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Interview: Charter Yacht Chef Jean-Paul Barcena

He is aboard the 171-foot Feadship motoryacht Gravitas

Date interviewed: November 2015


I understand you have one of the most interesting ideas for keeping guests happy during the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show this month.

Yes, the crew has rigged a makeshift keg-o-rator in the engine room. So you can check out the boat, have a beer and relax.


Now that’s the kind of vibe a great charter yacht sets! How long have you been with Gravitas?

I’ve been on this boat for two years, since the owner bought it, but I’ve been with the owners themselves for just over four years, the same as our captain, Roy Hodges.


How did you get into the yachting business?

I’m from Southern California. I grew up in restaurants. I went to college for business, but my parents owned three restaurants, and I ended up running them. For some reason, I just loved food. Up until 9/11, I ran hotels and restaurants. I was VP of operations for a hotel chain, running more than 40 hotels in six states. I was a suit-and-tie kind of guy.

Then 9/11 happened, and I lost my job, just like many other people in the hotel industry when everything went downhill. My brother and I started a healthy-food company, and I had a boutique catering company.

I’d been working with billionaires as a private chef, and I found out about the yachting industry when I was turning about 40 years old. I used to fly in their private jets and go on their boats, and I’d say, “Oh, this is an actual business. This is a job.”


You previously worked aboard the 155-foot Heesen motoryacht Seadweller and the 151-foot Delta motoryacht Katya in the Mediterranean. Now you’re with Gravitas, which charters in the Bahamas, Virgin Islands and Caribbean. How do you like being only on this side of the Atlantic for charter?

The Caribbean is a cakewalk compared to the Med. The guests over there are far more demanding.

Most of the boats in the Med are in the same area, like Porto Cervo or the other high-end places. They don’t eat dinner until 10 or 11 at night. They come back at 4 in the morning with their friends and want a four-course dinner. I’ve actually done that, and they didn’t even eat it. They just wanted it because they could have it.

In the Caribbean, you spend the day on the water toys and having a picnic on the beach and maybe a dinner party on the boat, and then you crash in your cabin. The guests have had a big day and they’re tired and go to bed. The crew gets to sleep, too. And everybody has a great time. I love it.


What are some of your specialties?

If people are open to it, I’ll take them for an international, round-the-world journey, something different every day. We can do Spanish, Italian, Japanese—I was trained by one of North America’s top sushi chefs, in Beverly Hills. It was quite intense. I took my vacation time and flew out there to work with him. I did about 100 hours of training.

I can do tasting menus, too. Most of the time, I’ll do three to four courses with a little bit of everything. One day we’ll do Chinese, another day classical French, another day homey stuff. Some people like family-style. The last charter we did, a lot of it was family-style. They wanted us to put up salads, soups, you name it and they’d go at it.

We can go fishing for fresh fish, or I can provision whatever they want that’s specific. Most of the time, I have pretty much everything in our big walk-in freezers and fridge. I’ve had some outlandish things asked, like squid ink for a squid-ink pasta, and I’ve had to figure out where to find it. I can usually have it within a day or two. Or maybe they like a certain wine that we can get. Usually it’s no problem, whatever they like.


Gravitas is part of the Northrop and Johnson charter fleet, taking 12 guests at a lowest weekly base rate of $230,000. Any reputable charter broker can help you book a week on board.









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