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The Truth About Working As A Superyacht Chef

by Melissa Phair

I had just graduated from university with a degree in Mathematical Science and Spanish in 2009. I was offered a job at a banking company in London but having spent the last year living and studying in Spain, I fell in love with it and wanted to return. Instead, my best friend convinced me to move to the French Alps, despite a complete lack of French language skills, this turned out to be the beginning of a very long and exciting adventure.

While working in the Alps, I soon heard about the world of yachting from a wealthy individual who came into the bar I’d been working in. Spring rolled around and my friends and I had finished our seasonal contracts. We decided to head to the south of France to find out about the superyachts we’d heard so much about. 

After completing a STCW course (essential for anyone working on large boats), I managed to secure a job as crew chef on my first superyacht. At this time, I had no formal training, but my father was a chef and a baker so I thought - how hard can this be? (For those wondering… extremely hard). I quickly fell in love with the position so I returned to Dublin to undertake a culinary qualification, so that I could progress in the industry. After finishing my course and working for free in several different Michelin star restaurants for experience, I then returned to yachts to put in the hard graft and work my way up. 

A typical day in the life of yachting doesn’t really exist, but we have busier and quiet periods. My typical day during a busy summer season would look something like this: 

5.30am Wake up  

6.00am Start work and bake breads

7.00am Crew breakfast Service 

8.00am Guest breakfast starts (this can continue until 3pm!) 

9.00am Start prepping guest lunch while simultaneously serving guest breakfast  12.00 Crew lunch Service 

13.00-17.00 Guest lunch can be anywhere in and around this time, however i’ve had some guests eating lunch at midnight 

16.00 Sometimes this is a sweet hour where you might get a nap 

18.00 Crew dinner Service 

19.00 Guest canapés 

20.30 Guest dinner service (you hope). Dinner service can be finished in a few hours or last five. It all depends on your guests.  

22.30 Clean down the galley, type menus for the following day, and last bits of prep for  tomorrow’s menu  

23.30 Bedtime  

01.00 Guests wake you looking for snacks - I try to prepare sourdough toasties, burgers, fries  and homemade brioche buns in advance. I’ve even been asked for foie gras canapés and Nutella on toast in the same order. The more you can prepare during the day, the more  sleep you (may) get. 

02.30 Back to bed to hopefully sleep through to 05.30 again…

Having worked on yachts for over a decade I fancied a change and as I've gotten older, I've wanted to spend more time on land too. 

A few years ago, I read a book called I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was by Barbara Sher and it challenged me to ask myself if I'm doing what I love and to recall what I loved doing as a child. 

For me, drawing and art was the answer. As a child I loved drawing and my artwork has been displayed in the waterfront hall in Belfast. Two years ago I started drawing again and this time it was clothing. I started sketching outfits and shoes and this is where my clothing brand evolved from. I was looking for another creative output and this just seemed to fall on my lap.  

Working on yachts takes a certain type of person. Your days range from the highest of the highs  to the lowest of the lows, with often little time spent in between. The hours are long and brutal and  there can be several weeks of these 20 hour days without a single day off. It might seem glamorous but it's not for the faint hearted. I've missed out on birthdays, weddings, christenings, funerals, most Christmas’ with family and almost every New Years Eve. Are these sacrifices worth it? 

Well, truth be told I wouldn’t change the last decade of my life for the world.