Alix Verrips is a superyacht head chef and mentor in Penum's Mentor Programme. She has recently spent time in world-renowned restaurant 'Dinner by Heston Blumenthal' and shares her experience of being back in a land-based kitchen compared to a galley at sea.
I recently had the amazing opportunity of doing a week-long 'stage' at the seventh best restaurant in the world (S.Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurant List), the two-Michelin starred 'Dinner, by Heston Blumenthal', kindly arranged for me by Ellie Barker from Penum.
'Staging' originates from the French word 'stagiaire', meaning trainee or apprentice, and denotes an unpaid internship at a restaurant.
Having been a head chef in the yachting industry for over 15 years, where I've been running galleys of boats of up to 140m, it was quite a humbling experience joining a brigade of almost 50 chefs as a commis (the lowest wrung of the ladder).
I spent each day (8am until midnight) working in a different section of the prep kitchen helping set up the mise-en-place for service. I was instructed to tourne the potatoes used for mash, told to measure the salsify with a ruler before cutting it and warned never to use the tea towel I was issued with for anything other than handling hot implements. I scraped and flattened kilos of chicken skins, picked tiny clumps of meat out of braised calves' tails, carved and deseeded plenty of pineapples, zested bushels of bergamot, cleaned arm-loads of artichokes, weighed a billions of balls of brioche and peeled more vegetables than I normally go through in a season. A few times during service I ran sauces in the main kitchen while observing how all the components of each dish came together on the plate. After service I helped my comrades tidy up and scrub down, fulfilling each small task with military precision.
The intensity of the kitchen was immense and the attention to detail incredible. Everything is done according to the manual and signed off at every stage of production.
The intensity of the kitchen was immense and the attention to detail incredible. Everything is done according to the manual and signed off at every stage of production. Everyone I worked with seemed extremely focused and serious. It would appear that in the pursuit of perfection, light-hearted banter is considered a distraction, and speed and discipline more important than getting to know each other.
My experience at 'Dinner', despite sounding rather intense, proved to be invaluable on an inspirational level. I learned numerous new techniques, 'secrets' and recipes that I have already used to my benefit. Knowing what goes on behind the scenes of a Michelin-starred restaurant gives me renewed appreciation of what it entails to be awarded and to maintain the highest of culinary accolades.
Being back in a restaurant kitchen environment has also reminded me of how truly fortunate we yacht chefs are. We have the opportunity on a daily basis to try new recipes using interesting ingredients without having to constantly weigh quality up against cost.
If one considers that the average yacht chef earns approximately three to four times the annual wage of an average commis chef in the UK, and almost twice the average annual salary of an executive chef, with the added benefit of travel to exotic locations and minimal expenses, we definitely have a lot to be grateful for.