"Awakening the senses series", the taste
In Les Sables d'Olonne, in a sunny ambiance that is still very mild for the season, the sailors and their teams are sharing the aisles of the Vendée Globe start village with what are still very impressive crowds for this final day of the holiday period. Sébastien Josse is setting off this Sunday for a non-stop, singlehanded race round the world race via the three capes; an event synonymous with ten to eleven weeks of freeze-dried foods and meals eaten whilst clad in foulies, curled up in the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild, where inevitably he doesn't have a table or a galley. In order to round off our series of secrets about the five senses, let's set off this Wednesday on the quest for flavours by discussing taste!
TICKLING YOUR TASTE BUDS
Nourishment is a key issue in offshore endurance. You have to be able to eat well and regularly so as to have enough energy, with a varied diet so as to maintain the desire to eat and the minimum amount of weight so as not to hinder performance. In this way, 90% of the food for the Vendée Globe comprises dehydrated ready-made meals. There is no fresh water aboard (much too heavy!), so Sébastien uses a desalinator; a device which removes the salt from the sea water. The skipper of Gitana 16 is lucky enough to benefit from the talents of Julien Gatillon, the young Michelin-starred chef from Le 1920, a gourmet restaurant in the Rothschild domain of Le Chalet du Mont d'Arbois. In his hands, a squid à l'Armoricaine, a lentil soup or a semolina pudding become something special, even freeze-dried. “I also have some of Julien's dishes fresh in a sachet, which is quite delightful. I also love Poutargue', a roe-based preparation local to the Mediterranean and tinned sardines also become a dish fit for a king! You really attach a great deal of importance to these little pleasures. Once, I managed to keep an orange fresh as far as New Zealand. You keep hold of it as if it was treasure and when you bite into it, it's magical!” The sailor reminds us that the environment changes the tone too. “At home, I love to cook and I take care over the presentation of the dishes, but at sea, you don't eat at a table. You eat crouched down, in foulies... which is completely alien.” And in terms of delicacies? “No chocolate or cereal bars, my thing is sweets: liquorice, Carensac, Dragibus, Arlequins... the French classics!”
The 1920 and the chef Julien Gatillon at the heart of Gitana Team's Vendée Globe
Since the early days of Gitana Team in around 2000, particular attention has gone into the daily lives of the sailors during offshore races with meals designed in the kitchens of Le 1920 gourmet restaurant, at the Chalet du Mont d'Arbois - an entity that forms part of the Domaine du Mont d'Arbois founded by Noémie de Rothschild in 1920 in Megève. The young chef, Julien Gatillon, who was awarded his first star in the Michelin Guide 2014 after just two years spent at the head of the kitchens in Le 1920 restaurant, then a second star in 2016, today concocts for them special dishes drawn up with the Gitana Team and the skipper Sébastien Josse. For the Route du Rhum 2014 edition, the chef and the sailor worked together on recipes adapted to solo racing and also vacuum-packed a daring challenge given the glaring and multiple difficulties that faced the refined stoves of Le 1920 restaurant and the boats' galleys, which have to be minimalist! Indeed, on the most recent of the Gitana fleet, the galley amounts to a simple stove and a kettle; rudimentary equipment which forced the Michelin-starred chef to adapt to the sailor's living conditions.
The taste is also...
THE TASTE FOR EXERTION
“Ah yes, I have that!” agrees Sébastien, the inveterate athlete who particularly loves watersports, surfing, kitesurfing, windsurfing and stand-up paddle, which form an integral part of his physical training along with mountain biking, running and CrossFit. “When you have worked hard to be physically fit, you really like it when things go well, when you feel strong, when you can push hard knowing that it's not going to hurt you. At that point, everything becomes easier and above all more enjoyable at sea!”
THE TASTE FOR COMPETITION
It is surely one of the most important elements and perhaps the most basic. The one that brings about the decision and the desire to go for it. Without it, why put yourself in a universe with so many constraints? “In competition, in offshore racing as in all sports, you have no pity for the other person,” Sébastien admits. “You seek to gain the psychological advantage over your rival. You get a taste of it when he or she is taking a knock whilst things are easy for you. And the reverse of that, when you're going all out and the other person ups the ante again, that's tough. The best elements of your character don't necessarily shine through in such situations. You become aggressive but that's what having determination means. If a competitor is in physical distress, mutual aid kicks in of course, but if it's a competitive distress, you're not necessarily going to wait for them as it's down to each person to gain ground, prepare themselves, sometimes for several years, in order to have the necessary stamina.”
THE TASTE FOR ONESELF
“Self-confidence takes a very long time to build and it requires effort and sacrifice,” explains the skipper who is taking on his fifth round the world in 14 years. “In a Vendée Globe, you alternate between the real highs and the real lows. You're in tip-top condition and then it crumbles around you in a matter of hours. It's a compressed version of what you can experience in life, everything's dense and intense. It's something that can be unsettling for some. You become a bit introspective but it's essential to know yourself in order to perform well. You're face to face with yourself. You cannot hide yourself away, or get help, or step down. So you seek to be all systems go, not other people's systems or those written in the manual, but your systems. Despite all the work, you don't know if you're going to find your own balance or rhythm. The imponderables are too numerous so you just have to go for it, dive into the unknown, there where the adventure aspect nestles.”