A yacht chef recently hosted a Q&A on Reddit to share what it's like working for some of the richest people in the world. In his words, "the typical boat I work on costs over $20 million." The guy has even worked for a Forbes top 50 member.
What’s the most difficult client you had? Oddest request?
“The worst difficulties a yacht chef can face come from lack of sleep. I have had guests that pound music until 5 am and party and want snacks and what not all night but breakfast is still expected at 8am. It can be a 24-hour-a-day job. The last owner I worked for was like that. Oddest request? Hmmm…there’s been a lot. I recently had a Mexican guest request cactus salad. I wasn’t sure what that was or where to get cactus.”
What’s the most ridiculous use of money you’ve witnessed?
“This wasn’t on a boat I worked on, but a friend of mine worked a charter for a Saudi billionaire and he tipped each member of the 15-man crew a brand new Mercedes-Benz S-Class.”
What’s the most working-class item you’ve had an absurdly rich person ask you to prepare?
“Fish and Chips as well as cheeseburgers get requested pretty often. I worked for a billionaire once who literally dipped everything in tartar sauce.”
When did you know that you were talented at cooking and what was the drive to refine your skills and follow this career path?
“I didn’t commit to being a chef until my late 20’s. I actually went to college for engineering! I cooked all the way up until I finished school and always knew I was good at it. I didn’t commit until a really good job fell on my lap when I was helping with an engineering project in the engine room on a yacht.”
What’s your best story about a former crewmate?
“Recently at a boat show a crew member from a neighboring yacht managed to get into the master cabin at night. He threw up on himself and passed out in the owner’s bed and was discovered the next day.”
How much are you paid?
“Salary depends on the size of the yacht. I worked on a 150′ boat and salary was 7k per month. Now i work freelance and my rate is $300 per day. Tips are common and vary in size.”
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened on the job?
“Nothing too crazy has happened on any boat I’ve worked on, but there was this yacht that was stationed next to the boat I last worked on. The yacht next door was owned by a really large and rich lady. She only hired good looking young men and required them to f_ck her as part of the job. Really gross. I’m sure there was some other really nasty stuff going on over there that they kept secret. Another story I like to tell involves a stewardess I used to date. Her boss was a really rich woman who made all her money from a divorce. She had 5 dogs on the boat and had a staff member whose job it was to clean there shit and piss off the carpet.”
Do any of the trophy wives ever go into the kitchen to watch/help/instruct you?
“Yes. I’ve seen it all. They are usually drunk too. I have been hit on as well.”
What’s the most requested entree?
“Usually it’s whatever can be caught in the water where the boat is.”
I’m curious to know, what are the hyper rich like in private? Do they act more or less as people on vacation do?
“They are normal people, they are just used to getting exactly what they want when they want it. I have been lucky and have worked for cool people. I have heard nightmare stories about people who are terrible. Russians and Arabs have horrible reputations in this industry both as people to work for and as charter guests. Russians will destroy the boat and tip you in empty vodka bottles.”
What is a typical per guest per day food budget for you?
“Usually on yachts the budget is unlimited. I have spent over $5000 at whole foods before while provisioning. I’ll prepare any kind of dish the boss asks for, but swordfish and tuna are pretty irresponsible ingredients and I hate it when they are requested. They will both be extinct in our lifetimes.”
What does a cook do when the ship is in port and there are no guests?
“I have been on a boat making full salary for several months doing nothing but making a simple breakfast and lunch for the crew. Yachts are big complicated things that take a full staff just to keep everything working.”
What was the most you spent on a single meal (only including the cost of ingredients)?
“There have been some pricey ones. Probably the most expensive meal I cooked was about a year ago docked near ground zero in Manhattan. I was cooking for a very rich and famous New Yorker and the boat was owned by a former Microsoft executive. There were 10 people total. I bought everything i needed at Chelsea Pier and spent over 2k. Lots of expensive seafood including maguro tuna (80$ a lb), caviar and sea urchin. Also got some kobe beef and lots of exotic vegetables and truffles. I made a truffle vinaigrette steak sauce for the beef. A tuna sashimi dish and a fisherman’s stew dish. Cant remember what i did for desert. At a restaurant it would have to cost over 6k for the party to turn a profit.”
Is there a written rule separating what’s fed to the crew as opposed to the guests in terms of price and quality of ingredients?
“Boats have different policies in regards to this. Part of being a yacht chef is feeding the crew 3 meals a day. When the guests and owner are on board usually it’s a free for all because the budget goes out the window for the boss. When the boat is at port or in the yard there is a set budget. It’s usually enough to eat damn good though.”
How much interaction do you have with the guests?
“Usually the only interaction is when they pop in the galley and ask for something or if they are curious about the smell of something cooking. Sometimes we will set up a grill and table on a secluded beach and I will cook in front of them.”
Ever been asked to prepare a dish and refused?
“A yacht crew cannot have the word no in their vocabulary. The only time is if the ingredients are not on the boat and we are at sea.”
Are you ever invited out to have a drink with the guests after a particularly great meal?
“Yes, but declining is standard protocol. Most boats have what is called a crew mess. It’s like a lounge with couches, tv and a kitchenette.”
What kind of entertainment do people bring on board?
“The boats are all the entertainment they need. We usually have dive gear, jet skis, seabobs and we’re often in the most exotic locations in the world. The boats also have top of the line entertainment systems and wifi. Some have fog and laser machines for dance parties. Lots of booze gets consumed.”
You said the first step to being a better cook is to understand the science of cooking–any advice on that?
“Understanding heat and the way different proteins react to it is the key to making a perfect piece of meat or seafood. Learning the how to emulsify oil and butter with non-fat based liquids is important to makings sauce. Blending flavors takes experience and a good palette. Taste everything.”
How can I make super awesome mac and cheese for under $20?
“Make your own cheese sauce with white wine and a variety of your favorite cheeses. Crusting the top with breadcrumbs and herbs helps too.”