Quail Eggs aren’t the easiest ingredient to find when cruising the Bahamian Out Islands of the Exumas. This dilemma didn’t daunt chef Joseph Yacino, who satisfied his client’s hankering by having the eggs added to a seaplane deliery.
Likewise, when a couple wanted to entertain friends aboard their yacht while watching the 2013 America’s Cup in San Francisco, they called personal chef Dane Mechlin. His culinary experience in the yachting world spans from working as a chef on a private luxury vessel in Alaska to provisioning a superyacht for a Saudi prince docked in San Diego, Mechlin provided the meal soup to nuts.
These stories might sound like episodes of Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous; however, you don’t need to be a movie star or multi-millionaire to benefit from a professional chef. In fact, two common trends — a time-starved lifestyle and plethora of eating styles — can make these services extremely valuable and even affordable to anyone.
More Time to Have It Your Way
Americans spend nearly six hours a week on cooking, according to a recent poll of 27,000 adults in 22 countries by German consumer research firm, GfK. This translates into the time it takes to cruise 10 knots an hour from Providence, RI, to Montauk, NY.
“People are busy and that’s why home delivery services like Blue Apron are popular,” says Markeicha Dulaney, a Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts graduate whose chef experience includes the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo and a private megayacht prior to starting her own business. “As personal chefs, we go one step farther. The menus are prepared to your preferences, not selected from a rotation of menus. And, everything is prepared fresh rather than ingredients arriving in a box.”
More “knees under the table time” is how chef Candy Wallace describes the extra hours families can spend together when a chef prepares the meal. Wallace, an industry veteran and founder of the San Diego-based American Personal & Private Chef Association (APPCA) has seen this advantage in action.
Beyond time, more than 36% of Americans follow a specific eating pattern, according to the 2018 Food & Health Survey, released by the International Food Information Council. The top ten of these, in decreasing order of popularity, are intermittent fasting, paleo, gluten-free, low-carb, Mediterranean, Whole 30, high-protein, vegetarian or vegan, weight loss, and cleanse.
“Professional chefs are always expected to be on top of all diet trends and cuisines,” says Victoria Allman, a Fort Lauderdale-based, Culinary Institute of America-trained chef who worked 19 years as a private chef on a yacht and recently came ashore to cook at an estate. “For example, with a group of 12 guests, there are inevitably one or ten different diets to accommodate. It’s common to plate two gluten-free meals, one dairy-free, two no spice, one no garlic, three vegan, and three kid meals at each meal.”
There are taste preferences to consider too, says chef Dane Mechlin. “It’s normal for me to be asked to prepare five cuisines for one client in one week. Maybe a Malaysian dish, sausage lasagna, Pad Thai, tacos and deviled eggs.”
Private vs. Personal vs. Charter
A personal chef and a private chef are different, explains Larry Lynch, president of the U.S. Personal Chef Association (USPCA), based in Gotha, FL, whose 1,000-plus members are among an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 personal chefs nationwide. “Personal chefs work for hire on a contract basis. It might be a one-off or multiple meals, or in the case of someone working on a yacht, it may be one trip. Personal chefs operate their own business and have several clients. A private chef is a salaried employee. There’s a long-term contract and element of exclusivity, meaning they only work for one person or one family at a time. Some of our members are “quasi,” meaning they work as a personal chef most of the year and then might cruise to the Mediterranean on a client’s yachts for the summer.”
Most owners of 100-foot-plus yachts employ a full-time private chef in the galley to feed the crew, as well as owners and guests onboard. Salaries for private chefs can range from $60,000 to $150,000 annually, according to the USPCA. Personal chefs often charge by the hour. For example, $60 per hour for six hours a week, including shopping and meal preparation adds up to just under $19,000 annually.
“As a private chef, I travel with my clients on their yachts to provide the service and food that meets their desires,” says chef Vaughn Trannon, the Las Vegas-based owner of Trannon Culinary LLC, who has traveled the world working in the galley of a 150-foot motor yacht.
Personal chefs are especially a boon to owners of yachts 100 feet or smaller. “These folks work hard, like good food and want a menu that is fresh and tailored to their tastes. As a personal chef, I have prepared weekday meals for the family and then either gone out with them on their yacht for special celebrations or prepared family-style meals for them to take on board. They only need to put these meals in the oven and ‘presto’ they have a delicious and nutritious meal without any fuss. Often, they also have me come to their house to prepare a meal ready to pop into the oven when they return home,” says Yacino, a pioneer in South Florida’s pop-up restaurant industry and owner of Fort Lauderdale-based YaDa Personal Chef & Catering Service.
Beyond chefs for a private yacht, charter companies such as The Moorings, Dream Yacht Charter and MarineMax offer chefs for hire for bare-boat charters as well as fully crewed charters that include a captain and a chef. Like personal and private chefs, these charter chefs are usually culinary trained and work off client preferences to plan meals.
Tips for Getting Started
The best way to find a personal chef is to Google this job title for a specific geographic area. Or you can use search capabilities on the online sites for the APPCA (personalchefsearch.com) and the USPCA (hireachef.com).
Credentials are a key inquiry during the interview process. Some chefs have a presentation packet. If not, ask for a resume. This should detail professional culinary training, certifications such as food safety, a complete work history and references. Having liability insurance is a plus. For those who wish to cruise internationally with the chef, ask for a drug test, security clearance, and passport or Visa to allow entrance to the cruising area. A signed confidentiality agreement may also be advantageous.
“Once the final two candidates are chosen, I invite them aboard separately to prepare a dinner main course and dessert for me to sample. I also have them join me in tasting the dishes so I get to know their personality,” says Jeff Werner, the Fort Myers Beach-based owner of Captain Jeff Werner Yacht Services.
Once hired, the first step for the chef is getting a detailed list of preferences and then planning menus. “Part of the personal chef service includes grocery shopping. If clients desire, we can also buy snacks, wine or any other food or beverage they request.”
Tailoring the service extends to the preparation as well. For example, some clients want us to marinade steaks, but they want to do the grilling. Others want complete table service. Either way, the certainties are this: No two families are the same and every aspect of what we do can be customized. “That’s the benefit and what a personal chef service is all about,” says Dulaney.