Shantala, a name that suggests a woman of free spirit. Someone warm, with a soft nature and a beautiful contagious smile. Someone outgoing and confident but humble and intriguing. A name that couldn’t be more suited to my friend Shala. We’ve been friends many years, but I rarely see her as she’s spent the last few years sailing on a super yacht to beautiful places around the world, creating world class dishes for their owners and guests. Dishes that in my opinion outshine those featured on the covers of top Gastronomy Magazines, yet only experienced in the dining rooms of her yachts and seen in the pages of her blog Steps in Thyme.
This is a story that has seen Shala find her happiness, her direction and her passion simply by saying yes to an unexpected vacancy, completely outside of her comfort zone. A simple yes to a somewhat unknown opportunity that bumped her into creating, building and crafting herself the most intriguing, culturally rich lifestyle imaginable.
This is Shantala, and this is her delicious story …
I call home:
NZ is home for sure. I have a Swedish father, an Irish mother and my first language is French so my roots are very much European, but I’m a kiwi kid at heart. I was bought up on Waiheke Island, and though I’ve travelled to some breathtaking places with my job there’s really no place in the world that gives me that same high like coming home.
I am single. It’s hard to hold down a relationship doing what I do, but it also leaves a lot of space to work on the creative aspects of my life.
I’m a chef. A career I don’t think I would have chosen intentionally, but somehow (thankfully) it found me! I starting out my yachting career as a stewardess, a job that didn’t exactly thrill me but it was my ticket into a life on the ocean, of free travel and adventure. I would have taken any job if it meant it gave me a place on a boat.
One day the chef on my boat was sick so I offered to help make light meals for the guests. I’ve always loved cooking, though I never thought I would do it professionally. My captain planted the seed that I should look into becoming a second or crew chef. I wasn’t convinced that I was capable but within days a trainee chef role came up on a friends boat, I applied, got the job and that was really how it all started!
That was five years ago, since then I’ve slowly worked my way up into a sole chef position on a sailing yacht.
What do you love most about your career?
No day is the same and nothing is mundane. Working on yachts means we are always entering new harbours – that means new and interesting produce/ ingredients to work with. I get so excited when I find something new with a flavour I haven’t used before.
And of course the travel is a bit of a perk to the job too. I’ve been on my recent boat for three years. In that time we’ve crossed the Atlantic twice, travelled from the States, to central America, Galapagos Islands, Norway, Holland, the Mediterranean, Croatia, all through the Caribbean and most recently back to the States.
How do you keep your food style fresh in an ever growing and expanding industry?
I’m constantly inspired by other chefs for ways to progress creatively. If I have a quiet day, I always fill the gaps by recipe testing and coming up with inventive ways to highlight an ingredient.
Over the last year I’ve been staging in a few restaurants to try and gain new skills and techniques that I might not otherwise learn working on my own. Earlier this year I staged at Orphans Kitchen in Ponsonby. I’d say this has been one of the most inspiring times in my career to date. They have a great harmony there. I was so impressed. Not just in the quality and innovation of the food coming out of the kitchen but in the way that the kitchen itself was run. There’s such a sense of respect between kitchen and floor staff alike – And they have fun, they love what they do and that shines through what they create.
What have you accomplished in your 30’s that you’re most proud of?
I bought my little home on Waiheke Island just over a year ago. If you’d told my 28 year old self I’d be a homeowner in a few years, I would have laughed! Impossible – I was too busy boosting down every obtainable ski slope and wasting each paycheck on new gear and bar tabs.
Once I hit 30 though I made that decision in my mind, I wrote it down on a piece of paper and stuck it on my wall so that every day I was reminded of what I wanted to achieve and when – it was just a matter of illuminating the path that lead to it and saying no to life’s temptations in order to obtain it!
I’m an avid goal writer – I’ve discovered the incredible pleasure of attaining your dreams simply by writing and believing. Buying a house could be classed as a pretty materialistic goal to some, but it’s something I’ve always dreamed of. Having a space that is my own, where I feel free! It’s more than the dollar value or the investment – It’s a childhood fantasy of a place called home.
What’s been the biggest challenge you have faced in your thirties and how has this affected you?
I kicked off my thirties with some really challenging personal hurdles. Life is damn unpredictable at times, but learning to deal with a painful situation in a positive light has been a rewarding challenge.
I’ve now moved into a peaceful place in my life and it’s what I learnt through those difficult times that have helped me reach this place of calm.
I live a life rich in travel, experience and meaningful relationships. There’s so much to be grateful for. Hardships and life’s trials are part of the experience of course but finding positive lessons in those situations only strengthens who we become and how peacefully we deal with future challenges.
This I try to apply in my personal life as well as in the kitchen/galley. It’s a constant classroom out there in all aspects of life.
I have never seen you without a smile firmly planted on your face, your happiness is infectious and that’s what I love about you. What keeps that smile so beautiful?
Haha smiling comes easy when you’re surrounded by people who bring out the best in you, but I guess it’s more than that. I put the work in – my own personal development is something that I practice daily. As I get older I’m learning to be lighter, gentler, and less judgmental of myself as well as those around me. When you let the little ‘shit’ go, have a bit of compassion and recognise that everyone has their own struggles, life is as peaceful as you’re willing to make it. And it’s a whole lot more enjoyable too.
Finding your calm and donning a cracker smile goes a long way – not only for yourself but those you share your world with.
What’s in the future?
Since discovering my love of cuisine and finding my groove in life, I’ve been working really hard at learning as much as I can about food culture around the world. About sustainable food practices, seasonal ingredients and interesting flavour combinations, as well as fine tuning my own personal cooking style so I can turn all this ‘culinary energy’ in the direction of home and open something in New Zealand.
There’s much more exciting stuff to come in my 30s but for now I’m cultivating all I can abroad to one day open a ‘home’ like my own to share with NZ.
I absolutely love getting lost amongst the pages of Shalas beautful blog. I am just so dam proud of this girl and when I look at some of the beautiful dishes she creates and the way she so elegantly plates them, I am literally covered in goosebumps of love and admiration.
To follow the adventures of NZs next ‘Michelin Star Chef in the making’ or if you need a top up of creative inspiration follow her here:
30vs30 is a place to celebrate and embrace all the unique lifestyles lived by woman in their thirties. Your thirties doesn’t necessarily mean marriage, babies and kids. It’s now ten years of your life to craft out lifestyle that works for you, that inspires you to be true to yourself and what makes you genuinely happy and content, not what society expects out of you. If that means preparing luscious meals abroad a sailing yacht in the Mediterranean or living in a villa in Bali in between jobs in TV production, then I think thats fricken awesome and a story well worth a share.