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Marion wrote: I am a sea lover. Seems to be an interesting cruise. david martin Abrahams would love to travel on it.

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Simple Foods Served Versace Style
Joanna Mannington's versatile menu complements the sumptuous decor of Virginia Mia

Picky eaters on board this Spanish-built luxury yacht can rejoice. The amiable chef enjoys catering to charter guests' preferences, and offers several choices at every meal.

Virginia Mia is not the kind of yacht where I expect to find a chef like Joanna Mannington. The 95ft Astondoa has an interior that oozes opulence. The first word the burled paneling brings to mind is "Versace," with a level of adornment so unusual for a charter boat this size, it took me a moment to adjust my mentality when I stepped aboard in Genoa, Italy, for lunch.

 One look at the gold-trimmed throw pillows and high-gloss varnish, and I, a huge fan of simple, healthy food, assumed the chef would rely on three ingredients that held little interest for me that afternoon: escargot, foie gras, and caviar.

As I sat at the dining table, my fears fomented. The china was as stunning as the skylight in the yacht's forward office, the flatware glimmering as brightly as the decorative mirror inlaid within the main saloon's overhead. I was in the mood for a light salad and perhaps some fish or chicken. This, I thought, is not likely to be my day.

 Mannington's appetizer arrived a few moments later, served by a perfectly primped steward wearing a crisp white shirt. To my surprise, the dish was far from a foofed-up version of high cuisine. Mannington had slow-roasted a sweet red pepper, then stuffed it with a mixture of fennel, anchovies, goat cheese, and basil. The portion was perfectly sized, and the texture and taste were delightful.

While the crew cleared our quickly emptied plates, the other guests and I made small talk about Virginia Mia's base rate. It is an appropriate $45,000 per week in the Mediterranean this summer, but will be only $32,000 per week in the Bahamas this winter. That's for six guests, plus additional room in the forward office, which has a sleeper sofa and en suite head. Quite a deal, I thought. It made me wonder just how versatile the crew of four might actually be.

 Part of the answer came a moment later, when the stewardess announced that Mannington had a choice of main courses available for us: warm veal salad with a creamy herb-tomato dressing, or fresh tuna salad with citrus marinade and mint. Unusual, I thought, that a chef would prepare two entirely separate dishes for a lunch party of just six people. I opted for the tuna, which was served sashimi style. The portion was perfect, with a zesty taste to match. The sudden silence from the gentlemen who ordered the veal told me they would much rather chew than chat.

The rest of my answer about versatility came during dessert, for which Mannington had prepared a choice of three dishes: champagne jelly with fresh berries and cream; ginger cone with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce; or chocolate fruit and nut terrine. Now, it's one thing for a charter chef to offer two main-course options, but three different desserts, as well? I was impressed, and not just by the chocolate high I was soon experiencing.

 I wandered into Virginia Mia's galley to meet this wonder chef, still half-thinking she might be an epaulet-clad grad of Le Cordon Bleu. What I found was a cheerful, if not downright sunny, cropped-hair Kiwi who has done everything from managing large cafes to circumnavigating on a historic ship to spending an entire season in the Antarctic.

The tuna, I told her, was exquisite.

"I've just been in Taiwan and China," she replied with a grin, "so Asian is a specialty."

She seemed a million miles away from the ornate interior as she stressed her ideas about simple, low-fat, low-sodium foods. She also said she's happy to work for charter guests who are picky.

"Some people don't eat pork, some don't eat fish, so I like to offer options," she explained.

As for the array of choices she had prepared for us, Mannington said that's just the way she likes to run her galley. Nods of agreement from the crew made me believe her when she said that she always offers choices, especially for dinners.

"It depends on the guests and where we are," she said. "If we're out on charter where it's a little more difficult (to provision), I'll talk to them about what they want for the day."

Like I said, Mannington's lighthearted attitude wasn't what I expected to find aboard such a heavily decorated yacht. What a wonderful surprise for people of all tastes.

About Kim Kavin
Kim Kavin is an award-winning writer, editor, and photographer whose work has appeared in newspapers and magazines worldwide. Her more than ten years as a professional journalist include three as the executive editor of Yachting. She is currently the charter and cruising editor for Power and Motoryacht. Kim's work takes her around the globe to inspect boats and meet crew, all with an eye toward helping readers understand what they will get for their money when choosing a charter yacht or a cruising destination. Kim is an officer on the board of directors of Boating Writers International, a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, a graduate of the prestigious Dow Jones editing program, and an alumna of the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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