Culinary Waves: by Chef Mary Beth Lawton Johnson
Too often the newbie graduate of a culinary program or certification curriculum has the idea they deserve top dollar entering the market as a new yachtie. There is a misconceived perception that salaries for chefs are up at the top, no matter the amount of experience, simply because it is such a demanding job. The larger the yacht, the more money – that’s generally the idea. Too many yacht chefs, and other crew, focus on the money aspect and not the love of the job. Sure, the money is good, but the employment aspect of traveling and meeting new people is an added perk.
Salary guidelines are published each year, and sometimes chefs will find that their salary falls in the middle; other times, it’s at the top or even in the lower three-quarters. Regardless, all chefs should spend some time looking at it. The key is to know our worth. Maybe our expectations are not even in the ballpark. The question we should ask ourselves is not how much training we have had, although it does help the scenario. The question we should ask ourselves is what our worth is to others on board as a team member? Forget the demands of being chef – everyone’s job has the capacity to be overwhelming on board. There is nothing that makes the chef more special than anyone else. Simply put, in plain language: Everyone is replaceable. What most captains, chief stewardesses and other crew members want to know is are you a team player or just a player?
Chefs have have been called many things in this industry – loners, weirdos, moody people, and the big keyword: selfish. Most captains and owners have been through the gamut, so when they think of hiring a chef, they cringe.
Typically, it’s our job as chefs to rise early and have a plan in place for the entire day, but also the ability to shift that plan and think fast on the fly. Our day ends late and is focused on pleasing the guests and owners on board. What we need to add to our repertoire is the ability to please our team members as well – by being just that: a team member. How do we accomplish this? Simply ask.
What would the chief stewardess like to see coming from the galley? More proficient plating? Timely executions? A timetable? More adaptability to the guests needs? More upscale food coming from the galley? A cleaner galley? Perhaps the crew food needs updating. Ask what you can do to help her with her job and make it easier on her.
Think about a chef’s worth to the crew. Don’t forget to cook each one’s favorite meal. This also helps us become more aware of different cultures and ethnic cuisines. We should ask ourselves, am I a good roomie on board? Do I regularly take showers, clean my bathroom and change my sheets once a week?
The big idea here is to do more than what is asked, to go the extra mile and be the crew member that everyone wants in the industry. No one likes a complainer. Why is it that chefs are always singled out as the biggest complainers on board? Probably because many chefs have had a love/hate relationship with their jobs on board. Today the push is for compliance and a copacetic relationship with others, so don’t rock the boat.
Knowing our worth as a fellow crew member can elevate a career that we may otherwise view only as a means to an end. It isn’t always about the money.
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.