Being a chef on a superyacht is a unique occupation, requiring many skills that are not all to do with haute cuisine. Patrick Wilkie, chef on the award-winning Como during her first year at sea, shares the secrets of being master of the galley and coping with such a hectic job.
How did you become a chef on a superyacht?
I’ve been a chef since I left school and moved from New Zealand to the French Alps at the age of 25 to combine my love of skiing and snowboarding with cooking. In 2009 a friend suggested I head south and try a change of environment, and I’ve worked on a variety of yachts in the 50-metre range since then. When Como was launched the captain asked me to join his team: it was the highlight of my career so far to work on a new Feadship, especially one owned by such a well-known person in the yachting community who is also a Kiwi!
Working on a new Feadship like Como is like going to work on an enormous Ferrari. The degree of construction and craftsmanship is mind blowing. No detail was missed in my galley and the after sales service was tremendous. During the warranty period a technician or craftsmen would fly out from Amsterdam to tweak anything that so much as squeaked within the first season. I have been thoroughly spoiled by this time on a Feadship as no other boat is comparable. Hats off to the yard – it made true the slogan ‘there are yachts and there are Feadships’.
I have been thoroughly spoiled by this time on a Feadship as no other boat is comparable. Hats off to the yard – it made true the slogan ‘there are yachts and there are Feadships’
What are the most important things for you in a galley?
Apart from a good set of knives? You have to have a good head on your shoulders, be focused and extremely well organised. Personally, I like seafood and doing a lot of pan work. Excellent induction pans are essential: I buy a new set every year because you don’t want things sticking when working under pressure.
How do you source all the food?
The bigger the boat, the less chance there is to go shopping yourself. On 50-metre yachts you still have the luxury of going to a good-quality deli when in port or perusing local markets for the intricate things we need. But mostly we rely on provision companies, especially for charter trips. They can get anything we require anywhere at any time. The provision companies are mostly based in the Antibes area. I don’t know how they do it but a week after I send off an order sheet it will be available for pick up or delivery, all perfectly portioned. All the meats and fish will be vacuum-packed; everything will be as fresh and high-quality as possible, including all the fruit and veg. It’s magic!
It sounds like you have to be prepared and think ahead...
Yes, especially on charters where we have a preference list containing all the likes and dislikes. And that goes right from the food in my department through to the toys they want on the boat, eating times, the itinerary and so on. I am currently preparing a charter where I have to strictly adhere to every letter of the Kosher law. We have a rabbi coming to bless the entire galley, including every single utensil, pan and surface. There will obviously be no shellfish or pork on the menu, and we’re taking care to observe the many laws about what food groups can be served together. So yes, preparation is pretty crucial!
How do you sort out supplies in remoter locations?
For bigger boats you can use helicopter deliveries, which hop between the islands, and you will have vast amounts of fridge space and stores. But you also need to go with the local flow. Take Fiji, for example. If we’re out in the islands we’ll go to the village chief and offer kava root from the local markets in Suva and Denarau. The drinks will be made in front of us. In return we are very pleased to accept a few chickens, some fresh vegetables and the right to fish in their bay. On one trip the village chief also brought us a live piglet, which we got the locals to despatch. It’s all quite an experience.
What other differences are there between working at sea and on land?
You’re not just a chef on a boat. You have to know the entire yacht inside out and have passed the requisite fire and safety training courses. You also have to take your turn on watch and I usually help man the lines when we come into harbour. The chef is part of a well-oiled machine and there’s never a dull day onboard a superyacht.