Damien Thompson is not one of those highly temperamental chefs you see on television. He respects Chef Gordon Ramsey’s talent and culinary portfolio, but he describes his own personality as pretty laid-back. Thompson’s galley is always on an even keel (even when heeling over). Fat Freddy’s Drop, a band that mixes jazz, roots, techno and blues, is likely to be occupying the sound system as he assiduously creates his edible works of art.
Thompson, head chef aboard the 350-foot (106.7-meter) Oceanco Black Pearl, grew up on the Mornington Peninsula an hour south of Melbourne, Australia. The landscape there is bucolic with boutique vineyards, small farms, and seaside villages dotted with gourmet cafés and restaurants. Whereas most teenage boys sneak beers from their parents’ fridge, Thompson was more apt to be musing over the brightness, complexity and finish of a pinot noir grown in his home territory.
“For me, food, wine and friends is an ideal pairing,” Thompson says. “I love dining with friends and family. I also love to host dinner parties.”
His parents were in the hospitality business, and he learned a lot about food and wine from them. After culinary school, Thompson worked as a sous chef at a new restaurant, The Shearing Shed on Phillip Island offshore from Melbourne. The chef quit after six months, and Thompson was promoted to head chef at age 23. That year, the establishment won the best new restaurant award for the area.
After some other jobs including one at a French Moroccan fusion restaurant in Victoria, Thompson picked up the travel bug. Like many young Aussies who go on walkabout, Thompson was determined to see the world. He figured there was no better way than aboard a yacht.
So far, he has exclusively worked on sailing yachts—and of course, Black Pearl is not just any sailboat. She is the largest privately owned sailing yacht in the world, and arguably the most innovative sailing yacht afloat.
”I find the environment challenging,” he says, “and being adaptable is key, especially when you’re actually sailing and cooking for guests. Improvisation plays a huge part in your menus, and so does the location where you are.”
Since the yacht is sometimes in remote places where the produce is limited, Thompson created an onboard galley garden.
“Although it is only small, it produces a nice quantity of herbs and uncommon garnishes like shiso, borage and violas that come in handy when you need to give that plate a little lift,” he says.
Thompson creates a healthy menu that he says will leave Black Pearl’s guests satisfied, but not overwhelmed. All his meats and fish are sourced using sustainable suppliers or organic labels when possible. His scallop dish can be made with store-bought ponzu (as long as it’s good quality), and the seaweed can be replaced with fresh herbs such as coriander and mint.
“A chef must always be flexible,” he says.
Spiced olive and fig sourdough with local ginger-honey butter
Smoked local mussel, baba ghanoush, pomegranate and sweet onion
Époisse cheese, pickled grapes and chanterelle mushrooms with homemade ciabatta
Autumn garden organic baby carrots, soft goat feta, quince, pickled baby beetroot
Cured Norwegian king scallop, rhubarb ponzu, rhubarb, sea sprouts, garden shiso
Dover sole, hazelnut pesto, organic buttermilk, licorice, charred spring onion
Wild pigeon confit leg, pickled blackberries, Jerusalem artichoke, miso aubergine, pigeon and madeira jus
Baileys custard tart, stewed apple sorbet, gingerbread