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raja ampat culinary expedition with private chef part 1

Raja Ampat Culinary Expedition I

For nine days the luxury phinisi sailing boat traversed the magnificent islands of Raja Ampat, with guests enjoying spectacular palm fringed beaches, crystal clear coral lagoons and exhilarating diving and snorkelling adventures – including manta ray encounters. Against a stunning backdrop of lush island scenery, guests were treated to a tantalising gourmet menu of freshly caught fish, inspired salads, divine desserts, sensational cocktails and the finest imported wines.


From the thrill of swimming with a whale shark, to paddleboarding through a labyrinth of limestone caves, to hosting enchanting candlelit dinners on pristine beaches, Shane shares his epic experiences and mouth-watering menu from this highly memorable journey into a land that time forgot.


Touching down at Sarong Airport, I was met by the Cruise Director and chef. We made a quick stop at a lobster farm then headed to the colourful local fish market where I picked up fresh mahi mahi, red snapper, baby squid and a magnificent 20kg yellow fin tuna. Arriving at the harbour we were welcomed by the incredible sight of the Amandira, a traditional-style, double-masted teak phinisi sailing boat which would be my luxury floating home for the next 10 days. The smiling crew welcomed the assembled guests on board with fragrant ice-cold fresh ginger and lemongrass virgin mojitos. Our Raja Ampat adventure began as we cruised out of the harbour, enjoying a light lunch of tuna sashimi, baby gem salad with local honey dressing and chargrilled cauliflower with lemon and almond.


Our first stop was Manatan, a gorgeous and totally deserted small island just two hours from Sarong, where crew set up the umbrellas on a picture-perfect white sand beach. While some of our party stretched out in the shade for a siesta to wear off jetlag, the rest of us took refreshing dips in the emerald green water and floated across the calm waters on paddle boards, relishing the sensation of being well and truly off the beaten track.


In the afternoon the crew served Champagne for the ladies and beers for the gents as well as virgin cucumber mojitos and fresh coconuts cracked right on the beach. As the sun sank towards the horizon we headed back onboard for sunset canapes of tuna tartar served with an Italian soave, then moved down to the main deck for dinner where we found a beautifully-set dining table lit with egg shell lamps. I headed into the kitchen to work with the chefs preparing the live lobster we had picked up from the lobster farm that morning, which we served with baby chilli caper butter, lemon and shaved fennel. Side dishes included lemon thyme garlic new potatoes, sautéed kale with buttered almonds and peppered rocket salad with pomegranate. Dessert was a crunchy banana parfait with hazelnut praline.


Cruising through the night, we awoke to find ourselves in a small group of islands known as Balbulol – an area of breath taking natural beauty with soaring limestone karsts jutting out of the crystal clear water. The water was so translucent that you could see the coral reefs glistening just below the surface.


Our first dive was an easy drift dive on a vibrant reef where we saw small schooling jack fish, bat fish and a large turtle. A hearty breakfast on board followed – with tropical fruits, home-made granola, berries and yoghurt, and spiced egg white omelettes with avocado salsa. We then jumped in the tender to explore Laboon, an area of picturesque coral lagoons, rocky islands covered in lush green foliage and a hidden jelly fish lake. The morning passed soaking up the stunning scenery as we kayaked, swam and flew the drone. Lunch was garlic and lemon grilled baby squid followed by grilled mahi mahi with green mango, tomato and lime salsa, with sides of hazelnut buttered green beans and arugula and pear salad, followed by coconut sorbet for a light dessert.

Setting sail for Farondi, the ladies enjoyed deep tissue massages, while the rest of us lounged around on the top deck before indulging in a light afternoon tea of scones with vanilla cream and jam. I spotted a local fisherman and we took the tender out to meet him and managed to buy two magnificent 10kg Spanish mackerel – fish just doesn’t get any fresher than that!  The top deck was set up for sunset canapes of chilli-floured and fried baby squid tentacles and tartar of tuna with avocado and soy, accompanied with Prosecco, and Hendriks gin and cucumber tonics. The Spanish mackerel were turned into sashimi served with home-made pickled ginger for the evening’s starter. The two snapper we had brought from Sarong were prepared in a delicious salt bake and served with dill lemon potato and fennel gratin, grilled asparagus and garlic confit, and honey mustard dressed baby spinach leaves. Dessert was chocolate crepes with Amaretto Belgium chocolate sauce, roasted almonds and raspberry. The night sky was blazing with starlight and a few of us pulled the daybeds out onto the deck to sleep under the stars.


We dove Farondi Caves just as the sun inched its way up over the horizon. First you have to swim through a tunnel which opens up to a wide cave brimming with stalactites. Beams of sunlight stream through a natural skylight in the roof of the cave and the floor is covered in soft coral bommies in vibrant hues of red and yellow. There is tonnes of marine life – we even spotted a couple of grey sharks, then came across a pod of dolphins after swimming back through the tunnel. On the way back to Amandira, we spotted a fisherman and I bought the live tropical barramundi that he had just reeled in – perfect for dinner!


