On the Job

The Seven Deadly Sins of a Yacht Chef

18 January 2022By Nina Wilson
Illustration by John Devolle

Written by

Nina Wilson

Pre-galley, Nina Wilson trained as a dive instructor and skippered sailing boats in Greece before starting her yachting career in 2013. Currently head chef on a 55-meter, her talents included telling brilliant jokes and being able to consume six cheeseburgers and feel no guilt. Follow her on Instagram @thecrewchef.

Chef Nina Wilson confesses the seven sins yacht chefs commit from the more obvious — glutton and greed — to the subtle, such as envy and sloth.

We are not angels. I may be stating the obvious here, but to the land-based folk reading this column, I really feel I have to emphasize the fact that yacht chefs are not typically your jolly fat chefs from TV.

Temperamental. Meticulous. Blunt and far too cocky. All these words have been used to describe me at one time or another, and I think it goes hand-in-hand with the artistic disposition that yacht chefs possess.

Thus, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned,” so let’s make our way into the confessional.

Pride 

I don’t think I need to go too deep into this one. While some of us suffer serious imposter syndrome, a great majority think they are (quote, unquote) “the tits” and have no qualms about exclaiming the fact. Loudly. Repeatedly.

We’ve been to sushi school in Tokyo, drunk raw sheep’s blood in Argentina, our work is art, and we swagger around the vessel refusing to sit weekend watches. The guests applaud us and bestow extra hugs on departure, we are the favored child of the captain. It’s only natural that our pride swells until one starts to worry if there’s room for both us and our ego in the galley.

Greed 

There are two types of people:

  • Those that openly admit they have ordered way too many provisions
  • Those who lie about it and insist they really do need 10 kilograms of kale

Trust me, greed is a dangerous thing when you have an unlimited budget and very limited storage space. I’ve begged the interior team to keep boxes of trumpet mushrooms behind the bar and for deckhands to stash sacks of flour in the bilges. The spinach threatens to block the fridge fan intake and stepping into the walk-in is like playing the floor is lava.

The gut-drop when the provisions turn up and there’s seven pallets of the stuff for a four-day charter is like no other. “Where on earth am I going to store this?!” (This is the yacht chef catchphrase.)

Wrath

Please understand, the galley is like a giant pressure cooker. It’s on a constant simmer all day, getting little zaps from unexpected breakfast orders or your sous chef using all the coconut milk and not telling you. It all builds, and unfortunately, it must be released at some point.

The triggers vary — a burn on the hand from a spluttering lamb chop, finding the boys have used the freezer for some ice bags and turned it into a skating rink (you’ll find me bellowing choice four-letter words in the walk-in) …and that’s an ideal scenario. Pity the poor lass who brings down the wrong set of main plates (third evening in a row) and receives a verbal lashing.

Frustration, tiredness; all of it lets rip and gets laid to waste on some poor skort-wearing soul. Please understand, it’s not your stupidity we are so infuriated with, it’s just how the day is progressing, and you’ve become our punching bag. I apologize on behalf of all yacht chefs.

Envy

The grass is always greener, they say, but on board, the last galley or the next galley will always be better.

We peer out the porthole at the larger yachts, imagining walk-in fridges where the herbs are never crushed, a dry storeroom that could host a pre-teen slumber party. We pause Instagram stories and peer at the latest gadgets our friends have got. A centrifuge? Yes, I should have one of those too. Plus, I’ll take another Pacojet while you’re at it. Wait, they have a freezer solely for ice cream!? I NEED ONE.

The sole chefs, shouldering the burden of cooking for 20 by themselves, give sneering looks to the head chefs flouncing around with their sous, and let’s not start on people sharing photos of their custom Japanese knife collections…

...“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned,” so let’s make our way into the confessional.

Lust/Burning Toast 

I’m not entirely sure where to go with lust — sexual attraction to any object in the galley is a little beyond me so I’m going to replace it entirely with a new sin, titled “Burning Toast.”

You can be the most badass, multi-tasking knife wrangler on the planet, but there is just something incredibly elusive about toast. You slide the sourdough under the grill, and it in turn immediately slides out of your mind. The tell-tale charcoal smell soon draws your attention and Bam! you’re back to square one. This sin also extends to burger buns and Melba toast.

Sloth

Cook, eat, sleep, repeat: The life of a yacht chef on charter.

While in the galley we are more in “hummingbird” mode — flitting and darting and dipping — outside of the galley we are 100 percent going to be in sloth mode. Off come the whites, we fall into the shower, then roll into bed. The snooze button is our friend, Netflix our night nurse. And do we like to cook for ourselves and our family when we go home? Let’s put it this way: UberEats is a direct blessing from God to yacht chefs on holiday.

Gluttony 

I don’t know how you can blame us. We’re surrounded by excessive amounts of delicious food constantly. (Incredibly delicious, the best in the world in fact. See Pride.)

We’re grazers, nibblers, and sometimes, downright face stuffers. Picture me at midnight, post dinner service with a brioche roll in my hand. I’m slathering it with truffle butter, then loading it up with burnt butter mashed potatoes. I may have even dunked it in the foie gras pan jus. Never trust a skinny chef — that’s my excuse!

That brings our list of transgressions to a close. What will our penance be, I wonder? Rest assured, it will come, likely in many forms. A bad batch of provisions? The vegetable peeler doing a disappearing act at a crucial moment? Or perhaps just one: a gluten-free, lactose intolerant, low-carb, nut-allergy toting raw vegan on for an entire month. In the Father’s name, Amen.

Baked Alaska

Credit: Nina Wilson

Make a tray of chocolate cake and allow to cool. Line a bowl with cling film, and carefully press slabs of the chocolate cake up the sides, leaving a circular piece aside to act as a lid. Fill the cake-lined bowl with a mix of ice cream, nuts, berries, dulce de leche from a tin — whatever you have on hand, placing the cake lid on top and wrapping over with more clingfilm.

Shove into the freezer until an emergency arises. Unmold from the bowl onto a platter, whip up some Italian Meringue, and pipe it over. Finish with a blow torch (or in an extremely hot oven) till you have golden peaks.

Cut, serve, and feel at peace.

This article origally ran in the October 2021 issue of Dockwalk.

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