A Conversation with Bill Howe, Chef Aboard the Windjammer Angelique

He’s wearing green suspenders and a thick black beard; he’s compact and tattooed and looks as if he wrestles bears in his spare time. He is easygoing, a born sailor and skilled craftsman. His cooking philosophy emphasizes technique, and in his current position, his improvisation skills have been honed to a fine point. This is his first summer aboard the Angelique. He’s been on since April, and plans to sail south with some of the other crew members when the season here ends. In a sunny spot in the deckhouse, he’s growing lemon balm, sage, thyme, and parsley. He uses fresh herbs as much as he can. He has had to adapt his style somewhat to the cramped quarters and finite inventory of the ship. His homemade sausage made with pork shoulder, garlic, onion, sage and red pepper flakes is a major crowd-pleaser, setting a high standard of excellence for the duration of the cruise.

William Howe is the current chef on one of The Maine Windjammer Association’s most beautiful ships. He’s been working in kitchens around New England for over a decade, has trained and taught at the Cordon Bleu in New Hampshire, and when not making amazing food, is a scuba instructor in the Caribbean islands. Most recently, he was in the back of the house at Petite Jacqueline, one of our favorite restaurants in Portland’s West End. He was good enough to chat with me about what it’s like cooking for twenty-five eager passengers in a tiny open galley on a 95 foot schooner.

Cooking on a Maine Windjammer

He talks about performing in “the fishbowl.” He enjoys it, he tells me, eyes twinkling. Bill is a natural teacher, happy to share his methods with curious foodies armed with iPhone cameras. The Captain, listening in on our interview, jokes that Bill is a “babe magnet”, a truth I will witness firsthand. After every meal, he is surrounded by women hanging on his every ingredient. It did take him some time to find his groove cooking in such a small space for a throng of hungry passengers willingly trapped on a schooner in Penobscot Bay, but now that he has, his creativity is thriving.

For lunch on the first day of our cruise, he made a classic fish chowder, a recipe he created specifically for the Angelique. He uses large pieces of hake, cooked very gently so the fish retains its firm texture, as well as tarragon and dill, milk and heavy cream, potatoes and bacon, garlic, onions, celery and fish stock in a heavenly, rich, yet somehow light soup that is savory and satisfying, accompanied by buttery biscuits. This signature dish is the lunch passengers will remember in the middle of January, stuck inside on a gloomy gray day, and fervently wish they could be back on the Angelique in high Summer.

He works on a Dickinson Beaufort, a kerosene-fueled diesel stove in a galley he designed and built himself. A place for everything, and everything in its place. He’s become intimate with its hot spots and can now cook with expert precision on the temperamental European-style graduated flat top. He can accommodate any dietary requirements, given advance notice, even whipping up a Kosher chowder using roasted corn and cornstarch.

Cooking on a Maine Windjammer

And don’t worry if you don’t like fish, can’t eat wheat, or are a vegetarian. Peanut butter, bread and jelly are available at every meal, there’s a big bowl of fruit in the deckhouse, and the crew is always happy to prepare plain buttered pasta or hot dogs or veggies to meet an individual’s needs. From the blueberry pancakes with real Maine maple syrup to our final breakfast of bagels with all the trimmings, including the gravlax Bill cures himself, meals aboard the Angelique are stunningly good.

Lunch had only just ended when we sat down, but it was time to get the beef tips marinating for dinner. The Angelique’s clever, talented chef had a busy afternoon ahead. The Captain, again overhearing our conversation (to be fair, we were hanging out literally “in his wheelhouse”) offered some insight into the ways the cuisine aboard Maine Windjammers has changed in that last twenty years. Food on ship used to be fairly utilitarian – comfort classics like lasagna and meatloaf. Now that chefs are stars and food preparation has its own TV network, finding a guy who understands the chemistry of food, who cooks with his head and his heart, is a real boon for business.

A post on the Angelique’s food would be incomplete without mentioning the baker on board, CIA graduate Sarah, who made sure we had dessert at every meal. From wild Maine blueberry and peach custard pie to super gooey brownies to gingerbread soaked in Maine maple syrup topped with whipped cream, she consistently turned out homey, delicious sweets. She was also responsible for the biscuits I haven’t stopped thinking about, and a granola I didn’t just pretend to like. One night after dinner, we sat in the deckhouse salon and she shared with me the recipe she used for gingerbread cake.

Cooking on a Maine Windjammer

The Angelique’s Gingerbread Cake
Adapted from The New England Cookbook by Brooke Dojny

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 11/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup ginger candy
  • Maple syrup
  • Unsweetened whipped cream

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and grease a 8 x 8 inch baking pan with butter and flour. In a large mixing bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer cream butter and sugar. Add molasses, corn syrup, eggs, and orange juice. Stir in dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in ginger candy and pour into prepared pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the cake is deep brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Pour maple syrup over still-warm cake and top with unsweetened whipped cream to serve.

Cooking on a Maine Windjammer

Disclaimer: We were invited aboard the Angelique by the Maine Windjammer Association, to sample their recently-overhauled on-board menu, with no further obligation to cover the topic on our website. All photos and opinion are my own, and I have not been otherwise compensated for including them here.

Jillian Bedell

Jillian Bedell is a writer and mother living in a farmhouse in Cushing, Maine. She is very good at talking about herself in the third person. She is co-author of Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road. She creates content on the internet, on subjects ranging from summer camps to semi-precious stones to the folklore of food. With Malcolm, Jillian was one of the original “Insiders,” for the Visit Maine tourism campaign. She loves telling the stories of her adopted state, finding out-of-the-way places, and people making interesting things. Watching her daughters play in the wild woods and fields of Cushing makes her very happy.

4 Comments

  1. Both this and your account of the food and atmosphere on the ship were riveting reads. I especially appreciate the photos of food and scenery, both of which made me drool. I immediately looked at the Windjammer site–and I now know where I’m going and what I’m doing for my next holiday!

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  2. Another fabulous write-up, Jilly…I’m right there with you in that galley, learning every step of the way, and longing for the fish chowder. And the ginger cake you made once back in your own kitchen is wonderful…I’ve only got one piece left! Apparently, there’s nothing you can’t do!

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