How I became a yacht chef…
Let me introduce myself. I am 33 and am a self taught yacht chef. I have been working on yachts for almost 7 years.
My journey was not an easy one to begin with and I have been faced with many challenges. I started dayworking as a stew/cook in Antibes, France. I remember it being so hard to secure my first permanent role. I had jobs fall through and would take a different job while dayworking thinking it sounded better, only to be met with disappointment. I was thrown into the “deep end” many times. But somehow always found the strength to come out back on top. I have always been a fighter, so my lows only fueled the fire in me to persevere.
I remember coming home after 3 months when my Schengen visa for Europe expired. I had friends doing a delivery of a 48-foot catamaran to Aruba. They asked me to come with them, I guess you can call it right place at the right time. I said as long as I can get a US visa first. Before I knew it I was on the yacht crossing to the Caribbean. I had never really been to sea, besides short trips around the coast. I experienced sea sickness like you cannot imagine. All I wanted was for the boat to turn around and go back to Cape Town, but it wasn’t going to for little old me.
We stopped in St Helena, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago and finally Aruba after 42 days. I then booked a flight to Miami. I remember that day like yesterday, arriving in this massive country (The United States) I was scared, because this was my make or break. I had to prove to everyone and myself that I could succeed. And because I didn’t have an easy run in Europe, it felt even more daunting.
My first stay was in West Palm Beach, Florida with some fellow South Africans I knew there. I managed to secure some daywork to get me by. 2 weeks in, feeing a little more confident, I managed to secure my first full time role as a stew/cook. It was a 106-foot yacht, all departments interlinked to help each other out. At this stage I thought I was mostly going to be doing stewardess work with some light cooking for the crew. I realized quickly that I didn’t like stewardess work and I found myself cooking in the galley whenever I could. To be honest I didn’t know much about even the basic fundamentals of cooking. But I researched a lot and my mind was like a sponge. Everything I was shown I would apply myself. I worked for a wonderful Canadian family, and they gave me the confidence to pursue cooking and eventually to become a chef.
Sadly, I had to leave this job after a year as I became quite ill. I didn’t know at the time that this illness would linger for the next year of my life before it got under control. It was a challenging time; I came home for 2 months went back overseas for 6 months only to be knocked down by this illness worse than before. In September 2014 I was diagnosed with Crohns disease and was put on a course of medication. Prior to this I had been freelancing on a yacht as a chef, it was my first “chef” titled role. I was really tested and pushed to my limits during this time but it was also the time I learnt the most in my journey toward becoming a chef. I was fortunate to get a second contract shortly after my diagnosis and rejoined them in Malta. This whole period was extremely challenging on my mind and my body. And I was told by my doctors that I would have to give up my “life at sea”. I was devastated when this happened and I went through a bit of depression. But once again I persevered and once I was on the right medication is when the doors really opened up for me.
A couple of months later I got my first permanent crew chef position. I was cooking for 15 crew on a yacht with live aboard owners in Miami. I soon learnt that I had to really start being inventive and this is where I learnt so much about myself and my skillset developed. I worked hard, but I wore myself thin very quickly as I had never really given my body a break.
It was at the beginning of 2016 I decided I needed to give back to myself and I started looking to study life coaching. I knew I had a lot of things I needed to work through and also that I could be a teacher to other people. I didn’t know exactly what direction I was heading but it was the beginning of a new chapter in my life. I left this yacht just after my first coaching course in July 2016, as I slowly started building my confidence back. Physically and emotionally my body had taken quite a knock. I then spent the next couple of months completing life coaching, I also came home to Cape Town to acquaint myself with my past. There was a lot I had to work through and clear to move forward.
In 2017 I went back to the yachts. I did a short contract on a 100m yacht where I completed a crossing from Spain to Dubai, this trip is still one of my highlights. Afterwards I was fortunate to secure a head chef position on an expedition yacht based in Cape Town! This is every yachties dream. We went to some off the beaten track destinations and I enjoyed my time on here. I also made some great friends and I stayed on for a year. My life had taken a bit of a different direction and I had to honour that. I now am still freelancing on yachts and completed a contract in Doha afterwards.
My focus now is my blog and wellness coaching. Through the travelling and the highs and lows I’ve been through personally, my aim is to spread the message that whatever you put your mind to you can achieve. I believe you need a healthy mindset and you need to treat your body with care. I am an avid yogi and follow a mostly plant based diet. My philosophy is what you put in is what you put out. And also the environment your surround yourself in is so important.