Estate jobs add twist to working for owners

Oct 30, 2012 by Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

It is not uncommon to be in employment on a yacht as the chef and then suddenly, the chef for the boss’s estate quits and he needs you to come to the estate to “help out.” It might even be part of your job description.

I have worked at an owner’s home many times, starting in the beginning of my career. I was mainly on his yachts but on occasion they would ask me go to their home with them. With another employer, I was brought in for special events and large parties.


Not long ago, I worked for an employer with 10 estates and a yacht. My job was to travel with him to the estates, but not the yacht, which had a full-time chef. And another job, a freelance position, was with an owner who had several estates and a yacht based in the Med.

They may sound like glamorous jobs, with all the travel and exquisite places, but in all honesty, it was very trying. While it may sound easier being in an estate where provisions are easily sourced and you’re cooking for the same person all the time, there are a lot of factors that come into play when considering this type of position.

Moving between the yacht and an estate is challenging. I have found the estate to be less formal than the yacht. In years past, owners went to their yachts to relax and enjoy their family, to be treated remarkably well, and formally. But with all our communication systems today, relaxing isn’t what it used to be. The yacht is just a floating office or home, and the formality has waned.

So here’s what happens when your job involves the yacht and the estate:


First, depending on the size of the vessel, you have to provision for the crew, principals and guests. If you are only the principal’s chef, then your job is more focused on preparing and provisioning for them; a crew chef handles the crew.

Then, when you go to the estate, you will find that you are the sole chef, preparing staff meals, and also the principal’s. Usually your day will start either at lunch and continue through dinner. Time off is dependent on the employer. Some employers want you to be there for breakfast. The kitchen is usually much larger, and there might be several kitchens.

Make sure you have a current list of preferences directly from the principals, their personal assistant, or the estate manager. Do not accept it from another staff member who hands it to you or another yacht crew member.

Make sure you have a list of their suppliers, which ones they like and which ones they don’t like, and why. You must be able to locate provisions in any part of the world where you’ll travel, so be prepared.
Do not overbuy for an estate. While you might do that for the yacht so as not to run out of staple items, provisions are typically easier to find ashore.

Time management

One important aspect of being employed in this dual role is time management. You must be constantly ahead of the game in locating where you will get your provisions to updating your menus. I recommend having a month’s worth of menus ready at any given moment.

Chefs who have only worked on yachts might find the estate work tougher. On a yacht, we’re family, but not so in an estate so keeping it strictly professional can be tough. Don’t forget your manners. Respect is the key.

This type of position is not for everyone but is great for someone a little older, who has the been-there-done-that attitude to yachting and now wants other opportunities.

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


About Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years.

View all posts by Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson →