Plan, enlist mates, step back before feeding crew family

Oct 27, 2015 by Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

Imagine being a single parent who works in a restaurant, cooking all day, and then going home to cook for a family waiting and hungry. If that seems familiar, it should. That’s what the sole yacht chef faces every day.

We plan, prep and cook for the owner and guests all day, then turn around and try to muster some creativity to do it again for the crew. That makes for a busy day. In fact, tackling this schedule every day can seem daunting.

Some yachts with 12 or more crew might have a crew chef who is dedicated to providing meals for the crew and assisting the head chef with preparation. But more often, the yacht’s chef is the sole chef onboard, whose duties are compounded by the addition of feeding the crew. If the crew have special diets, special times to eat, it really can get complicated.

Day in and day out, shifting gears between planning and cooking for guests and crew can wear down even the most seasoned and creative chef. I certainly have had my moments.

But over the years, I have discovered little tricks of the trade that can help feeding my crew family more of a labor of love than an irritable inconvenience.

Captains try to help by saying, “Feed them easy stuff, chicken and rice, salad to make it easy on yourself”, but the crew then begin to dread the same old thing or uninspiring meals.

I usually start by trying to provide the same kind of meal as I’m preparing for the owner and guests. Crew can’t have the tenderloin, but if we’re grilling anyway, we can grill up a flank steak or skirt steak instead, then serve it with the same vegetables and sides.

When I make a salad for the owner, I’ll make it a little bigger so there is enough to feed the crew. Desserts are the same. It won’t be as elaborate as the one I prepare for the owner, but it’s something special that is relatively easy, such as a key lime pie or a pudding.

When there’s time, I toss the extra chicken or beef in the oven or on the grill, then freeze it for use when time is tight or when the weather is too rough to cook. I know one chef who buys aluminum trays and creates whole meals this way, stacked in the freezer.

When we get extremely busy, there’s usually a crew member who loves to cook and will help with a salad or side. On a previous yacht, a different crew member would do this every night, adding their favorite dishes from home to the meal. It really helps out the chef.

To keep those homestyle creative juices flowing, take a walk through town if you can. Walk by restaurants to see what others are cooking in the port you are in.

Do keep the freezer stocked with prepared vegetables that you can just pull out and throw together, and label them for the crew. Keep a supply of broths on hand for soups. I always keep veal demi glace on hand, cut up into cubes, so that I can pull it out for a quick sauce.

Finally, move the muscle, change the thought. Change everything with how you handle the dread feeling of cooking for the yacht crew family. Take a minute to think about what really makes you feel this way. Are you tired? Burned out? Doing too much? If so, ask the crew for help. You’ll be surprised how eager some can be to help out in the galley.

And if you’re up for the honest answer, ask the crew what changes they’d like to see in mealtime. Ask the captain, too, as he/she has probably seen a lot of chefs in his/her career.

I try to put the crew’s needs of interesting food up along with the owner’s needs. For it is the crew who go above and beyond what is needed of them for a trip to be successful.

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


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 →

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