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Betsy McDonald

Betsy McDonald



Betsy is the chef aboard the 150-foot motoryacht Magic.


Betsy McDonaldChef, 150-foot motoryacht Magic
Date interviewed: September 2006

How did you realize you wanted to become a chef?
I always worked in restaurant kitchens, ever since I was 15.

What training did you undergo to become a chef?
I started in a French crepery, making desserts. Then I branched out into cold food preparation, sautee stations, the natural progression of restaurants. I went to the Culinary Institute of America, and that was my introduction to the big picture. You go there, and you are exposed to all these chefs, mostly European, and a broad spectrum of foods that you haven’t dealt with before, and it’s an academic environment where you have a couple glasses of wine and talk about food, bounce ideas off people.

After that, my first job was on a small cruise ship. I was the cook for 85 passengers and 17 crew. Everything was family style. I’d just come out of the culinary institute and I wanted to do all these fancy presentations, but this job was about platters of roast beef. I didn’t last long.

I ended up being promoted to head chef in a restaurant in Durham, North Carolina, where I’m from. We ended up becoming more fine dining with eclectic foods from Italy, Spain, wherever. The owner totally let me run the kitchen and do whatever we wanted as far as specials. I could use my creativity, experiment every day with lunch and dinner. We also developed a major catering business and a huge wholesale dessert business. We were really famous for our cheesecakes. They sold all over North Carolina.”

Why did you decide to work onboard yachts?
About three years into my work at the restaurant in Durham, I was sitting on a dock in Beaufort, North Carolina, with my mom, and we were having a drink, and I saw a private yacht pull up. I didn’t know anything about it, but I said to my mom, “I’ll bet they have chefs on those boats.’ So I asked the dockmaster how to get a job on a boat like that. It was a Sunday afternoon.

That Friday, I was flying into Fort Lauderdale for my first boat job.

What yachts did you work on before joining your current crew?
My first was Cherosa, a 100-foot motoryacht. It was a private boat, and I did a season there, learned that I would be more interested in a charter boat. I thought my talents were wasted. The owner liked these seven deadly dishes, the only dishes he wanted, and I had to make them for the whole season.

My next boat was private, Robyn Lee, a custom 98-foot motoryacht from Italy. I met (my now-husband) Mac there. He was hired as a mate/engineer, but he really wanted to be the captain. Three months later, he was the captain. It was a marriage made in heaven. We stayed there five years.

Then came Sea Dreams, a 95-foot motoryacht that chartered. I stayed there for five and half years before moving to Camille, another motoryacht. I was there for five years with Mac, and we did a lot of charters.

When did you join your current yacht’s crew?
Mac and I joined Magic about three years ago, in 2003.

What do you think makes your yacht’s crew unique or special?
Our yacht’s owner takes good care of us, so that we can take excellent care of our guests.

I have everything in the world I need, plus some. And that includes continuing education. Anytime I feel it is right, I’m allowed to go to Greystone, the Culinary Institute of America’s continuing education branch out in Napa Valley, California. This is where you learn what’s new and trendy, to reinvigorate yourself. I’ve done it several times. It’s a huge, big thing that the boss lets me do whenever I feel the time is right.

Our stewardesses are encouraged, when we go to another country, Mac will line up with a wine distributor to come on the boat and do tastings for the crew. The point is that both Mac and the yacht’s owner feel the more we know about fine wines, caviar, this and that, the better we are going to be able to serve our guests. It’s fun, it’s team building and it’s good sense. We all go away—the deckhands, too—and we know a little more.

You’ve got to have crew that want to be a team and play together. That’s what we are.


How do you determine what meals you will prepare for charter guests?
They typically arrive the first day around lunchtime, and I try to make the first lunch so stunning and arranged around their preference sheets, so perfectly suited to them, that they go ‘Oh my God, this is beyond fantastic.’ And for the rest of the week, my life is easier because then they will say, ‘whatever you want.’

On the day-to-day level, at some point, maybe as they’re just finishing their breakfast, I’ll say something like, ‘I saw some lovely sea bass at the fish market this morning, and I’m thinking about that for lunch. How does that sound?’ Most often, they say, ‘anything you want, Betsy.’

I never do a week’s worth of menus in advance. My thing is, then you’re forcing yourself into finding certain ingredients. I think it’s better to see what’s fresh and available and start there every day.

How important are guests’ preference sheets to you?
We receive the preference sheets, and the chief stewardess and I pore over them together. She addresses the wines and beverages, perhaps maybe little snack foods for the bar. In France she’ll buy fine chocolates for the pillows, specialized turndown gifts that are age appropriate, maybe toys for the kids but journals for the teenage girls. I do all the food, anything that’s consumable other than bar snacks. It’s a lot.

I am not a good chef unless I am satisfying my guests’ needs.

What are some of your specialty dishes, or often-requested favorites?
Pina colada pancakes are a favorite for breakfast.

My lunches are 99 percent buffets because I can offer an array of three or four cold salads, plus at least one protein like chilled shrimp or lobster. Guests usually want light, local cuisine, and they want choices. It’s the choices that I think are so important. And the arrangements can be gorgeous on the buffet, these beautiful platters. It makes people think, ‘Wow, I am feeling the flavor of the Caribbean,’ or it’s the Mediterranean right there on the table.

We’ve been doing a beautiful paella that I’ve been doing in a pan that’s almost three feet across. It’s a spectacular presentation.


What else should subscribers know about you and your yacht?
I’m not going to be the finest chef you meet, but I’m a great boat chef because there is so much love in everything I do. I love my crew, I love my guests, I love everything about charter.

These people are paying $155,00 to $165,000 a week on my boat. That’s a massive responsibility that I have for those people. I sincerely think that what I owe to them is to always keep going, to do one more thing, to be a little bit more impressive. I’m supposed to knock their socks off, not just placate them.

I’ve heard of people who put out store-bought cookies on megayachts. That’s not what I think we’re here for. My job is to make people leave saying, ‘Holy moly, that was amazing!’ I want that beautiful feedback at the end, where people say, ‘You made our vacation amazing.’ That’s what I’m here for.

Also, our yacht’s owner feels he should take care of charter guests just the same way we on the crew feel we should. When we have charter guests, we do not nickel and dime them. If anything, we give thousands of dollars away every charter. You want there to be a bathroom and slippers that you can take away, Magic jackets, that sort of thing.

You want it to be loaded with luxury, and we do it without worry.

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