The idea that you might one day decide to chuck your responsibilities and ditch everything for a life at sea has periodically captured the imagination of every bored office drone staring out his window since Herman Melville. These days you don’t have to kill whales, but the possibility still exists. Even if you’d never actually do it, it’s nice to know that you could.
Like most non-traditional professions in 2016, yacht work even has its own reality show: Bravo’s Below Deck, and its new spinoff, Below Deck Mediterranean (the original is set in the Caribbean, the new one is set in Greece). Sure, luxury yachts aren’t exactly the merchant marines, but it is an interesting bargain: you get to experience the life of an absurdly rich oligarch during his most lavish vacation, but only as his glorified galley slave. All it seems to require, judging by the show, is an open mind and a hot bod (note: oligarchs do not hire ugly galley slaves).
It’s a much more balanced proposition for the ship’s chef. If your choices are cooking in a fine-dining restaurant doing 300 covers a night and cooking in a luxury yacht in Greece where the menu is whatever you want, the yacht option starts to look pretty good. The one caveat being that rich people are the very worst restaurant customers — imagine how much more awful and entitled they’d be on a yacht they’d chartered.
Below Deck Mediterranean‘s head chef is Ben Robinson, who, following a boarding school education in Oxford and an apprenticeship with the three Michelin star Duck Fat in the UK, has been a yacht chef for 10 years. I wanted to ask him all about the lifetime’s worth of assholes he must’ve dealt with in that time, as well as far more vomit-based questions than is usual, or even advisable when I interview chefs. Enjoy.
UPROXX: How far in advance do you have to prep when you’re cooking aboard a yacht? How far do they go out? What’s the longest trip you’ve had to supply for?
I once actually provisioned a boat for six weeks without going to a store. It was a 300-foot sailboat with 28 crew, and that was actually quite a feat to be honest. I don’t think you can really go more then six weeks. That’s about the maximum unless you start jarring and freezing vegetables and that.
What are the particular challenges of cooking aboard a ship? Do you have to tie stuff down? Did you learn anything the hard way?
Yes, I mean, lessons are best learned the hard way and yes it’s been a huge learning curve for me. The provisioning aspect is always very scary because sometimes land is nowhere near in sight or you’re going to an island where it’s impossible to find anything other then maybe a can of sweet corn. It’s very daunting. You can’t really do anything last minute. You have to be very, very prepared. Clearly the movement of the boat is another issue and just following protocol on a yacht is another thing a chef is going to have to get used to.
On the topic of movement, do people ever confuse basic seasickness for food poisoning?
You know, let me tell you, there’s a way of sussing that one out. Generally if I was to give someone food poisoning it would include the whole group.