It was anchors aweigh, and the seagoing menu included beef filet à I’Arlesienne, medallions of pork in mustard and caper sauce, veal ragout a la Florence, sautéed stuffed breast of chicken. Choice of soups? Five. Vegetables? How about stuffed peppers, ratatouille, marinated eggplant or Tuscan white bean casserole?
Even for the captain’s table on the QE2, the fare would be sumptuous. But it is being served in the tiny cabin of a 30-foot sloop, Clavier, which at this moment is somewhere in the Atlantic. Two American-based Frenchmen are aboard, Jacky Ruette, 39, owner of La Petite Marmite, a New York restaurant, and his maitre d’, Gerard Butruille, 38. “I had planned to go alone,” Ruette says, “but my wife insisted otherwise.”
The voyage is unusual for a couple of reasons. First, the two men are hardly experienced transoceanic sailors, although Ruette has spent recent summers making practice cruises. “Last year we spent three days off Maine in a thick fog,” he recalls. Butruille is a relative landlubber: This is his first long trip under sail. Their crossing is expected to take 26 to 32 days, but regardless of the weather, one forecast is certain: The crew is going gourmet all the way.
Jerky beef and brackish water may be the stuff of sailing legend, but the voyage of the Clavier is being catered by Le Pate Bar of Manhattan. Its owner, Nicola Santilli, gave his friends 45 sealed plastic bags, each containing two portions of a different precooked main course, plus 75 bags of appetizers and vegetables, which need little refrigeration. “You store the bags just below the water-line against the hull, where it is cool,” Jacky explained before departing, “then boil them for five minutes. We can even use ocean water.”
The Clavier is also carrying 72 bottles of Heineken’s beer, to be kept in the main cabin “to balance the boat,” three quarts of Scotch “for relaxation,” three bottles of Meyers’ rum, which mixed with water and honey “gives you strength,” and 18 magnums of French table wine, Père Patriarche. “At sea, you are thirsty,” Ruette pointed out, adding, “It would be foolish to take along good wine, because it wouldn’t travel well; the movement of the boat would disturb its sediments.” Rounding out the diet will be chocolate and cookies for snacking, along with orange juice, eggs and porridge for breakfast.
Jacky Ruette, son of an upholsterer, learned to sail at a school in his native Normandy. At the age of 15, he entered the merchant marine and spent 10 years as a bellboy and then waiter on French passenger ships (Liberié and France). His job enabled him to enroll free for eight months at the Ecole Hôtelière in Le Havre, where he learned the food business.
He came to the United States in 1965. After working at Manhattan’s La Caravelle restaurant for three years, he went into business for himself. Today La Petite Marmite’s clientele numbers Truman Capote, Jackie O, Sen. George McGovern, Shirley Temple and Peter Ustinov.
For the Clavier’s late afternoon departure from South Street Seaport, half a dozen French chefs were on hand. “For me, this trip is the dream of every sailor,” Ruette told them. “Not too many have the guts or the time to do it.” Then, waving bon voyage with a plastic glass of red wine (no breakables on board), Ruette cast off, and Clavier headed east. Her crew looked as if they could hardly wait for dinner.