23 May 2013

No Better Job – Chef Interview - Superyacht Ulysses

MY Ulysses Fine Dining
“There is no better job in the world than being a chef on a superyacht – everyone loves food.” Meet Shane, a Kiwi chef,  who qualified 22 years ago at the Auckland Chef and Hotel Training School and is now head chef onboard the 65 metre M/Y Ulysses superyacht, one of the long-anticipated motor yachts on show at the Genoa Charter Show 2013. We were invited onboard by Gorm the captain to ask Shane a few questions about his experiences, his work, and what he liked cooking.

Shane’s History

Shane started out cooking in restaurants like a usual chef trainee. Initially he worked as a chef in a restaurant on the Costa del Sol in Marbella called Montigues, about 12,000 miles from his home town in Rotorua. He then moved onto The Hague as sous chef in a Michelin star restaurant run by Paul Van Waarden where he really got a taste for fine dining.  One day “a few mates in France called up saying ‘mate get down here – people are paying for chefs to cook for them on their boats.’” And he’s been working on superyachts ever since. “I have been to every corner of the planet and met so many great people. It is an addiction.” On his first boat Shane circumnavigated the globe starting in southern Chile, then cruised through the pacific ring onto the Americas Cup, sailed through the 193km Suez Canal during the Gulf War, and then into the Med where you can find him today. “I have now clocked over 200,000 nautical miles on a boat which I suppose will take some beating” he beamed. Cooking MY Ulysses“Going through the Suez Canal remains one of my strangest experiences on a yacht. We had left the Maldives after refuelling as our insurance wouldn’t let us stop because the gulf war had just finished. Australia had refused to let us buy fully automatic weapons to defend ourselves while going through the Gulf of Aden up into the Red Sea so we were quite vulnerable. The captain decided the best way to protect ourselves was to stuff wetsuits and give them broomsticks to look like guns, raise the tender crane on the bow to resemble a heavy machine gun and black out the windows. We had one person on the bridge driving and a second person on watch on deck with night vision goggles. It was a tense couple of days. Once we were in the Red Sea the coalition warships were everywhere so we knew we were safe, but you just never know who we could have run across.” “My last boat was a 50 metre explorer dive boat. The Russian owner was really into diving and a real adventurer. He would arrive on a jet and just leave it on the tarmac, hop on the boat and we’d head off on some unbelievable adventures. We were like his floating dive hotel. In the Galapagos Islands we went horse trekking up volcanoes and then there was cave diving in Mexico. One of my favourite memories from my time on the boat was diving in French Polynesia. A group of wild bottle nosed dolphins came right up to us and one looked me straight in the eyes whilst making dolphin noises. One of the guides was there taking photos for National Geographic and said he had never seen dolphins come so close and engage with humans like that before. Here we also went game fishing and I was cutting up tuna as it was still breathing, you don’t get fish much fresher than that! The owner was so into adventuring and was deep diving to 150m that there was a decompression chamber onboard. They would stop on the way back clip into the line and hang there for 2 hours at a time.”

Best cooking experience on a superyacht?

“It would have to be cooking a spit roast on the beach. There are two occasions that spring to mind. The first, roasting a pig on a pink sand beach in Fakarava, an atoll in the west of the Tuamotu group in French Polynesia where again we were diving with the boss with thousands of sharks. Grey and lagoon white-tip sharks, tuna, scads and manta rays. The second was in Southern Turkey. The owner, a Mexican, loved his pork but being a Muslim country he respected the culture and so we had spit roast baby goat instead. It took me and the crew a while to set up and clear the beach but it’s all worth it when you see the guests having such a good time and they all wanted to have a go at turning the spit themselves.” “Pizza night on Ulysses – we get chopping boards for everyone with lots of ingredients. I make the dough and everyone rolls their pizza adds their ingredients and cooks their own. I ran the 1st wood burning pizza restaurant in NZ so pizzas are easy.”

What is your style?

