Although I didn’t know it at the time, the story I tell in
Mediterranean Summer
took root the day I decided to leave my steady restaurant job in the States to travel to France and Italy. I had set out to find an answer to what transforms one into a chef and at the same time had only a vague notion of the culinary discoveries I would make. Once abroad, I cooked during a few summers on a gorgeous classic sailing yacht—the main setting in this book—that proved most significant in fulfilling my desire. I remain grateful to the owners for the opportunities they gave me when I was on board. For storytelling purposes, those seasons and actual events that occurred have been consolidated here into one summer at sea. Moreover, out of respect for the privacy of those involved, the names and many physical characteristics of the owners, my fellow crew members, the yacht, and other yachts in the story have been changed. I’m grateful to all of those I encountered during my tenure abroad, many of whom appear in this narrative. I shall forever carry the wonderful experiences and lessons learned from what turned out to be a life-changing culinary journey on the Mediterranean.

David Shalleck
San Francisco
November 2006

Foreword

When my old friend, chef cohort, and comrade David Shalleck, whom I’ve known for twenty years, asked me if I’d write the foreword to his first book, I immediately responded positively. I expected a solid and interesting collection of recipes gathered and developed along his amazing journey throughout Europe from an American cook’s point of view—spritzed with interesting anecdotes, spicy and zippy headnotes filled with tidbits of lore, and stories of the fun and hazards of cooking around the Mediterranean on a yacht. When he finished the manuscript several months ago he popped it in the mail, and I let it sit on my desk, confident I would whiz through it in a few minutes to get the feel of it and knock out a perfunctory testimonial to good cooking and experience in the real world.

Instead, I read the entire tale on a flight from New York to Paris on my way to Alba for a weekend of truffles and reacquaintance with Italy, as I do several times a year, and was struck by the many ways this timeless story echoes my own experiences. How delightful to find David had written real literature, with clear language, strong sentiment, his stories varied and fun—a book filled with sage cooking advice, travel anecdotes, and, most important, a young and vibrant voice chronicling the world from a delicious new perspective.

Like
Heat, Down and Out in Paris and London,
and
Kitchen Confidential,
David’s prose in this picaresque tale provides an intimate back-of-the-house look at the constant ride between the catastrophic and the successes of what is true life in a modern kitchen.

I first met David in San Francisco when he started at Campton Place under Bradley Ogden in the very middle of the California cooking revolution of the eighties. He had a New Yawk accent and a very East Coast sentiment about him but was all about the food and the style of the times. I was working at the Four Seasons Clift Hotel as a sous-chef, and most of my real pals at that time were sous-chefs or line cooks to the greats of the era such as my heroes Jeremiah Tower at Stars, Mark Miller at Fourth Street Grill, Judy Rodgers at Zuni, and Bradley at Campton Place. We had an informal kind of club and would meet at each other’s restaurants to try our cooking, snack together on days off, and stay up late after service talking incessantly about food, waiters, bartenders, farmers’ markets, wine, foie gras, and tacos. It was a time when we all learned to eat, to share, and to support each other. And this mutual admiration club continues even now. Looking around San Francisco, and the country for that matter, it is quite enjoyable to see how many of our peers have gone on to their own incredible and well-deserved successes: Mark Franz at Farallon, Loretta Keller at Coco500, Traci Des Jardins at Jardinière, Bruce Hill at Pico and Bix, Dave Robins at Chinois and Spago in Las Vegas.

From San Francisco, I moved first to Santa Barbara, and then on to my own grand tour in Italy, landing outside Bologna, infused with enthusiasm by Faith Heller Willinger’s writing and consulting her book
Eating in Italy
in every town of my journey. During this time, I lost direct contact with David. I traveled east to Turkey in search of Byzantine mosaics, then discovered a bit of the world of yacht crewing in Bodrum, and actually considered trying to find a job by visiting a crew agency in Antibes, France. With no luck in the offices, I hit the docks looking for the biggest and most beautiful boats in search of employment in a new environ. Knocking on the door of one of the most magnificent yachts in the whole port, I met an Australian deckhand who told me to wait a minute while he went to get the chef. Lo and behold, up from the galley emerged my old pal David. He was busy making a base for bouillabaisse, so we agreed to meet for a drink later that day. Many details of what eventually became this very book became clear in the midst of great celebration and much festivity over the next couple of evenings in Antibes.

So our entangled journey continued in Europe, both of us on our grand tour of Italy, kitchens, culture, and self. Several years later we met again in New York, when David was touring as a culinary television producer and chef, working the margins in his constant research of food, cooking, and the intellectual pursuit of the delicious.

This book is many things to me—primarily it is David’s excellent adventure and a joy to read for both style and content. But mostly I find it a wonderful barometer of what makes my generation of cooks and chefs so special: the thought processes, the constant improvement, and the delight of introspection in the face of remarkable and unique personal experience, a luxury to read about, but most important, to live.

Mario Batali

Serenity

T
he dawn’s stillness is all around me as I start my exercises on the foredeck of
Serenity.
Barely half an hour after first light, the anchorage remains quiet. It’s still too early to see those famous crystalline blues of the Mediterranean Sea, but here and there small rings of concentric circles interrupt the glass-like surface of the water. Probably fish snatching for food.

I glance up and see the faint stencil of last night’s quarter moon stubbornly resist being washed away by a brightening sky. Across the cove, another boat arrived sometime in the middle of the night, its white anchor light still illuminated at the top of its mast. About a hundred yards to shore lies the town.

