Behind the scenes with a super yacht chef

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th May 2013
Sam Boland is a 29-year-old chef from Bournemouth who now lives in Florida – that is when he is not cooking on some of the world’s biggest and most luxurious super yachts. But is the life of a super yacht chef all glitz and glamour? The Staff Canteen caught up with him to find out. Have you always cheffed on super yachts or were you a land lubber before? No I did the Academy of Culinary Arts specialised chefs course at Bournemouth and Poole College and I worked at The Ritz as part of that. I spent three years there which was a fantastic way to start in the industry. Then I moved to Le Gavroche in 2003 and had 18 months there which was an amazing experience. Then after a brief break working in a ski resort in Val d’Isere, I moved back to England and joined The Waterside and worked there for three years. So how did you make the move to yachts? It’s funny I had absolutely no intention of working in yachts or private villas or anything like that but then an old college friend called me and asked if I wanted to spend the summer working for him down in Nice in a villa. I was happy at The Waterside; I’d just got three back-to-back promotions and I was a senior chef de partie but I decided to move down to Nice to give it a try. I spent four or five months there and they asked me if I could help out on one of their yachts for eight months so I ended up working on a super yacht for the same company for almost three years. Unfortunately I can’t name the company. All I can say is that it was a 120 metre boat – one of the world’s largest super yachts – and we travelled to some pretty out of the way destinations like the Arctic and Antarctica. There were six chefs working there when it was fully operational. I started off as third chef and made my way up to head chef and finally relief executive chef before I left. And where did your career take you after that? I started working on my current boat last December which is a bit smaller - 80 metres with three chefs on board – but I really enjoy it. It’s owned by a very large media company. The owners mostly use the boat for diving so we go to remote locations like Indonesia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea. It’s completely different to my last boat but I really enjoy it. What is an average day like when you’re on the boat? I get up at six am. Breakfast is between eight and half eight which can be up to about 25 guests and is buffet style with a couple of different specials. There’s usually a big lunch and a lighter dinner. Lunch is served between three and four and dinner is between half past eight and half nine and we finish about half eleven/twelve with maybe a half hour break somewhere in between. I write the menus three or four days in advance and I’ll check them with the owners each day and usually they’ll say it’s fine or sometimes they’ll ask for a few changes or something different. There’s also the crew’s meals to think about, which are really important; the second chef usually deals with those while I concentrate on the owners and the third chef helps between us. What are the kitchen conditions like? Are they as cramped as people imagine of a galley  on a boat? No these are commercial kitchens. It’s a fantastic galley I work in at the moment. It’s got a huge walk-in fridge, a huge walk-in freezer; it’s all induction stove tops, Rational ovens, proofing boxes; we’ve got a fantastic vac pac machine; we’ve got water baths; we’ve got Pacojets; you name it, we’ve got it. Sounds fantastic! You must have had some amazing experiences; can you share any with us? With my current boat provisioning is always quite an adventure because we go to such exotic places. We were recently in a place called Manado in Indonesia where hardly any super yachts go. The owners are really into local produce so every three or four days I would go to the fish market. I would jump in a cab and use Google translate to say “take me to the fish market” because no one can speak English and they never see westerners. One day I saw this magnificent 42kg yellow fin tuna which the guy wanted $250 for. I managed to bargain him down to $225 which I was very pleased with. When I got back to the yacht I worked out that back in Florida, where tuna is about $29 a pound, this tuna would have cost $3,500. Even then, when I got it back to the boat, the local dive guide told me I had paid too much! In terms of crazy experiences, on one of the boats I worked for one of the owners emailed 200 of his closest friends and asked them for the best dishes from the best restaurants they’d ever eaten in, then we had to duplicate the dishes. So we had to fly around the world to eat at all these restaurants. Some chefs got Beijing and Sydney and places like that. I got London Paris and Rome. We were on such a tight schedule that we would fly to Rome and have to do 23 restaurants in four days, then we had to go back and recreate these dishes! For anyone thinking about working on yachts, what would you say are the ups and the downs of the job? Definitely one of the perks is travelling – experiencing new foods and new cuisine that we never even see in the UK. But it’s definitely not something for the fainthearted. I work just as hard as I did at somewhere like Le Gavroche. I’ve done three and a half months without a day off before. You’re also away from family for a long time so it’s really a single person’s business. And you have to actually like the people you work with because you’re always with them. You can’t just finish work or have a day off to get away from them. You’re working with that person all the time. Provisioning is also a massive challenge which you can’t just learn overnight. Then there is adapting yourself to the owners. These people can eat in any restaurant in the world. They know what good food is and they know what they want. At the end of the day you have to do it the way they want it and not the way you think it should be done. And do you see yourself working on super yachts for the foreseeable future? I wouldn’t change my career for anything. I’ve loved every minute but the dream is that hopefully in a few years I’ll open my own place back in Bournemouth, where I come from; back to being a landlubber!
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th May 2013

Behind the scenes with a super yacht chef