Preparing mouth-watering meals for guests is never easy, especially when they’re out-and-about exploring most of the day and building up big appetites. Add in being located on a boat, with waves, constant motion and potential seasickness – working in a small kitchen – and the challenge gets even harder! Finally, add in the fact that you happen to be sailing around the beautiful but remote Galapagos Islands (with only two food drops per week) and the challenge becomes nigh impossible. For Estuardo Vilela, head chef of the Ecoventura fleet of luxury yachts, this is just a normal week at work. Sam Bradley found a gap in his busy schedule to ask him how he manages.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?
I grew up in Guayaquil and had a very happy, normal childhood with lots of time playing outdoors with friends.
At what age did you realise you have a love for cooking and food? And did you have a mentor or childhood hero that helped you learn to cook?
My mother helped me to start cooking at a very young age, although I can’t remember exactly how young. And no, there were no particular heroes or mentors… I think cooking is just in my blood; it’s what I was born to do.
Can you tell us what a normal day in your life onboard Theory looks like?
Work starts at 5am and is non-stop until 10pm at night – my only rest is a 30 min lunch break squeezed in sometime in the afternoon. I have one sous chef who works with me and the two of us are responsible for all meals on board (for guests and crew). The hours are long and the work is hard, but I’m on a “6 week on / 6 week off” rota which certainly helps.
Producing amazing meals for twenty guests, three times a day, and in a pretty small kitchen (that is constantly moving!) must be very stressful. How do you cope with the pressure?
A love for cooking and passion for the job! Those are the only things that can get me through the stressful times.
What is the hardest part of the job?
Time away from home and family, especially missing big events like children’s birthdays. Wifi on board makes it a bit easier with skype and whatsapp, but it’s still difficult.
What is the most exotic dish you have ever made?
Not long ago we had a charter group on board, and one of the guests had organised rare white truffles. I was very excited to be preparing these for the first time, and the client happened to also be a chef so together we prepared a delicious risotto.
Have you had any particularly memorable incidents in the kitchen?
Early on in my career I was working in a hotel in Guayaquil. I was running with a plate of vegetables when I tripped and fell into an oven which happened to be open. Luckily it was off at the time so I didn’t burn myself, but I did get teased by my colleagues for quite a while.
Do you get to see parts of the Galapagos Islands, and do you have a favourite island or beach?
Yes, a perk of the job is that we do get to know the islands quite well, and I think the most beautiful place actually happens to be very close to where we are anchored right now. Bartholomew Island, particularly the iconic view from the top looking down, has become my favourite place.
Ecoventura operates in an incredibly fragile ecosystem. Can you tell us what you, and the company, are doing in terms of sustainability and conservation?
Yes of course. The regulations are very strict in the Galapagos Islands, and rightly so. Ecoventura is doing a lot to support this, such as getting rid of single-use plastic and recycling as much as possible. For my role in the kitchen we source as much food locally as possible – for example, the lobsters that were served at lunch yesterday were all bought at the local market. We source 70% of the food from the local islands, and it’s only the items that are not available locally, such as beef, which we have to bring over from the Ecuadorian mainland.
Lots of efforts is being taken to protect the Galapagos Islands. What do you think they will look like in 50 years’ time?
That’s a tough question, because over the last few years I’ve seen it change quite a lot. The number of tourists has grown, which has meant more food produced, more fish caught for the markets and more tourist boats operating around the islands. Having said that, the government has done really well to try and restrict activities in order to protect these islands. There are restrictions in place to prevent overfishing, and a limit to the number of tourist boat permits issued, which helps a lot. I really hope that these efforts are successful, and the islands will still be just as special in 50 years’ time as they are now.
What is your favourite part of the job?
It sounds like a cliché but it’s true – smiling happy guests are the best reward. And it’s even better when we have “foodie” guests on board, clients who are very passionate about food and ask me lots of questions, or want to get into the kitchen and get involved with some of the food preparation.
More information: Visit www.ecoventura.com for details of the cruises.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Sam Bradley and I traveled together on Ecoventura in December 2019. He interviewed Chef Estuardo and I filmed Sam’s antics! Enjoy the video:
Want to read more?
See all of our adventures in the Galapagos by video: CLICK HERE
Part Two: Traveling on Ecoventura’s Theory in the Galapagos Islands