MORRO BAY — Leonard Gentieu is an interesting man. He has managed to marry together his love for cooking and a lifelong dream of owning a yacht. These are two things that don’t necessarily go together, but Gentieu has been able to pull it off successfully.
Many of us have dreams that often turn out to be impossible to achieve, but we never stop yearning for them. Gentieu’s journey to owning a yacht and using his culinary talents aboard it is a moving and humorous tale.
It all began when he was 10 years old living near the Delaware River. He spent his spare time leafing through yachting magazines and watching the boats ply the river waters. “I always wanted a yacht,” Gentieu said, as we sipped some Cabernet together recently while the rain poured down the sides of the Pappagallo II moored in Morro Bay harbor. “When I turned 55 I said to my wife, this is it.”
They proceeded to sell their home in Cambria, where for six years Gentieu served as Executive Chef for Linn’s Restaurant where he was responsible for all the food services for their combined businesses. Gentieu began his search for the right boat. It took four years to find the yacht. The search took him to New Orleans, Vancouver, Washington, Oregon, and San Diego. “I finally located what I wanted in San Rafael,” he said.
The yacht was owned by Gallo Salami and was a corporate yacht. Gentieu made an offer and bought the boat. The broker handling the sale asked him what he was moving up from, a sailing vessel, a cabin cruiser? Gentieu had never owned a boat before. He answered, “No, I’m moving up from a kayak!” The broker’s face fell and in a dismaying voice asked again, “Do you know what you are getting into? This is a 72-foot boat. You may not want to buy it.”
Gentieu was impressed with the character of the broker, but told the guy, “If I can make a restaurant work, I’ll make this work.” Plans were for him to bring the yacht to Morro Bay and open up a special event business. “I’m going to do weddings, anniversaries, brunches, that sort of thing,” he explained, “with good food. I’ll make it work.”
Wisely Gentieu realized he could not run the boat himself so hired a captain to drive the vessel. He invited 13 of his best friends for the ride from San Francisco to Morro Bay. “While cruising San Francisco Bay it was just beautiful,” he said, “then we went out the Golden Gate and the fog rolled in, the wind came up, and the waves started going over the sides of the boat. People were getting sick. It was terrible and it took 19 hours to go down.” When they finally reached Morro Bay they were docked below the area where the Harbor Festival was taking place. Gentieu called his wife at home in Morro Bay, told her he’d be home eventually, but sat down and poured himself a whiskey. “At that point I thought I had better sell this boat,” he said.
His journey to becoming a chef and running restaurants is yet another tale. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, he has owned several successful eateries. However, it wasn’t easy getting on this career road. He knew early one that academics wasn’t for him so college was out.
“In high school I took the Home Economics class,” he said, “Everyone called me a sissy. I was the only boy in the class. We baked cookies and I really liked it. You could eat the product and I was around girls.”
His Dad wasn’t thrilled but finally acquiesced, asked him what he wanted to do and Gentieu replied, become a cook. Dad then said if that’s the case then be the best cook.
Gentieu says while baking is a science since it requires exact measuring, cooking is a craft. His family connection with the DuPont family garnered him his first job after graduating culinary school and then the draft for the Vietnam war intervened. His stint in the army brought him to the attention of a couple of generals for whom he became chef. His basic training was at Ford Ord and he fell in love with California returning there to open restaurants in Taft. In 1975 he won a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for producing the longest sandwich at 464.04 feet. Eventually the Central Coast lured him and the rest is history with the fulfillment of his boyhood dream of begin a yacht owner. And while the beginning was shaky, fortunately, he persevered and has been serving great food and wonderful bay cruising events since 2005.
You can read the hilarious story of his restaurant days in his autobiography “Chasing the Heat” available online at www.mkt.com/CTH. Go to onboardnauticalevents.com or call the office at 805-771-9916 for more information.