I was working at a fine dining restaurant in Dubai when I was approached by the then-head chef of one of the Dubai Sheikh’s yachts, who asked me to be his sous chef. I hadn’t considered yachts before, so it was a big step going straight on to a 100-meter-plus for a royal family. I never looked back!
I got my degree in Culinary Arts Management at a university in London and during that time, worked in various establishments — from private members clubs to fish restaurants — getting all the experience I could. One of my favorite places was at a chateau hotel in Normandy where I honed my classical French cookery skills.
When it comes to my job, I love that you never know what’s going to happen next. You can wake up in a new country or the middle of the Atlantic. One day, you can be doing a barbecue party for 50, the next it’s an intimate Silver Service dinner. It keeps me on my toes and never gets boring.
Being away from my family for long periods of time is the hardest thing for me. I’ve got a young daughter, so I miss seeing her every day but we video chat as much as possible, which helps.
Versatility is something I’ve learned on the job. You need to be prepared to cook every style of food and not just to your tastes or a specific cuisine like you would in a restaurant setting. When guests are staying on board for long periods, they aren’t going to want to eat restaurant-style food all the time. Sometimes they want a grilled cheese or spag bol, and that’s okay too!
I’ve had very classical training, so my European style is strong. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Middle East and that has definitely influenced me when I cook. I love sharing dishes like tapas and mezze.
My favorite cuisine changes, but at the moment I am really enjoying making sushi. There’s so much to learn; it’s a true art form. I’d like to work in Tokyo one day and master my skills. I don’t think I could choose a favorite dish to cook! I love making Asian-style dishes and getting that umami flavor spot on. I also love making sourdough and always take my own starter with me to jobs. Sourdough pizzas in a wood-fired oven are a guest favorite!
It’s nice to cook for people who really appreciate food and the effort that goes into it. My favorite people to cook for are my family.
There’s too many strange requests to mention! Cooking dinner for a VIP chimpanzee was pretty surreal! (I can’t disclose any details, but he was partial to a fruit salad.) I’ve also had a piece of cheese driven across Europe overnight at the request of a guest.
Follow Chef Castang on Instagram @ChefJacobCastang.
This column is taken from the March 2021 issue of Dockwalk.