Perhaps the most important quality in a top-notch chef is being a team player, McDonald says. She cooks meals for her crewmates that are almost as nice as her guest preparations, and the crew returns the favor by making her look good. "If [the guests] are just sitting around, and they say, ‘My grandmother used to make the best whatever,’ I tell my girls, anything they hear, to let me know. We can keep dazzling them with little surprises."
What makes it all worthwhile for McDonald is knowing that Magic’s guests and crew appreciate her. Most important, though, is the respect the yacht’s owner offers.
"My owner lets me be completely creative," she says. "And every time he comes to a port, especially in Europe, he’s taking [the crew] to really cool places and saying he wants us all to have these experiences, because he believes we will be better able to serve our clients. We should know what a Michelin restaurant is, because that’s the experience we want to give guests.
"I have everything in the world I need, plus some," she adds. "And that includes continuing education. Anytime I feel it is right, I’m allowed to go to Greystone, CIA’s continuing education branch out in the Napa Valley. This is where you learn what’s new and trendy, to reinvigorate yourself."
Magic’s owner even allows wine tastings onboard for her and the crew. "We all go away—the deckhands, too—and we know a little more, and we’ve had some fun," she says. "It’s an extremely practical way to make the crew feel like they’ve gotten a bonus."
In the end, she says, keeping a good chef happy boils down to simply letting creativity flourish.
"What’s seriously the most important is the way you treat people," she says. "[Magic’s owner] makes me and this crew feel special. We want to protect his interests, save him money, make him proud, make him happy. These people who keep a firm rein, show the crew who’s boss, I just don’t think that’s the way to get the most out of boat people. They don’t like a lot of authority. You have to lead by example with a gentle rein, hire the right people, and give them their autonomy. Let them go impress you."
This article originally appeared in the October 2006 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.