We refuelled on board with a breakfast of fresh pressed juices, tropical fruit, labneh zaatar and avocado poached eggs with chilli salt, then prepared for our next dive at Three Sisters.  Here three towering limestone pillars jut out of the sea floor and are covered with an amazing array of corals. There were schooling fish everywhere and we also spotted parrot fish and even a lone manta ray.


Lunch was seared tuna and sambal matah with Bali lime, ponzu with crispy garlic, Spanish mackerel tartar and baby cos salad with avocado and lemon dressing with almonds, with a mango parfait to finish. In the afternoon we saw a small local boat and a few kids splashing around in the water. It turned out that they had spotted a six-metre whale shark so we grabbed our masks and snorkels and jumped in with them – swimming within a metre of the shark. It is truly humbling to be in the water with such a majestic creature and it was definitely an experience that none of us will ever forget.


Sunset saw Aperol spritzes on the top deck served with soybeans toasted with lime and chilli salt. I then prepared a dinner of saffron & lobster bisque followed by the tropical barramundi baked paupiette in lemon, shallot, dill and served with garlic baby potatoes, parsley-buttered sweet corn and roasted baby Dutch carrots basted in cumin and honey. As the crew set sail for Tomolol, we indulged in a sublime dessert of red wine, vanilla and cinnamon spiced poached pears with white chocolate and mascarpone.


We woke to a sunny clear morning and a family-style breakfast of Spanish baked eggs with spinach, tomato basil and thyme, grilled sourdough and olive oil, washed down with slow pressed carrot, ginger and turmeric lime juice. Climbing into the tender we weaved through small rocky islands lapped by a sapphire sea with glimpses of tiny coves of blinding white sand. Laying anchor in front of a mountainous island we hiked up a steep trail to find a stunning lagoon rimmed by jungle clad cliffs right in the middle of the mountain.  As if the scenery wasn’t stunning enough, there were thousands of orange jelly fish all skimming the top of the lake to collect the sun rays. Free from predators the jellyfish that live here have developed stingless bodies, giving us a quite surreal and very unique opportunity to swim with these incredible creatures as they dart and glide through the water.


Hiking back to the beach we cooled down with a quick dip in the coral garden pools then stopped at a couple of isolated white sand beaches for snorkelling on the way back to Amandira. I joined the chefs to prepare a lunch of fresh sashimi of wahoo which the crew had bought from a fisherman while we were at the lake, which I seasoned with ponzu, chives and fermented ginger, this was followed by chargrilled five spiced baby chicken with cucumber and mint yogurt sauce and shaved fennel and arugula salad. Roasted coconut semi fredo made a tasty dessert.

Following a well-deserved siesta we then got back in the tender to visit Tomolol Caves, passing several pearl farms on the way and more of that spectacular island scenery. The extensive system of limestone caves is set within a calm sheltered lagoon surrounded by lush greenery and gleaming blue shallow water which makes it unbelievably exotic. Carved out by seawater over millions of years the lagoon meanders through the caverns and there are several tunnels you can follow.  We explored the incredible rock scenery by kayak and paddle board, then enjoyed a late afternoon cruise through the channels, sipping Chablis and cold beers that the crew had thoughtfully packed for us. A wahoo and a yellow fin tuna caught by a local fishermen we passed along the way were purchased for the following day’s dinner.


Back on the top deck of Amandira we indulged in sunset canapes of prawn rice paper rolls and sate lilit (Indonesian fish satay) and for dinner I made a sweet corn soup with coriander, coconut milk and curded wahoo. Main course was a crispy skin barramundi with corn puree, dill and mangosteen salsa with lime butter and buttered basil braised haricot beans. Dessert was fresh raspberries with white chocolate sabayon. While we fell into a deep dreamy sleep the crew navigated our way to the Pele Region.


Our morning dive at Kaleidoscope Ridge revealed schooling barracuda, bat fish, banded sea snakes and 25 metre ridges to explore. Breakfast was a treat – our usual tropical fruit and homemade granola with the addition of rum and raisin French toast with clotted cream and spiced honey, and yogurt and soursop smoothies. We then sailed for an hour towards the islands of Romeo and Juliet (yuliet in Bahasa). We had a good current dive off Romeo, seeing grey sharks, loads of large nudi branches, giant schools of trevally and feeding turtles. Once we surfaced the light rain showers of the morning had cleared and we headed back for a late lunch on yet another spectacular hidden beach. I prepared wahoo with nam jim dressing and a pomelo and green mango salad with grilled prawns, coriander and lime.


The ladies had a lighter vegan version with carrot, green mango, pomelo, lime, mint and coriander with crunchy peanuts. Guava sorbet, coco granita and coconut foam in a martini glass was dessert. After, we enjoyed the beach and the sparkling clear waters where baby black tips swam around us to make a very special afternoon. It was sunset by the time we headed back to Amandira to refresh and I prepared a light supper for everyone of fresh gazpacho with avocado and mackerel tartar with lemon oil, and family-style angel hair pasta with urchin butter and chives. Dessert was orange and Belgium chocolate pots with vanilla sable biscuit. After dinner was finished, we stretched out on the top deck for a spot of star gazing while sailing towards Daram.

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