Finding the perfect fit isn’t easy. It takes time for a yacht chef to understand a new owner’s preferences. There has to be time for adjustment for both parties.
Here is a general list of guidelines I have encountered over my 22 years as a professional chef onboard yachts that might help you so that you don’t make the same mistakes I have made.
1. As the newly hired chef, be sure to sit down with the principal of the yacht and ask pertinent questions if you want to succeed. You as the chef need to speak with the owners yourself. You need to ask if they have any dietary needs, if they are allergic to any type of food or like their food prepared a certain way.
Unfortunately, the entire industry has, over the years, relied too heavily on preference sheets, which do not always reflect accuracy in people’s likes and dislikes. You must take into consideration where the owner grew up, any language barrier and preparation of the food. It is quite different in England and Europe, and this might be a problem if you don’t speak their language or understand the type of food they like.
If you can’t sit down with the principals or it is not allowed, then understand that you might fail because in order to truly understand what they want, like or do not like, something written might not convey it as explicitly as listening to them can. This is a plan against failure: talk to them and listen.
I can’t tell you how many times I was given a preference sheet only to find out the employer liked her salmon fixed an entirely different way, such as medium rare, I was told by the chief stew or the preference sheet otherwise. In those situations, I was not allowed to speak with the guests and owner, so who failed whom? We failed each other in communication.
Don’t rely on the chief stew to ask them or have it come from a fax or e-mail from his personal assistant. They might not understand what you are asking.
As a rule of thumb, as a new chef, don’t go by any preference sheets not prepared by you. They might give you some idea of what the principal wants but you don’t know who filled them out. Was it filled out by the actual principals, the chief stew or a secretary for the employer? Is it in-depth or does it just skim brief topics? It might have been filled out by an assistant to the principal who guessed. I have seen this happen. Whose interpretation was it?
2. If you notice something not right in a new galley where you are working and you know it should not be that way, say something, write it down. Write down what works and what doesn’t.
3. Interview the owners just as hard as they interview you. It is your life as well on the line, on a yacht that travels out in the ocean, to foreign countries. Don’t settle.
As a new owner, if you like high-end presentation and small canapes passed during cocktail hour, then don’t hire a comfort food type of chef. They won’t understand and will waste your time and money
If you are a chef who does extremely creative cuisine and you interview on a yacht with a beer budget, this is not the yacht for you.
If you are a chef and thrive on creativeness and pride yourself on gorgeous plate presentations then don’t go to work on a yacht that has you cooking all day long, day in and day out for months on end.
Find the yacht that fits what you cook and owners should do the same, find a chef who cooks what they want. As a chef, you will burn out fast and go searching for that next yacht.
4. Don’t set precedents. If you make the principal desserts for lunch, he will come to expect it every day. Ask first. Don’t set the bar so high that you can’t attain it day in and day out.
5. As a new chef, understand that there will be special needs for the crew. Don’t overlook their dietary needs but do put the owner’s first, especially if you are cooking for both.
For new yacht owners, understand that you must feed your crew well. Sandwiches every day are not acceptable. Eating on schedule is a must for crew who are to perform at their very best. Don’t skimp.
6. Chefs, leave the egos and drama behind. Owners, don’t allow it.
A yacht chef should not yell or throw tantrums either. A yacht is a professional environment that should remain professional.
And owners, don’t yell at your chef.
And don’t micromanage them either, or anyone on your crew. You hired a captain to do a job; then let him. You hired a chief stew to do a job and you hired a chef to do a job; let them, too. Don’t tell them how to plate food unless you have phobias of food touching each other, then express your preferences.
Remember, word travels fast in an industry that is small for both the owner and the chef/crew. Don’t let it be known that you are a chef who is not flexible or a yacht owner who is not worth working for.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 20 years. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.