A Word With... Mary Beth Lawton-Johnson
A certified executive pastry chef and chef de cuisine, Mary Beth Lawton-Johnson is one of the highest-credentialed chefs in the megayacht world. She currently works aboard the 119-foot Rebecca and is renowned for her signature dessert: a chocolate box filled with bread pudding and wrapped with a pulled-sugar bow. PMY recently talked to her about life in the galley.
Q: What’s the biggest difference between cooking at sea versus on land?
A: I would say it’s finding specialty food items that are not prevalent in foreign countries. I am confronted with diets that range from diabetic, gluten intolerance, shellfish intolerance, other allergies, hypoglycemia, just to name a few. When you are preparing roughly 72 meals or more a day, for people with specific dietary needs, you have to have adequate supplies to carry you through to the next port. The other problem facing yacht chefs is the lack of adequate space. I designed the galley onboard Rebecca, so I know my limits on provisioning—but I still get carried away.
Q: Do you have any memorable disasters?
A: I would say every megayacht chef should have at least one disaster in their background. When I first started off in the business as a cook/stewardess, my boss didn’t know I could really cook. He also didn’t know the captain could cook. Once, we were hosting a big dinner, and the caterer forgot to bring the main entree. We were at least 100 miles from New York City, and we had one hour before 50 guests started showing up ready to eat. The captain and I grabbed all the food we could out of the freezer and served up a mixed grill that could rival any professional caterer in New York. I was not only elevated to the chef’s position after that, but I also married the captain.
Q: What’s the best part of being a chef?
A: This job allows me to create, and not under someone else’s direction. This is the whole point of culinary artistry—not just placing a side of beef on a plate. However, I still answer to the owner and captain. Once, I made a four-tiered mosaic tile cake, all hand-painted with embossed symbols on each layer and an edible gold challis on top. It was my creation and not someone else’s. If you take away my gift of creative artistry, then I might as well leave the profession.
Q: What would you say to an aspiring megayacht chef?
A: Gain as much knowledge as you can at culinary school and then rely on that knowledge. On a prestigious yacht, you only have one chance to get it right. If you have never been to sea before, start on the smaller yachts, less than 100 feet, and then work your way up. The larger you go, the bigger the pressure cooker it is.
The U.S. Coast Guard’s newest defense system sounds like something out of a James Bond movie.
In February the agency unveiled its new high-tech underwater security system, two years in the making, to prevent terrorists from planting bombs on cruise ships, oil tankers, and merchant vessels. The defense measure is two-pronged. First, trained divers and robotic cameras with spotlights will now routinely check ship hulls and piers for suspicious activity. Second, a high-tech sonar system will detect suspicious divers and sound an alarm, while large underwater loudspeakers will blast verbal warning messages and, if necessary, high-pressure pulses of air or water to send shock waves to anyone who gets too close to docked ships.
“The threats to our ports and waterways come in many forms,” says Admiral Thomas Collins. “The Coast Guard is making every effort to address each potential vulnerability to thwart those who wish to damage this vital part of our nation’s infrastructure.”
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