A chef’s life on a sailing yacht

Life as a chef.

Starting out in the yachting industry as a chef can be quite daunting especially if you have been a chef in a kitchen where there are several people running different stations. On a yacht you are on your own unless you join a yacht over 50m-60m where there maybe two of you and then going to the larger giga-yachts where there are 3-4 of you in the galley being that there are kitchen hands, sous or crew chefs or the owners personal chef coming onboard whilst the owner is there.

You are the sole person in charge of all the foods onboard for both guests and crew and in some cases responsible for the beverage ordering as well. From shore based to yacht based there are large differences but once you realise that it is your responsibility to wash up, dry up, prep up all the food, order the food, or shop for the food, and create all the meals for both guests and crew life becomes easy!

Checking with Pappou if I had dried the octopus enough - Rhodes, 2012

Being an organized person is of a huge benefit, and someone who can adapt easily, someone who is versatile and ready for any of the owners or guests wants and needs. Being prepared for any instance is of utmost importance and can be hard, as owners, and guests change their minds. You could be anchored off a Pacific island when you run out of saffron that might  take 3 days to be delivered via a provisioning company at a high cost, hence changing your menu plan or the owner might have bought some lobsters that they want for lunch even though you have prepared everything for lunch already and are ready to serve. They might have bumped into friends in St Tropez and invited them back for dinner, yet you only have 24 oysters for the starter when there were only 4 guests originally and now there are to be 10, or you have come into a wonderful bay and the owner suddenly decides they want a BBQ on the beach or into a port for the night and the owner decided to throw a cocktail party. These changes happen constantly and it does become a challenge but when you see the end result of owners, guests, children all enjoying the meal and being appreciative of what you have created for them within the time frame given and limitations of being onboard a yacht, then it gives you immense satisfaction.

Cooking for owners for a period of time gives you the opportunity to get know their likes and dislikes. You can learn to play around with offering them new tastes and flavours that are slightly out of their comfort zone but ones they can enjoy. If you gain a good relationship with them then it means you can work with them making the food interesting to them so that both of you learn together to create things they enjoy eating and having with their friends or family. Be creative is very important for not only them but also for yourself to keep you inspired and interested in your job. Being able to use different ingredients at any time is of huge benefit as moving around on the yachts means different foods from different countries. Some owners like to take their yacht chefs back to their villas ashore or to their snow chalets, apartments in London or New York. Some chefs are fortunate enough to be sent on cooking courses that their owners think that not only will the chef gain from the course but of course they will as they will get to eat the dishes created once you return!

Buying fish on a fishing boat in Italy

Yachting is not just restricted to say the Mediterranean, the Caribbean is a big winter stop off for the yachts, from not only the Med, but also the NE coast of the States. You have to learn to adapt quickly with different foods as you cannot get everything everywhere, even though the western world supermarkets would like us all to think otherwise! The Mediterranean is still one of my favourite parts of the world to cruise with amazing fruit and vegetable markets ashore, buying from small fishermen that come up to the boat in Greece, Turkey, and Italy. Running to catch up with the mozzarella deliveries from Naples late in the afternoon in some of the Italian villages, smelling the wonderful cheese shops in France or the waft of the croissants baking before dawn in France. Each country has their own specialities which are important to embrace when you are in them, and share them with the guests onboard. Keep a food diary of what you serve, and where you buy foods as it will always come in use as you never know when you might go back to the same place again, whether it is on board a yacht or just on your own time. There are also wonderful farmers markets in Antigua, St Thomas and other islands which are becoming well supported by yachties as are the local markets in the towns. I think it is extremely important to go and check the markets out where ever you are in whatever island, continent etc to get the feel of the local foods available to combine them with the ones that you might have ordered in from a provisioner or the ones you find in the supermarkets. Provisioners are available everywhere, they will get you what you want, portioned to the size you want, vacu sealed or frozen, flown in from fish markets, fruit and vegetable markets, butchers, delicatessens in the UK, France, Italy, USA or from anywhere in the world. They are there for us and will source whatever it is we require at a price. It is important  you know what your budget is, especially with charter guests who do not want to be surprised at the end of their cruise/holiday with huge bills. If you are organized enough you can find a lot of things that you might need before going to faraway places, and can be prepared but there are always times when you run out of things and the provisioners are extremely good at helping out. 

Filleting a sailfish whilst crossing to Antigua
Stocktaking and inventorying all your food stores is vital as precious time is wasted on trying to find foods that are located at the back of the freezer or deep in the last locker that you look in. Galleys on most yachts are fitted out with good appliances, often top of the range cookers, ovens, steam ovens, grills etc. if you are on the large motor yachts. It is slightly different on sailing yachts as the space is much smaller so you have to learn to work around the limitations of space, but it does give you the opportunity to have more shopping adventures ashore as you need to stock up more regularly! Motor yachts have the most amazing walk-in fridges and freezers which again is rare on smaller sailing yachts, the bigger ones now do have them also but under 50m it is rare. 

Keeping up with food trends is very important as your guests are likely to be those who eat out regularly in places with influential chefs in London, New York, Paris, Sydney, Shanghai, San Francisco, Moscow etc. Talk to other chefs, talk to the local women in the markets where ever you are and constantly learn, it not only gives you the opportunity to try out new ideas but keeps you interested in your job. The hours can be long  and grueling cooking for both crew and guests. Guests can be on for months at a time giving you little time to breathe and even when the guests leave the crew remain so the cooking continues for the crew 7 days a week, there is no stopping the fact that they need food. It is the nature of the job. 

It is a job you take on with enthusiasm and energy as it can be exhausting but satisfying. Guests will let you know if things are not exactly what they want so open dialogue with owners and guests is very important and does make your life easier. Most guests want to be eating fresh healthy foods as they are the ones on holiday enjoying themselves away from their normal lives, they are onboard to be spoilt and they love it. It is top end hospitality industry on water. Work with it and you will enjoy your job and lifestyle for the years you are onboard.

Polly Baptist

S.Y. Saudade

Bequia-markets"Polly thought that her career could be in fashion, as a designer, so she went to university and gained a BA (Hons) degree in Fashion Design.  But she also had a real passion for food and wine and decided to extend her studies by attending The Grange School of Cookery.
With these two skills under her her thoughts turned towards recreation and she went travelling throught America, ending up in San Francisco.  It was there that she fell in love with Yachts!
Polly is a natural born adventurer and has now lived in France, Italy, Spain, Greece, the Caribbean and of course, on luxury yachts.  Polly has a real passion for reseaching, testing and simplifying new recipes.  That is how her book 'Mediterranean Recipes to enjoy with friends' was born.  Her guests kept asking for the recipes and her new ideas to take home."

Mediterranean Recipes to Enjoy with FriendsFind Polly's book Mediteranean Recipes to Enjoy with Friends on Amazon.com here.


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