Sunday, June 17, 2012

How to Eat like a Zillionaire by Elaine Viets

Please welcome, our guest blogger, author Elaine Viets!

Conch salad. Shrimp pasta. Pineapple tart.

I ate them all to research “Final Sail,” my new Dead-End Job mystery.

The food was cooked by yacht chef Victoria Allman, a CIA-trained chef – that’s Culinary Institute of America. Victoria and her husband, Capt. Patrick Allman, work on the Cocoa Bean, a luxury yacht docked in Fort Lauderdale.

Final Sail is set aboard a 143-foot yacht. Private eye Helen Hawthorne works undercover as a stewardess, cleaning and serving the owners and their pampered guests, while she tries to catch an emerald smuggler.
Victoria, Patrick and Gina Soacat, the Cocoa Bean’s head stewardess, spent hours telling me about yacht life for the crew and the owners. They insisted on one mystery: They did  not reveal the yacht’s owners.  They said the Cocoa Bean’s owners are considerate and appreciative.

Some yacht crews are not so lucky.

Suppose you stayed up all night cooking for your employers?

They’ve been partying hard and want a feast when they return in the wee hours. You have their food ready. The owners and guests have a few drinks while you did the finishing touches. Then, when the food’s ready to serve, they went to bed. Not even an apology.

I’d pull a tantrum that would shame a two-year-old.           

But for luxury yachts, that’s par for the course.

Chef Victoria Allman, author of two cooking memoirs, Sea Fare and SEAsoned, gave Mystery Lovers' Kitchen these recipes for conch salad and chocolate lime rum cake, so you can eat the same food as a yacht owner. (See the recipes below.)

I’ve added a small taste of Final SailIn this scene, yacht chef Suzanne Schoomer is preparing dinner for six in the wee hours. Helen and Mira are the two stewardesses who will serve the meal for the yacht owners, Beth and Earl, and their guests, Scotty and Pepper.


The late-night feast was ready for the final preparation: the onion rings were battered, the fries cut, and the grease bubbling in the deep fryer. Thick, marbled steaks rubbed with garlic waited for the grill. The lobster and avocado salads chilling in the fridge looked like pink-and-green abstract art.
           Helen’s stomach growled when she saw them. “They’re gorgeous,” she said, shutting the fridge door.
            It was nearly four o’clock when Beth, Earl and their guests returned. The men’s tuxes looked rumpled and Scotty’s jacket was sprinkled with cigar ashes.
            “I’m starved,” Earl said. “When’s dinner?”  He’d untied his bow tie and the ends dangled on his pleated shirt.
            “I want a T-bone,” Scotty said. “Auto-accident rare.”
            “I could eat a horse,” Pepper said.
            “I could do with a nibble,” Beth said. “We’ll have our lobster salads as soon as the steaks are grilled, Mira.”
            “Let’s have a drink while we wait,” Earl said.
            The first round of scotches and champagne disappeared faster than water in the desert. The second went almost as fast. Suzanne was plating the steaks, fries and onions when Beth told the head stew, “It’s four-thirty. We’re tired. We’re going to bed.”
            “No food, then?” Mira asked.
            “No,” Beth said. “Good night.”
            The party rose, yawning and stretching, and strolled off to their staterooms without another look back.
             The two stews had the dining room dusted and sparkling again in twenty minutes.
            “Nobody ate anything?” Helen asked, as she polished the dining room table.
            “Not a crumb,” Mira said. “They had too much to drink. Scotty, for all his talk about wanting a T-bone, was snoring in his chair after his second scotch. Pepper had to wake him up to go to sleep.”
            “They didn’t even apologize,” Helen said.
            “Don’t have to,” Mira said. “They’re guests.”
            “What happens to the food?” Helen asked Suzanne.
            “Would you like a lobster salad or a T-bone?” the chef asked.
            “Can I have both?” Helen asked. She’d nuked leftovers for her dinner. They were delicious leftovers, but that was hours ago. She was hungry.
            “Fries and onion rings, too, if you want,” the chef said.
             She fixed Helen a plate heaped with steak, onion rings and fries, and handed her a lobster salad. “Go eat in the crew mess,” she said. “I have to bake bread and muffins for breakfast.”
            “Aren’t you angry that they didn’t eat your meal after all your work?” Helen asked.
            “It’s part of the job,” she said, and shrugged. “That’s why they pay me so well. Like I said, it’s their money and their food. If they eat it or throw it out, it’s all the same to me.”                                    

To me, cooking is an art, and those vandals threw it away. How would you feel?

