Cooking for the crew
How far are yacht chefs obliged to go to cater for crews’ eating habits and dietary requirements?
It’s simple home comforts that can make a big difference to how a team feels and performs on board. Food, both in terms of quantity and quality, plays a crucial role in keeping crew motivated and energetic during a long and hard-working day. While a yacht chef’s primary role on board is to please owners and guests with their culinary expertise, most are also aware that it is important for the crew to have healthy and tasty meals to keep them going. However, catering for a growing variety of tastes, preferences and dietary requirements (excluding allergies) isn’t always practical in the yachting environment.
Yacht chef Tami Ayers welcomes any challenge when it comes to special eating habits and dietary requirements as she feels it will make her better at her job. “I am a bit of a pushover when it comes to crew needs, so I do go above and beyond and I am happy to do so,” she explains. “I only ask that the crew hold off any requests while on boss trips, regattas or charters, and they are mostly very good with that. I try really hard to raise the bar when it is just the crew on board and I think that helps a lot when I ask them to refrain from being too demanding during the busy times.”
More and more people are interested in healthy eating and with that comes certain dietary trends that are growing in popularity. But these can throw up challenges for the chef on board...
Another experienced yacht chef, who wishes to remain anonymous, agrees that during downtime when the boat is on the dock, chefs often have the luxury of being able to put extra effort into cooking food for the crew. “This is when you can take individual requests from the crew and experiment a little bit more because you have the time, money and resources to do so,” she says. “But when you are on a boss trip, on charter or even during a delivery, there is a limit to what you can do and the crew should be able to understand this.”
On the flip side, this chef acknowledges that there are some chefs in the industry who ignore crew needs altogether when they are really busy cooking for the owner or guests – and she believes this is wrong. Therefore, she suggests a mutual level of respect is required between the departments to find the right balance. “As a chef, you need to acknowledge that the crew need feeding regularly and you have to be a little bit flexible to cater for them,” she adds. “But at the same time, the crew need to accept that during busy periods meals might consist of something basic like a tray bake.”
There are, of course, certain dietary requirements and eating habits that can make it even harder for a chef to cater for the crew. Storage is a big issue on most boats and chefs can stock up on only so many ingredients for a delivery or if they are cruising in remote locations where provisioning is not possible. More and more people are interested in healthy eating and with that comes certain dietary trends that are growing in popularity. But these can throw up challenges for the chef on board.
"In the same way that captains might not want to hire certain nationalities because of possible visa complications, I think dietary requirements should be factored into the consideration process because of the impact it could have on the chef..."
“Vegetarians and vegans will often just ask for extra vegetables instead of requesting a separate meal, but this might not be possible on a delivery or in a remote location where storage is restrictive and you can’t provision for fresh produce,” the anonymous chef continues. “Lactose and gluten-free seems to be a growing request that can also be a bit of a nuisance, even more so when you see that person eating a cheeseburger at 1am!”
While this chef understands the need to cater for any food intolerances, she does believe that crew should be made to take a medical test in order to prove them to the chef who is cooking their food. As for accommodating dietary requirements, while a chef may not be able to refuse such requests once a crewmember is on board, she believes these should play a more prominent role in the recruitment process. “In the same way that captains might not want to hire certain nationalities because of possible visa complications, I think dietary requirements should be factored into the consideration process because of the impact it could have on the chef,” she asserts.
However, while many chefs might be opposed to cooking for more complicated diets, Chef Ayers not only welcomes it but also actively encourages it. “I choose to cook vegan twice a week to help with the methane gas problem that the world faces and it seems to go down well with everyone on board,” she admits. “Of course, I have to make a special effort to win over the meat eaters on those days, but usually they are persuaded. By cooking vegan, I have learned so much about our health and the planet, plus it’s challenged my skill level and I see so much potential now in ingredients that I did not see before. I encourage chefs to try to step up and embrace the crew’s needs so that they can become better chefs.”
"I have worked with crew that have been more challenging, not necessarily because of their diets, but more because of their expectations and that is when challenges can arise..."
Chef Ayers concludes that there is often a difference between what most chefs are able to do and what the crew think they can do. “Because we’re chefs, they think that somehow means we should know how to make anything, which is not always the case,” she explains. “I have worked with crew that have been more challenging, not necessarily because of their diets, but more because of their expectations and that is when challenges can arise. Not all chefs have the same background or training and I think it is very important when chefs are hired to be told exactly what the crew needs are. I have only ever seen one contract for a chef position that required meeting the needs of crew that change their diets while on board.”
There will always be those crew with particularly unusual dietary requirements, but a balance can almost always be found between keeping the crew happy and the chef stress-free by producing balanced meals that cater for a range of different tastes and dietary requirements. “I find the best way is to always make sure there is a mixture of protein, carbohydrates and vegetables at every main meal, which makes it easy for crew to pick and eat the diet they want, such as vegetarian or low carb,” the anonymous chef concludes. “At the end of the day, the chef should be responsible for allowing the crew to control their own diets.”
Image courtesy of Chef Tami Ayers
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