On the Job

How to Get a Job as a Yacht Chef

10 June 2021By Lauren Beck

Written by

Lauren Beck

Editor Lauren Beck has been with Dockwalk since 2006. At 13, she left South Africa aboard a 34-foot sailing boat with her family and ended up in St. Maarten for six years. Before college, she worked as crew for a year, and then cut her journalistic teeth at Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies’ Home Journal online. She loves traveling, reading, tennis, and rooting for the Boston Red Sox. Email her at lauren@dockwalk.com.

If you’re a talented chef who’s always dreamed of running away to sea, we’re here to tell you that it’s possible to combine those dreams. You could travel the world while putting your hard-earned chef skills to the test by cooking for an international group of charter guests and yacht crew.

But before you throw caution to the wind, you need to do your research. “If a chef is at the stage where they’re considering whether to move into yachting, then it’s always a good idea to talk to others in the industry to hear first-hand what life as a yacht chef is like,” says Nicola Reed, partner at Amandine International Chef Placement.

Justine Murphy, a crew agent and former yacht chef who founded mymuybueno Private Chefs, agrees. “There are so many great yacht chef Facebook groups — posting there for insight and advice or searching previous discussions is beneficial, in real-time from chefs who are working on yachts,” Murphy says. “They can offer really helpful and supportive advice. It is a very special community, and everyone wants to help.”

Here’s more of what to know before you get started on the path to your first superyacht galley.

What is a Yacht Chef?

A superyacht chef is tasked with cooking for both the crew aboard the yacht and the charter guests or vessel owners who stay on board. The expectations are very high — superyacht chefs are expected to deliver high-quality, delicious, varied food cooked to the highest standards possible upon request.

“I thought I worked long hours in the restaurant business, but being on board, especially when you’re on charters, you can be putting in eighteen to twenty-hour days, every day, and it’s not like in a restaurant, [where] it would just be one or two days at a time. A weeklong charter, sometimes two, you’re doing it every day and there’s no stopping,” says Chef Thomas Day III of 35-meter M/Y Tail Lights.

What Does a Yacht Chef Do?

The chef runs the galley on board, so everything that happens in the galley is under their purview.

Chef Day shares the long list of items he juggles on board, including all menu planning, which accommodates specific guest preferences, and coordination with the interior department for themes, etc. He also handles the food budgeting and provisioning and has to stay on top of inventory — plates, cups, and utensils to ensure there’s always enough for the maximum number of guests on board. He works with the interior department to help with wine, liquor, and beverage provisioning and inventory, too. He’s also responsible for keeping his galley space clean. “[I’m] always detail cleaning to keep equipment in the best shape possible,” he says. “Keeping up on daily, weekly, and monthly maintenance checks — and guests may enter at any time, so [you] need to stay cleaned and organized.”

Chef Day notes that since he’s on a 35-meter yacht, he also helps out the other departments when needed, which could include helping the deck team set up for docking, anchoring, even washdowns. He also holds a watch on board. These duties may vary depending on vessel size, but if you’re the sole chef, you could expect to handle the chef duties alone. On larger vessels with potentially more bodies in the galley, your duties could vary.

“It’s hard work,” says Murphy. “[It’s] long hours and you need to prepare for the unexpected at every turn. Massively good organization skills, time management, and communication is key.”

iStock/ClarkandCompany

Who Does the Chef Report to?

The chef runs their own department, but ultimately reports to the captain. On larger vessels, there could be multiple chef positions, including sous chef and crew chef. On smaller vessels, you may find the galley has just one chef — the sole chef.

“You’re doing absolutely everything yourself — there’s no space, the pace is really fast, the expectations are super high,” says Chef Phillippa Brown during her Instagram Live interview with Dockwalk. The chef and the interior departments do have to work very closely together, so it’s very important that the relationship works seamlessly between the two.

Chef Phillippa Brown's Red Snapper Pad Thai
Courtesy of Phillipa Brown

What Qualifications Do I Need to Become a Yacht Chef?

“As an absolute minimum, this would be the STCW course and an ENG1 medical certificate along with a Food Hygiene Level 2 course (completed at a training center rather than online),” says Reed. She cautions that there could be others depending on vessel size and flag, whether it’s commercial or private only, and the number of crew on board.

“Depending on what kind of job the chef is looking for, they might also want to consider looking into getting a Ship’s Cook Certificate, which is required by many commercial yachts that carry 10 or more crew,” she says. Reed also recommends a Proficiency in Security Awareness Certificate, which she notes is required for commercial yachts over a certain size, or a Proficiency in Designated Security Duties, which supersedes the Security Awareness Certificate. Amandine usually advises chefs that having the Ship’s Cook Certificate will open more doors for them. “Without it, it’s still possible to build a career in the industry, but the chef’s choice of yachts will be more limited,” she says.

