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Culinary Waves: by Chef Mary Beth Lawton Johnson
So many chefs in yachting try to stay abreast of culinary trends to make their food cutting edge, but how many of us spend that energy developing our networking skills? If the job suddenly ended tomorrow, how many of us would have the necessary contacts to hook up with the next job quickly? How many of us would be among the sea of faces ever present on the crew placement web sites in search of that perfect fit?
I have been in that position before: job ended and had to go back “out there” to prove to others just what kind of chef I am. I have been blown off by crew agents, first considered under qualified, then over qualified and too educated, asking for too much money, you name it. Been there, heard it all.
A lot of chefs do get work from crew agents; many more get their work from captains or other crew they worked and clicked with and want to work with again. Networking is important not only at the start of our careers, but throughout as we grow and change in our passions and lifestyle.
Here are a few things I’ve tried to keep my networking skills sharp.
Update the resume. Long-term experience stands out. Longevity with a family stands out. Too much experience in short-term jobs can raise questions. For those just starting out, short-term gigs are understandable and easily explained. Same goes if those short-term jobs ended because the yacht sold or the owner passed away.
Freelance gigs show up as short-term and might also raise some eyebrows. Be careful what you include. More boats does not necessarily mean more experience and more qualified. For chefs who choose the freelance path, be clear that that is the intention by simply explaining that in the objective part of the resume.
My best advice for resumes is not to fabricate or embellish any skills. Don’t even try it. It’s better to undersell and overdeliver than make a promise you can’t fill.
Get business cards made up and hand them out to absolutely everyone as we never know who might know of someone who needs a chef. Make the cards stand out, but be simple and classic. Be sure to have your name, phone number and email on them, as well as what you are qualified to do.
Visit a few crew agents. Sit down with the agent who places chefs. Talk to them. Ask them questions about what they see in the marketplace. Do chefs need more education or skills? What sorts of chefs are they placing? What sort of yachts and owners are hiring?
Not only will this sit-down give you vital information, but the agent will get to know more about the chefs she places. Show interest.
Network. Go to yacht events such as boat shows. Simply walking around and talking to other yachties will develop new leads. Meet with brokers, yacht managers and builders whenever possible.
Visit with captains you know; buy them lunch and pick their brains. Introduce yourself to the captain everyone knows and pick their brains. The successful yachties have lots of knowledge and lessons to hand down to crew eager to learn. Be eager, and pay attention to what they say. They became successful for a reason and can make you a success if you listen.
The Triton has networking events every month that bring together industry professionals from across yachting. Meeting a few non-crew can certainly add depth to any career. Besides, Triton Networking events are great just to see old friends. This should be a must-do whenever chefs are in Ft. Lauderdale to get the word out for those in the job search.
Join a chefs association. Most have a job board that offers supplemental work for those times when we have to wait for a position on a yacht. If it has a local chapter, those gatherings can be insightful and fun.
Clean up online profiles. Despite what “friends” may think of that weekend ski trip, employers don’t approve of the wild photos that show up on our Facebook pages, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn accounts. Skip posting party photos, and definitely do not post pictures of yachts or playing on a yacht. Put forward a professional appearance. Employers will do a web search before hiring any crew member. Make your online presence notable, worthy and professional.
Learn marketing techniques. Research online and take a free seminar on how to market yourself.
Being a chef on a yacht is a career for many thousands of men and women; it’s not just something to do for fun for a few years. Those of us sincere about wanting to do this job for the right reasons will become successful.
Just as integrated systems make up a yacht and help it to run smoothly as a whole, an integrated network system will help a yacht chef’s career to run smoothly and operate at peak performance.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments are welcome below.