Chef knows best

Mar 24, 2022 by Christine Davis

Chef Brennan Dates
Chef Danny Davies
Chef Helgi Olafson
Chef Jamie Tully

Since galley refits and new builds can potentially be recipes for disaster, Brennan Dates, rotational head chef on a busy 197-foot (60m) charter yacht, dedicated two episodes of his podcast, “Get the Fork Out,” to these subjects. His first experience, a refit on a 282-foot (86m) Feadship, “was extensive, and I didn’t know where to turn for tips and tricks, which is why I wanted to get resources out there for other chefs,” he said.

“Refits and rebuilds are always a collaboration. You have to be a team because you don’t know where the good ideas will come from. You have to be open. After the budgets and quotes, the chef should have final say, and in my experience, he does.”

The first matter to be considered — where in the world the refit will take place — will determine the next steps, Dates said. “Some places make it much more challenging. In Holland, it’s way easier and the quality is insane. In Mexico or Turkey, it will be more challenging.”

Next issue up: choosing the contractor. “There are a lot of ways that this could get messed up with the shipyard or captain not knowing and doing the choosing. It’s complicated. You need to state a good case about why you want to use a particular contractor, because others are going to have ideas.”

To pitch your case, lean on the community of chefs and captains about who to use or who not to use, Dates said. “Find out what boats have been refitted, and ask the chefs and captains about money, timing, and the quality of the work. Find out which contractors are reliable, cost effective, and quick, and then you can say, ‘OK, this is who I prefer because these boats have used them.’ ”

Check out these refit episodes on Chef Brennan Dates’ podcast, “Get the Fork Out.”

Dates, who plans to go on to designing galleys, is passionate about new builds and offers this piece of advice: “The professional yacht chef should give his input at the drawing stage, not at the end, when it will be too late.”

Chef Danny Davies reiterates Dates’ advice. “For a successful refit, it’s good to know and trust who you are using,” he said. “I had access to a list of preferred contractors from the shipyard who have marine-level insurance. The guy came in and replaced the fridge’s compressor and he wired it wrong, so alarms kept going off after he left, because he had electrified the boat’s superstructure. It was crazy. On the whole boat, you could get an electric shock if you touched something metal.”

When looking for someone to redo the work, he accessed Dates’s online community. “I used the connections through his group and used their advice,” Davies said.

Davies now works for a yacht that is used privately and for charter, but recently he served as chef on a boat that was being delivered to the Caribbean. “The storage and preparation spaces were split onto two decks,” he said. “When I first went in, it was beautiful, but the cupboards weren’t deep enough and we didn’t have enough drawers. Once all the equipment was on board, we lost most of our storage and surface spaces. There were so many areas where surfaces could be improved, so we put in pop-up and fold-out (surfaces) for prep and serving. To be fair, it was beautiful in terms of aesthetics, but it lacked in terms of practicality.”

Helgi Olafson was enthusiastic when he signed on as chef of KOJU, a 121-foot (37m) Benetti, Hull NO. 1, based out of Fort Lauderdale. “I knew it was a bare bones operation and that I would be putting the systems in place. To buy the equipment and what I like to use to make the galley my own, that excited me and made me want to take the job,” he said. “When I was hired by the owner of this yacht, he told me, ‘Whatever you need, do it.’ He wanted me to do my job well.”

For a successful refit, Olafson said, “start with a good plan to work with, and a project list, so that you can get everything done.

“I was very hands-on,” he said. “I had some storage areas built, and I probably gained 75 square feet of storage just finding areas to build shelves.” For efficiency, he also facilitated adding a sink to the stews’ pantry and, eventually, a sink and dishwasher for them on the bridge deck.

“I wish designers knew more about space,” he said, adding that without the crew being able to do their jobs, the vacation for owners and charter guests won’t be as enjoyable.

Chef Jamie Tully is on a company-owned, 131-foot (40m) yacht, and for its current refit, he’s in a 50/50 decision-making split with the owners. “They are concentrating on the visual aspect, and I am overseeing the galley and how it actually works — the location of things and the workflow, making sure that the space is fluid,” he said.

Planning and communication are key to a successful refit, he said. “The company asks me what works and what doesn’t work. They show me drawing plans. We had a photography and rendering team that put together a visual image that we could edit on a computer. I put out an idea, the company challenges, and vice versa.

”It’s all about preparation and communication between myself, the contractors and owners, going back and forth. The good thing [is] the owners want it perfect,” Tully said, “because it’s going to cost a lot of money and it will be seven years before the next refit is done.”

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About Christine Davis

Christine Davis is a regular writer for Triton News.

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