You can read the first chapter of “Final Sail” and see the book trailer at 

~ Elaine

Conch Salad

Serves 4

8 cleaned conchs
2 stalks celery
½ white onion
1 green pepper
1 tomato
½ to 1 scotch bonnet, depending on your heat tolerance
1 orange
3 limes
1 teaspoon sea salt

Dice the conch as small as possible (quarter-inch) to avoid a chewy texture. Dice celery, onion, green pepper and tomato to the same small half-inch dice. Mince the scotch bonnet to as small as possible. Add a little at a time to establish your heat limit. Squeeze the citrus over the mix and season with sea salt. Mix well. Taste and adjust the heat by adding more scotch bonnets.  If you add more citrus you will create a more piquant salad. Serve as a salad.

Chocolate Lime Rum Cake

Serves 12

1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons dark rum
2 tablespoons lime juice

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 1/2 sticks butter
1/3 cup dark rum
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

For the sauce:
In a heavy-bottomed small sauce pot, boil sugar and lime juice.  This will change from a clear color to a golden brown.  This is called caramelizing sugar.  The liquid is extremely hot, so do not touch.  Caramelizing happens quickly, when it starts so watch the pan and remove from heat once it is golden brown.  Carefully add the rum and lime juice.  The liquid will sputter and spit, so stand back.  Return to heat and simmer 30 seconds until the sauce is smooth.  Set aside.

For the cake:

Preheat oven to 325. Grease one loaf pan. In a bowl over simmering water, melt chocolate and butter.  Remove from heat. Beat in rum, milk and sugar.  Beat in dry ingredients ½ cup at a time, incorporating until smooth.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.  Pour into loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour, rotating the pan after half an hour.  Check doneness by inserting a toothpick. If it comes out clean the cake is finished. 

Using the same toothpick, poke holes every centimeter through the cake top to the bottom of the dish.  If the sauce has thickened with cooling, return to heat for 1 minute.  Spoon sauce evenly over the cake.  It will run down the skewer holes to keep cake moist.  Cool and slice. 

Recipes courtesy Victoria Allman - 
Victoria is the author of Sea Fare: A Chef's Journey Across the Ocean
and SEAsoned: A Chef's Journey with Her Captain
Available at: Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and your local independent bookstore


  1. Helena GeorgetteJune 17, 2012 at 1:06 AM

    Your photos are lovely. I am wondering what I could use instead of rum in the cake. I am looking up your books after this post. Thank you :)

    1. Hi Helena:

      I think you will be pleased with this recipe if you use apple juice instead of rum. It needs the "moisture" of liquid, so apple juice will replicate that. Using milk instead will change the texture of the cake, making it "softer", but will work well, as well.
      Good luck!

  2. You've brought back wonderful memories of the many conch salads we ate in the islands. I wish we could get fresh conch here. Funny thing is, I can sometimes find sour oranges, but no conch.

    During our time in the islands, we also saw many yachts and your story rings true. I would find it very frustrating to prepare meals that aren't eaten, but Mira is right about they are guests.

    I enjoy reading books like this that are partially about food and am putting it on my list.

  3. This sounds like a great read with a wonderful peek into the lives of the well-heeled. The recipes have my stomach growling! Thanks for sharing this inside look!

  4. Elaine, what fun. This is Downton Abbey for the high seas! The dishes sound delicious. And your research, well, it goes without saying you do it all for love, right? (Oh, wait, and fun, too!)

    ~Avery aka Daryl

  5. Thanks for joining us today, Elaine. What fun research! At least it sounds like the crews eat well!

    ~ Krista

  6. Wonderful post, Elaine! Thank you for giving us a glimpse into the research you do for the Dead-End Job Mysteries, a fantastic series, and what a fitting source you found in Victoria for FINAL SAIL. Thanks to you and her for sharing those yacht-worthy recipes today with us. Have a great Sunday!

    ~ Cleo

  7. The crews eat extremely well. In fact, the head stew and the yacht chef will check to see if crews have food allergies, or foods they especially dislike. They'll also stock your favorite beverage -- Red Bull, a soda or bottled water -- because they want you happy when you work those brutal hours. Fortunately, the owners are not aboard the yacht 52 weeks a year.

  8. Hi Helena:

    I think you will be pleased with this recipe if you use apple juice instead of rum. It needs the "moisture" of liquid, so apple juice will replicate that. Using milk instead will change the texture of the cake, making it "softer", but will work well, as well.
    Good luck!

  9. I couldn't have that chef's job. I'd take it too personally if the food was ignored. The story would turn into a murder story and not a mystery--it would be obvious who done it!
    The cake sounds yummy. Am I correct that there are two different additions of lime juice in the sauce? First for the caramelizing, then with the rum addition?

    1. Hi Libby:

      You are correct. There are two different additions of lime juice. One when you cook the caramel and the second, larger amount to cool off the caramel.
      The second addition gives the fresh lime flavor to the cake.

  10. Libby, I think you need an expert to answer that question. I'm better at eating than cooking. I'm calling in Chef Victoria for a consultation.