If someone asked your chef whether you are a good yacht owner, you probably would want the response to be something like this: "I’ve searched for this boss my entire career. I will probably do this job five to seven years longer than I wanted to. I can’t see, I just can’t see, why I would leave such a perfect situation."
Even better, if someone asked your yacht’s chef how he or she defines her or her job, you probably would want the response to be something like this:
"These people are paying $155,000 to $165,000 a week to charter my boat. I sincerely think that what I owe them is to always keep going, to do one more thing, to be a little bit more impressive."
All of which is why, if someone asked you how to find and keep a top-notch megayacht chef, you might turn for advice to Betsy McDonald—who spoke those words as she happily continued her 17th year in yacht galleys and her third year onboard the 150-foot Trinity Magic. She has great respect for Magic’s owner, an enthusiastic attitude toward guests, and a reputation for turning out some pretty terrific food.
How does she do it, and why is she so eager to stay? The answers reveal as much about yacht chefs in general as they do about her.
McDonald started cooking in restaurants as a teenager and then graduated from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), which introduced her to a broad spectrum of foods. She later became head chef at a restaurant in her hometown of Durham, North Carolina, where she experimented with eclectic cuisine.
That’s a far better grounding for yachting than, say, a year under the tutelage of a renowned sushi artist, she says, because a charter yacht chef has to cook to a variety of tastes. "We’re hopefully great cooks who don’t specialize," she explains. "We’ve got to be beautifully proficient in Japanese, Italian, French, spa cuisine—we’ve got to do it all."
Of course, personality plays a role, too. Many yacht chefs have outgoing attitudes that help them bond with the owners and truly want to please them instead of just feeding them. Plus, a little diplomacy can go a long way with impatient charter guests. "If they all of the sudden want dinner in five minutes instead of two hours, I explain that I am happy to cook for them right that minute, but that their first course is prepared fresh, and I need 15 minutes to cook it," she says. "There’s never a problem, as long as they know I am doing my best to please them."
Being a workaholic doesn’t hurt, either. When Magic has guests onboard, McDonald is responsible for feeding all 12 of them, plus ten crew (not to mention handling the advance provisioning). Her days start with slicing fruit at 6 a.m. and end after the last dessert plate is cleaned, around midnight. There are no breaks, unless you count getting off the boat to handpick fresh vegetables and pastries from the local markets.
This article originally appeared in the October 2006 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.