Below Deck’s chef stays professional

Oct 29, 2013 by Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

Now that the yachting reality show “Below Deck” is over for the season, I thought I would take a moment to put the depicted chef and galley in perspective.

Ben, the chef among all of his crew members, actually added a light and airy mood to the show, and some professionalism to all the drama that unfolded among the other crew members. Between the irresponsible ego-driven deckie and his “actually lasted through the season” chippie girlfriend and the stoic chief stew, it was a pleasure watching Ben work.

He seemed to be the only one with a sense of humor and certainly was the only one shown to lighten an otherwise dismal situation. (Although in the final episode, Eddie sure turned out to be a funny guy.)

But what we didn’t see was the bigger picture. The show did not paint an accurate picture of the hard work yacht crew put forth and instead showed mostly dissension among the crew. If the captain I worked with ever heard a crew member talk to him the way those young crew did,  those crew would be on the dock in a heart beat. You are replaceable as a crew member; don’t ever forget that.

What they don’t show is that not only did Ben cook for the picky guests but also for the crew every day, especially on those long and arduous charter days. We chefs have to pull it all together based on preference sheets that are usually not complete and can change at a drop of a hat, not to mention an extra guest coming onboard, or a previously undisclosed food preference or allergy.

Not only do we have to take all that into consideration, we also have to put up with overtired crew, who are sometimes not so nice to us.

On a yacht, especially with crew we don’t know too well, the quarters become very small very fast. You learn quickly about other crew members’ habits. And you figure out pretty fast, too, what irks you. I really liked how Ben confronted the second stew about her drinking. He stood up for how he felt to clear the air in the small galley. Left unsaid, that kind of stuff gets unbearable.

What really stood out to me about Ben was the fact that, off the cuff, he was calm, cool and knew what to do to accomplish the task at hand.

What struck me as weird was that he was shown outside the galley more than inside. I know it’s TV and all, but really, why can’t the producers paint a more accurate picture of what happens onboard? I can never get away from the galley on charter, whether to provision or just to go for a walk to get off the yacht for a minute. The only time I can get away is if the owners or guests left the vessel, and usually then its to do some provisioning. But usually, the chief stew shops in my place. That is how busy we are.

This show showed yacht crew hanging out in the water or in their bunks most of the time, chatting. On charter, I never see my bunk until 11 o’clock at night.

The other thing the show didn’t show was multiple courses. I’m sure Ben made them, but come on. Where is the food? Grown men do not eat only chilled curried lentil soup for lunch. It just does not happen. Well, I guess it could happen, but not on any yacht or charter I’ve ever been on. Where are the multiple courses in this show? Where are the shots of the chef getting his hands dirty and whipping out some truly magnificent second, third and fourth courses? Again, the show was not an honest depiction of what happens on a yacht. It makes cooking look like a breeze. It is not.

Ask any charter captain who has the hardest job on the yacht and he will likely tell you the chef. We work alone, are up first, and go to bed last.

Still, through it all, Ben remains neutral, focused, and professional, but I would have liked to have seen more of his food. I must give him kudos for his quick thinking in turning a hot curried lentil soup into a cold one for the leather-toting vegans.

I hope he keeps up the humor.

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.

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