Help Wanted – Personal Chef!
Help wanted: Personal Chef.
Location: At sea.
Qualifications: Must love to cook, be able to chop vegetables and not fingers while the floor tilts at a 45 degree angle as the boat heels, walk on water, think on your feet, work 16 hours a day, be able to tolerate cramped living quarters and a near total lack of privacy. Foremost is the ability to get along well with others. Benefits: unlimited food budget, state-of-the art cooking equipment, occasional oceanviews, and visits to markets in unusual ports.
Matthew Shea, 21, not only is the youngest personal chef working on boats, but also has already made a name for himself in the yachting industry. Matthew left high school at age 16 to work full-time in restaurants. He became a student of some extraordinary chefs who were willing to teach. At 19, he got his sea legs working as an assistant chef working a Green Peace ship. He was lucky that the chef he was to assist was a classically trained French chef raised in Canada who had just finished traveling as Le Cirque de Soleil’s chef. In 2005, he went to Paris to learn pastry-making. Matthew prefers French cooking, but also likes to cook vegetarian. “Locally grown everything is best,” he says.
Sarah Raff, 30-something, cooks by color, mix and textures. Realizing she wasn’t going to make it as a painter using her art degree, Sarah spent ten years running a B&B and catering business in Quebec. Sarah got into cooking on boats after taking care of a friend who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease at 52. Having been privy to her friend’s regrets spurred Sarah into making her own list of what she wanted to do before she died. Because she’s always been fascinated with tall ships, she applied for an onboard chef position; her catering experience was all she needed. She was a quick learner and started on tall ships. Her first boat had a diesel stove that had to be started at 4:30 am for coffee by 7:00 am. Her second boat had a diesel stove also, and they kept running all the time to heat the boat. Sarah took advantage of the primitive arrangements by keeping a huge bucket of water ready to boil for soup or anything else. Now she works on 139-foot motor yachts with walk-in freezers, windows, air conditioning, and heat. What was great about those older ships was what she learned about preserving foods. When she worked for SEA (Sea Education Association) out of Woods Hole, they would go out for months at a time, so she dipped eggs in oil, wax or Crisco to keep them fresh without refrigeration and wrapped lettuce in newspaper. “Eggs are porous,” she says, “so you have to seal the shells so they don’t absorb what’s around them.” Sarah loves to cook with fresh local vegetables.
Kerry McCormick, 30, is an anthropology major turned private yacht chef. She fell in love with boating while working at the Maritime Museum in Bermuda. She grew up loving to cook so she’s integrated the two and found herself cooking on boats. Then Kerry took time off to work in some top name restaurants in Boston, which enabled her to take cooking classes in her spare time. She associates food and cooking with “happy memories.” Her favorite type of cooking is French-Asian fusion with lots of sauces, Asian spices and fish. Depending on where she is, she cooks with whatever’s local.
Leah Jeffrey’s career began somewhat more humbly cooking for the crew of a shipbuilding company in Australia. That was thirteen years ago. Now in her 30’s, she enjoys cooking on private yachts in countries all around the world. Basically self-taught, she specializes in Thai-food and says she prefers Asian cuisine because that’s what she likes to eat. Like the other chefs she, too, prefers to hand-select her fruits and vegetables at the best local places.
A typical day for these four starts at 5:30 am preparing a breakfast of fruit, baked scones, croissants, muffins, and yogurt or cereal; then making breakfasts to order, and keeping hot coffee and tea on the table. Once breakfast is over, the chefs start getting lunch (a two or three-course meal) ready to serve around 12:30 or 1:00 pm. Once lunch is over they’re prepping for dinner, which is served anytime after 6:00 pm, starting with appetizers and cocktails. Dinner is a three-to-five-course meal, including dessert, which can be particularly challenging since three of these four chefs don’t like to bake.
In addition to chef’s duties, Leah is also responsible for cleaning the guests’ cabins while they’re eating breakfast. If the boat sets sail anytime after breakfast, she helps put away the lines, and fenders. Once they’ve stopped she helps with the lines, or loads the tenders or kayaks, then sets up for lunch. If no guests are on board, then it is her responsibility to strip the cabins of linens and do the washing and ironing.
Matthew doesn’t always know when he gets up in the morning if he’s setting sail for lunch, dinner or both. Either way, his responsibility is for cooking and cleaning the galley only. For relaxation, he looks forward to washing the dishes.
Kerry uses her crew as guinea pigs and tries out new recipes on them. Sarah has picky eaters in her crew –some don’t like vegetables and some don’t eat meat or eat only chicken. She feels the crew is more difficult to cook for than the owners- she must prepare six different meals for the crew, compared to only one for the owners.
If you are still interested in applying for this position after reading these job descriptions, please keep in mind this one final qualification as it was so well put by the youngest professional interviewed here:
“You’ve got to keep your ego and temper out of the boat or else you won’t last, no matter how good you are at cooking.”