After winning a cook-off competition in Monaco aged 19, James Howard landed his first season as a superyacht chef in the Med. Now, as Executive Chef of 52__m Latitude, Howard talks about the delights of street food and why cooking is like poetry.
“What I love most about my job is that I get to experience different produce from all over the world, taste interesting new foods; the limits are endless. Also, the social aspect — I’ve made some good friends from all walks of life.
One thing I’ve learned on the job is patience. Working on a superyacht is quite the opposite to a busy kitchen. Patience plays a big part as a crewmember to get along with everyone, even in the most heated moments. As a chef, you are a centrepiece to that — you have people whizzing through all day. I try to keep the banter going, lift people’s spirits, and give them a hug if they need one.
I’m traditionally trained in French gastronomy, but that’s just a base. I like to cook with flair…I never know how I’m going to plate until the last minute. A few weeks ago, whilst plating, I was told, “Your cooking is like poetry.” When I plate, the galley is spotless, music is on, and I’m focused. There is no stress and it has to flow like an orchestra.
My style of cooking is a constant work in progress. I try to learn something new every day. I dream of dishes and combine flavours at night and write them down in a little notebook. If I go to a country I’ve never been to before, I buy all the things I’ve never seen and experiment with them. A market in a new country is like Disneyland for me.
My favourite cuisine: I’d have to go with street food because it’s real food without the makeup. The streets of Mexico and Thailand is where you will see me at my happiest. I’ve been around the world and I haven’t got sick once from eating street food, so don’t let the rustic appearance put you off. The hardest question to answer for any chef is their favourite dish. if I’m cooking for myself, nothing beats a big bowl of fresh pasta.
The ideal guest is someone who gives me carte blanche. The strangest request I’ve ever received: Cooking for guests’ pets — “The same as we are eating please.” Oh, a 15-course tasting menu for your cat? Erm, no."