There is one caveat about the Ship’s Cook Certificate that might put it initially out of reach, explains Murphy — you need sea time before you can get it. It can be very useful to have — “if you are not a culinary trained chef, having this in hand is the next best thing to validate that you can deliver just as well as a culinary trained chef,” she says.

What Experience Do I Need?

“Some culinary training and/or a strong restaurant background is always beneficial as chefs are required to work at a fast pace and remain organized and on top of things at all times,” says Reed. “Private experience can also be very beneficial, too, such as working as a chalet chef or villa chef to gain experience in running your own kitchen before doing this at sea.” She also recommends chefs coming in have experiences in a range of different cuisine styles and dietary requirements, like vegan or gluten free, etc. “This is also very useful as these things can crop up a lot among both guests and crew.”

Experienced yacht chefs believe that a professional background is essential. “I think going into yachting as a chef without a really solid cheffing background is just really an impossibility,” says Chef Brown. “The transition is tough.” She has coached a few chefs transitioning into yachting and she shared that they’re always amazed by how much work is involved, especially in the sole chef position. “It’s not for everybody, but it’s really well rewarded,” she says.

“I would say yes, it’s good to have some kind of restaurant experience. If you come into yachting not knowing how to run a kitchen, or [not knowing] proper timing, you’re going to fail,” says Chef Day.

But the agents who place chefs say there is room for those without a professional background. “Being self-taught is nothing to be frowned upon, plenty of amazing chefs in the world are and the same can be said within the superyacht industry too,” Murphy says, who shares that this is the route she personally took. “Others are cooks who get into the industry from a sheer love of cooking, and are really good cooks, who then develop further over the years ahead through short- or longer-term courses to continue learning, developing their skills, and become incredible chefs. Some may then work to gain culinary qualifications further down the line too.”

Reed agrees. “It’s not essential and there are plenty of chefs out there who are self-taught and have learned on the job from a more experienced yacht chef,” she says. She also recommends that chefs new to yachting should consider taking a sous chef or second chef role to learn the yachting ropes initially. "Most chefs would agree they benefited from working under an experienced yacht chef when they first started out, to learn about provisioning at sea and how to run a galley, before taking over a head chef position themselves,” she says. You could also start out as a sole chef on a smaller vessel with fewer crew and guests on board.

But aside from your experience, attitude is key. “Being humble is also a redeeming quality,” Murphy says. “Just because you may have been a head chef on land, doesn’t translate the same way on yachts — you still need to get your foot in the door and then commit to that first role.” Like all hiring managers everywhere, people like to see longevity in your previous roles. “If you have proven loyalty with previous employers on land and excellent references, this will strengthen your profile and reflect well for any vessel providing that all-important first yacht role,” Murphy says.

How Much Does a Yacht Chef Earn?

As a chef, your pay will vary depending on your title. As a head chef on board, you will usually command higher pay. In fact, a head chef’s pay can be on par with a chief engineer. According to the most recent 2020 Dockwalk Salary Survey, yacht chefs can do very well financially, depending on a few factors.

Dockwalk’s chef pay across all size categories ranges from $4,000 to $12,500 per month on the very largest vessels. In the smaller size categories up to 120 feet, you could see salaries up to $7,500 per month. As the boat size grows, the pay does too. From 120 to 160 feet, the rate ranges up to $10,000 per month, then increases to $11,000 or $12,500, with salaries on vessels larger than 250-foot plus ranging from $8,500 up to $12,500.

According to the Salary Survey data, the crew chef/sous chef position pays between $3,500 and $7,500 across all size ranges. Depending on yacht size, the sous chef and the crew chef role can be different. One thing to note is that longevity, experience, and certifications can also affect your salary.

How to Apply for a Yacht Chef Job

Once you’re ready to step on board, it’s time to start registering with crew agencies for placement. You should have everything ready and available to upload to your profile, advises Murphy of mymuybueno. “This includes your best plated food photos to showcase your work, menu plans, documents, and references,” she says. You should also include a headshot of yourself in a chef jacket on your CV, she says, cautioning crew to fill out all information carefully and correctly and make sure everything is spell-checked.

“Networking, being proactive, staying positive are all the attributes that will help,” Murphy says, also advising chefs to keep checking in with their agencies and build a relationship with them individually. This helps them get to know you well and better allows them to help find the right first role for you.

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