Dateline: October 18, 2002
Location: On the road in New England, USA
I am frequently asked about working on Yachts; "How do I get the job?" "What is it really like working on a yacht?" "How much does it pay?"
My life as a Charter Yacht Chef began back in November 1994 while I was "moonlighting" as a Catering Chef in Austin, Texas.
After almost twenty years as a professional Chef, primarily working the Resort Circuit, I had accepted a position as a minor bureaucrat with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
I had made the move as a "career change" but after two years of the 9 to 5, Monday through Friday government job, I quickly became bored with the routine and missed the "action" and camaraderie of a professional kitchen.
I had accepted a "part-time" job as Chef Tourant with Catering by Rosemary, a prestigious Austin, Texas catering company, just to keep my hand in the game and my morale up.
One afternoon, after the days prep work was completed; the Executive Sous Chef asked me if I would show him how to find a job on the Internet. I had become very adept at Internet searches and agreed to show him how it all worked.
We sat at the computer while I introduced him to the many Chef bulletin boards and job sites covering the Internet. After surfing these sites for an hour or so he asked, "What about jobs on yachts?"
Well, I had never considered the option but quickly did a search for "Yacht Chef" and low and behold, up popped a position for a Chef on board a charter yacht in Southeast Alaska.
My friend said, "That looks great! Let me get the address and I'll send him a resume'!" I responded: "Watch this!" as I deftly emailed my online resume' to the yacht's Captain.
We continued our Internet surfing and about twenty minutes later my "You've got mail" character was flashing on the computer. The email was a response from the Captain who expressed interest in my resume' and wanted some references. I immediately responded with my online list of references (complete with email addresses.)
The Captain wrote back that he would get back to me soon. We returned to the kitchen to get ready for that night's party.
There was an email waiting for me when I got home. The Captain had asked me for a phone interview the next day. I immediately emailed him back suggesting an interview time and requesting a list of his references. I spent the next two hours surfing the yacht's website.
I awoke the next morning to his email agreeing to the interview time (he was on the West Coast and I was in Texas) and providing me with a list of three references (complete with email addresses.) I wrote a quick email to his references and headed off to work at Parks and Wildlife. We had agreed to a late afternoon (my time) interview and by the time of the interview I had received positive responses from his references.
Well, that's all it took. We spoke for an hour and the next thing I knew I was giving two weeks notice to TPWD and the Catering Company, packing my bags and driving to Seattle. Two weeks later I was heading up the Inside Passage to Alaska.
This all happened seven years ago and since that time I feel that I have accumulated enough experience to share what I have learned about being a Charter Yacht Chef with others.
So, before you run off to find a job on a yacht, there are a few things you might want to ask yourself.
- How do you feel about working in very small compact kitchens (they're called Galleys on a yacht?)? Are you extremely well organized and do you always put things back where they came from? Do you always clean up after yourself?
- Are you really creative, as in, can you "make do" with what little you might be able to find in that out-of-the-way fishing village you've had to "re-supply" in?
- Do you get seasick or motion sickness? If so, can you still stand up and work your shift? If you don't know, go find out before you apply for a job!
- Can you put something tasty and attractive on the table quickly (sometimes you won't be able cook while underway because the boat is moving too violently?)?
- Can you work twelve hours straight, seven days a week, for five months with only occasional breaks and seldom a full day off?
- Are you a "prima Donna" or very temperamental (some Captains are notoriously authoritarian and hard to get along with?) Can you get along with your shipmates for extended periods of time in extremely close quarters (you will probably have to share your living accommodations with a shipmate?)?
- Do you have a great sense of humor (you're going to need it!)?
- Are you willing to perform routine seamanship duties in addition to cooking (like dropping the anchor, helping to dock the boat, manning the helm, washing the boat, etc?)?
- Are you really a qualified Chef able to work alone, purchase supplies, write menus, and entertain the guests and work within a budget? Can you bake breads, desserts, butcher, clean and prepare fish properly? Are you familiar with special diets and adaptable in your menu planning (I have frequently had to prepare three different diet restricted entrees for only six people?)?
- Are you single or able to leave your "significant other" for extended periods of time, frequently with very little contact? Is your "significant other" supportive of your decision? Can you survive only receiving your mail once a month (and sometimes even longer?)?
- Are you dependable and able to keep a commitment?
Well, if you can answer those questions in the affirmative and you're not scared off by now, you might possibility be a candidate for the job.
What's it pay? In the charter yacht business the pay scale is extremely variable, depending mostly on your prior experience and the size and type of yacht. Those with previous yacht experience, good references and working on a successful charter boat can expect to make as much as $8,000 - $12,000 a month (including tips) plus room, meals and transportation to and from the yacht, over a five month season.
If this is your first yacht job be prepared to accept significantly less for your first season. There is a very large turnover in first year yacht Chefs primarily because they are not prepared mentally for the challenges mentioned above. Most quit, some are thrown overboard (just kidding!)
Being a successful Charter Yacht Chef requires "paying your dues" before anyone is going pay you the big bucks. You've got to prove that you can handle the job, be a "good" shipmate and keep your sense of humor in spite of the challenges.
Once you've got a successful season behind you (and you've got good references from your Captain and yacht owner) you will quickly increase your pay rate and benefits.
How do you find "the" job?
Read my article "How NOT to find a job on the Internet" in the ChefTalk archives.
Do an Internet Search for "Yacht Crews," Yacht Jobs," "Yacht Chef."
Routinely check Chef Job Sites like http://www.escoffier.com/classifieds.html and http://www.pastrywiz.com/talk/job_toc.htm.
Read the on-line "Help Wanted" sections of newspapers in major seaport areas like Seattle, San Diego, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, etc.
"Walk the docks" in seaport areas and talk to Captains and crewmembers. Read the bulletin boards in the marinas.
Beware of the many "Yacht Crew Services" currently on the "net" Almost all of them will charge you a fee BEFORE they even consider your resume and then they will also charge you a placement fee once you get the job. Check out their background (i.e. time in business, yachts represented, etc.) before signing up.
I probably end up regretting this....however, I currently know of three yachts looking for qualified Chefs.
You may contact me if you are interested and QUALIFIED. Do not contact me if you have just finished culinary school/training and have had less than five years of professional cooking experience. Sorry, don't even bother to write because I won't answer you unless you meet those minimum requirements.
Next, PLEASE do not send me menus, long resumes, photos of any kind or huge attachments. That right there will put you out of the running, as I'll delete it before reading. Please just send me a brief paragraph of your culinary history, a paragraph or two about why you want to work on a charter yacht and a paragraph about why we should consider hiring you.
I am currently on an "around the country" road trip promoting Alaska yacht charters and will respond to your email ONLY if I would like additional information. If you don't hear back from me within two weeks it is because I was not impressed or interested in learning more about you. Nothing personal, I'm sure you're a fine person; it's just that I will probably get hundreds of emails about this and can't possibly answer them all.
I will ONLY consider emails sent to be at [email protected]. Please include the words "Alaska Chef" in the subject line.
Best wishes and good luck.