The view of Positano from the sea has to be one of the world’s great vistas. With virtually no harbor, it’s a picturesque village sitting in a sleepy alcove on the Amalfi coast. Just offshore, several small, brightly colored fishing boats are tied to moorings and rest in the same direction. Others are lined up to one side of the pebble beach that fronts the town, sharing it with rows of beach chairs. At the far side, a string of restaurants, all with alfresco dining areas, together seem like a retaining wall, preventing the arched terraces of the colorful villas that are built into the cascading hillsides behind from sliding into the sea. High up in the distance, near the top of the town and too far from the anchorage to be heard, a small orange bus makes its way along a road of sharp turns cut out of the steep terrain.

The sun hasn’t yet crossed over the landmass of the peninsula. The decorated majolica dome of the church next to the beach is cast in a dark mauve shadow beneath the ravine. When
Serenity
’s anchor was dropped last night, the amber glow of the setting sun rendered it blue-gray.

The silence is broken by a lone fishing boat that cuts a wake as it moves to the open sea, its small outboard motor humming. A seagull follows it, and then two more appear. Old friends going off to work. I watch as the wake becomes a ripple by the time it reaches
Serenity.

Precious moments like these, before the owners, guests, and crew come on deck, are mine. They are a necessary break I have arranged for myself to help me get through the pressures of the job.

I finish my exercises, remaining quiet so as not to wake the others below. The thin layer of dew on deck is slowly evaporating as the sun begins to warm the teak planks. I stand up and take one last sweep of the scene in front of me. But it is time to go below to change into my uniform, grab the keys to the launch, and head to shore. On days when there is much provisioning, I bring one of my crew members with me. But today I don’t need much, and I want to be alone.

The ride is short, and I have learned how to shut the launch’s engine at just the right speed and distance from the dock so that as the boat drifts toward shore, I can grab my things and in one quick move step off with the bowline in hand and quickly tie it to a cleat. I manage it perfectly. Too bad there isn’t anyone on the dock to serve as witness.

The
caffè
near the beach hasn’t opened yet, so I make my way up the narrow road to the town center. There the streets are being cleaned by workers in blue jumpsuits using long-handled brushes that resemble witches’ brooms. A few shopkeepers have already opened their metal gates, and small delivery vehicles are making their stops. It won’t be long before Positano’s narrow, pedestrian-only streets fill up with townspeople tending to their morning chores. And just a short while later the tourists will be out, checking the shops or making their way down to the beach.

My morning onshore will begin with a cappuccino—strong, hot arabica coffee properly extracted from a commercial machine, covered with a dense, hazelnut-colored layer called
crema,
then blended with a mousse-like infusion of frothy steamed milk. I find a
caffè
busy with locals.

“Buon giorno,”
I say to the barista in the
caffè.

“Buon giorno,”
he answers back with a nod of “what can I get for you?” “A cappuccino with
poca schiuma
”—not too much foam—“
per favore.”

A few men look over at me. I can sense they know, by virtue of my uniform, that I have come from the yacht anchored just offshore.

The barista delivers a perfect cappuccino, and we begin to talk. He is pleased to learn that I come from New York and asks if I know so-and-so, who grew up in Positano but left for Brooklyn four or five years ago. I explain that New York is a big place. Another man cuts into the conversation and mentions he has a sister in New Jersey. A third wants to practice his English. “How are you?” he asks me, and then says he remembers when American soldiers landed at Anzio, near Naples, to help push the Nazis out during the Second World War.

Being in such a remote location, one can feel a long way from home. But listening to the men in the
caffè
volley their kind words and ideas about where I am from makes me feel welcome. The Italian way is to try to make you feel
at
home. My extended journey abroad has also helped me understand what it means to
be
home, even when not there.

There is an orange pay phone on the wall, and I suddenly get the urge to call my family.

“Do you sell phone cards?” I ask the barista.

“How many would you like?” he asks.

“Enough to call New York for ten minutes or so,” I say.

“It’s two o’clock in the morning there! Who are you going to call now?”

Lost in my reveries, I have completely forgotten about the difference in time zones. I am relieved the barista has stopped me. I’ll call when it’s better for them. Instead, I finish my cappuccino, put a few thousand lire under the saucer, wish everyone good day, and go on my way.

I had better concentrate on provisioning what I need for today’s meals: the day’s bread, a couple kilos of tomatoes, zucchini, some bell peppers, melon, and I noticed a flat of beautiful figs when I passed the
frutta e verdura
—fruit and vegetable—stand before. I also need to stop at the fish market to see what I will be able to get over the next few days while we’re here.

Walking toward the dock, I stop outside the church of Santa Maria Assunta to get a closer look at the tiles covering its dome. Bright spots in yellow and green. How different it looks from the sea, when all the tiles blend into one monochromatic image. Not so different from my journey, a summer where countless small experiences make up a picture I can’t see while still so close.

It’s time to get back to the boat. In an hour, the anchor will come up, and
Serenity
will be on her way to a secluded spot along the coast.

I drive a little slower on the ride back and admire the beauty of
Serenity
with her smooth white hull, shimmering with reflections from the water at her side. Her masts, booms, and rigging lines silhouetted against the bright morning sky while she sits at anchor still impress me. I feel a certain pride in having this boat as my home as well as my workstation. It has given me a summer I could never have imagined.

I cut the engine, glide toward the galley porthole, and then maneuver the launch against
Serenity.
As I stand on one of the inflated sides of the launch, I put the bowline through an opening in the top of the yacht’s hull, reach over the mahogany rail, and tie it to a cleat near the edge of the deck. I pass my market bag on the boat, and then lift myself on board. I hear awakening movement and voices from down below.

It’s now time to retreat to the galley and prepare another set of meals, different from those I prepared the day before and those that will follow. But I am not thinking about yesterday’s meals or tomorrow’s shopping. I take a last few seconds for the here and now: one last look at the glorious panorama of Positano.

Then I go below to start my day.

BOOK: Mediterranean Summer
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