“I don’t really have a particular style. I love markets and fresh ingredients. I don’t really tie myself down and just let my ingredients govern what I cook. I want people to come onboard and feel at home so they let me know what they like and I go with that. I can do American, Mexican, Korean, Japanese, French, Italian – anything they want. I get lessons from some guests and I give cooking lessons to others. I do love a good BBQ, and we have one onboard MY Ulysses. I like getting the right cuts of meat. I suppose it is a “primal” way to eat. I also make my own pasta…..”

Best Markets?

“Place de Spagna in Mallorca and the market in Las Ramblas in Barcelona are both unbelievable. The way they present the food is amazing. The market in Genoa is pretty good too. “

So can you always get the right ingredients?

“Not always, sometimes it is very difficult. On my first boat in Chile I had to buy provisions for a 5 week crossing to Pitcairn Island. I hit the fish market in Valdivia and pretty much took everything. The market there was crazy, selling every kind of fish imaginable. The traders filleted the fish in front of my eyes and fed the heads to massive walruses sitting next to them on the dock. At the vegetable market there were pumpkins the size of couches where they MY Ulysses Steakwould slice off as much as you needed and potatoes of every colour under the sun. I ended up leaving the market with 14 shopping trollies packed full to the brim and two whole pallets of fruit and veg. It took me a couple of days just to pack everything away and clean and freeze the meat and fish for the journey. After all this I still didn’t have enough food and so I took a helicopter to Carrefour to stock up even more.  It is a memory that I’ll never forget; a true baptism of fire. Obviously in the Med there are great provisions. I use Gourmet Deliveries as I really like them, and they will get me anything I want delivered to the boat. When I have a 2 day turn-around I can’t really afford to shop – I fill in their form and they get it sorted.

What do Billionaire Russians like to eat?

Lots of our clients are Russian or Russian speakers from Russia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Most of them are oil people – you wouldn’t have heard of them. There has been a certain change of wanting healthy food, salads, grilled fish, and diet-friendly food – low-level carbs. Ulysses is a family boat and people tend to like family food onboard as they are often with their kids. Once a guest asked for 20 dishes to be brought to the table at once – it was really a show of prosperity; we had soups, chicken, salads, fish, steaks but all nice home cooked food. Usually the guests go off the yacht for fancy food. My boss today loves BBQ’s and we head to the sundeck and I just keep cooking and he keeps eating. When I arrived he said: ‘just do what you do, and I’ll let you know if I am not happy.’ It has never come to that.

What does your day entail?

MY Ulysses Dessert“I am up at 6am. I became a chef so I could get up late, but this is a full on job. Guests aren’t really into breakfast but the girls leave fresh fruit, cereals and juices so they can help themselves. I make pretty damn good juices – ginger and carrot goes down well.” “6 to 9 is quiet time which is great as from 9am people start coming in and making requests. I am feeding 12-14 people every 1 1/2 hours. The Yacht Crew at 11am and 6pm, Guests at 1pm and 8pm. I have a sous chef now, Bianca, and we complement each other very well as she is excellent at desserts. She’s from ByronBay and used to be a wedding dress designer, so no more shopping for me. The crew are the luckiest people on the boat and often end up eating the same as the guests – this week they had grilled protein salad, Thai fish cakes, chicken and mango salad, tuna tartare and warm beef salad with scallion pesto dressing.”

What do you like doing in your spare time?

“Nowadays I only work in the summer which means I get to spend more time with my family back home in New Zealand. Otherwise it’s snowboarding and diving. I love my sport. Whenever I get time off and the boss is not onboard I head up to Alps D’Huez or Tignes in the French Alps to ride some fresh snow. I live near the mountains in NZ so it reminds me of home, plus the snow is better and the hills are higher. I also love to eat steak and drink red wine.” “Finding yachting has been the best thing in my life. I have met so many amazing people and been to so many amazing places. It has been a defining part of my life and one that I will always look back upon with fond memories.” If you want to come and meet Shane, eat some outstanding fish, BBQ meat or try your hand at making pizzas, MY Ulysses is available for charter in the Mediterranean this summer with Fraser Yachts.