You might be the best-known celebrity chef right now in the world of crewed yacht charter. Ha! It’s true, though: I won “Hell’s Kitchen” in 2005. It’s the biggest cooking show in England, one of the biggest in the world. I won $250,000 to open a restaurant, which lasted for three years. Luckily for me, when the recession came, I found yachting. How exactly did that transition take place? I’m from Newcastle, England. I started cooking when I was about 13. The cookery teacher at my school had great legs, so all the lads wanted to be in her class. That’s the honest truth of it. I studied and cooked on and off as an adult until I ended up buying a pub. It was called The Plow, outside of Newcastle, and it was successful for about 15 years. Eventually, I sold it and moved on to other things, like “Hell’s Kitchen” and my restaurant. A friend of mine worked on one of the big boats in Monaco, and he came into my restaurant just as it was starting to struggle a bit from the recession, and he told me how to get into boats. I went right away, got the crew training, and here I am.
How have you found yachting so far? It’s very different because I have to wash my own dishes now. I also have to deal with all the fishmongers and butchers personally, because our boss doesn't like me to go through suppliers. I go to the markets wherever we are to see what's fresh. My restaurant background is very helpful in that way. On boats, you have to be a good all-around chef, making breads and desserts and all of it. It’s fun.
Do you have any specialties that you enjoy cooking for charter clients? I’ve got a fairly complex menu, but I like to cook foie gras, scallops, lobster, that sort of thing. My style is to let the customer see what he’s paying for. If it’s lobster, it will be a lobster. It won’t be all chopped and diced into oblivion.
How do you determine what you will cook during any given week of charter? Our yacht’s owner is a simple guy, and he eats simple food. Charter guests, you have to impress them. I try to get as much information from them as I can about what they want, and then I try to help them relax onboard so that they feel comfortable coming into the galley and talking to me. Maybe they don’t want foie gras or lobster. Maybe they want fish and chips, or a steak, or a burger. I am happy to do all of that, so long as they tell me what they want.
Do you do the same for children? Our motoryacht, the 140-foot Westport Monaliza, attracts families, so I’ll have kids coming into the galley to sit with me while I cook. I find that they don’t generally want to eat what their parents are eating, so I make them what they want separately. They love it.
It sounds like you might stay with charter yachts for a while to come. I’m happy on Monaliza, and yes, I think I’ll stay in boating. I wish more yachts would give older guys like me a chance. I’m proof that chefs with a lot of restaurant experience can thrive in this environment.