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Life of a superyacht chef: Dream job or nautical nightmare?

By Sheena McKenzie, CNN
updated 1:28 PM EDT, Mon October 22, 2012
Traveling the globe on a luxury vessel would be many people's idea of a dream job. But the life of a superyacht chef isn't all plain sailing. Traveling the globe on a luxury vessel would be many people's idea of a dream job. But the life of a superyacht chef isn't all plain sailing.
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Office views
Cooking up a storm
Food for thought
Fine dining
Dirty work
Seasonal produce
Dragon's den
Silver service
Supermarket on the seas
Sweet success
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A look inside the world of a superyacht chef -- a grueling vocation or dream job?
  • World's top chefs create create sumptuous meals around-the-clock for elite clientele
  • Opportunity to travel the globe in luxury, paid up to $13,000 a month
  • Chefs experiment with exotic, seasonal produce from across the world

Editor's note: Main Sail is CNN's monthly sailing show, exploring the sport of sailing, luxury travel and the latest in design and technology.

(CNN) -- Delivering five-star meals to a restaurant of hungry customers is a daunting prospect for any chef.

Now imagine having to create the same top-class dishes in a floating galley just four meters wide, with no staff or a supermarket in sight.

Such is the challenge for the superyacht chef, expected to create sumptuous meals around-the-clock for an elite clientele accustomed to the very highest level of culinary expertise.

It's a grueling vocation, catering to the unusual variety of whims of both guests and crew while also acting as the kitchen's cleaner, waiter and book keeper.

The Similan Islands, as captured here by photographer Uros Petric, are a group of archipelagos in the Andaman Sea classified as a marine nature reserve by the Thai government. The Similan Islands, as captured here by photographer Uros Petric, are a group of archipelagos in the Andaman Sea classified as a marine nature reserve by the Thai government.
Similan Islands, Thailand
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But as many superyacht chefs will tell you, it's also a rare dream job which can pay up to $13,000-a-month and enable the lucky recipient to travel the world aboard a luxury vessel.

Read: Are traditional sailboats the future of trade?

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Chef Jeremy Kelly, whose impressive list of off-board guests includes U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, said versatility was crucial in an industry that might see you cooking for a Russian oligarch one week and a Saudi prince the next.

As the former private chef to musician Jon Bon Jovi and his family of four children, Kelly also quickly learned to cook their favorite Thai dishes.

But after more than three years working for the rock star in his homes across the U.S, Kelly decided to indulge his love of the water and strike out as a freelance superyacht chef -- and he hasn't looked back since.

"I'm 40 years old and I'm still going to places I never thought I'd see," he said.

"As a superyacht chef you have to be international, you have to try different things. Especially for the crew, if they're interested in what they're eating it helps keep morale up when you're away from home for long periods of time."

Read also: More than a holiday: The luxury superyacht that doubles as a science lab

He described one French superyacht owner who -- rather unusually -- insisted on catching his own dinner when traveling in the British Virgin Islands.

"He loved going diving and when he would come back up with lobsters he would shout my name," Kelly said.

"I would quickly come over, take the live lobster, break it open, take out the meat, slice it thin and platter it up sashimi style. By the time he was out of his dive gear, he would be eating it on deck."

Read: Monaco: Land of superyachts, super casinos and super rich

I'm 40 years old and I'm still going to places I never thought I'd see
Jeremy Kelly, superyacht chef

Kelly's days normally begin at 6am, preparing meals for around 12 guests and eight crew members on board a vessel up to 60 meters long.

Even after the last meal of the day is served, there's a long evening of planning for the superyacht chef who may be moored out at sea and without access to supermarkets for days at a time.

And if a guest is feeling a little peckish at 3am, it falls to the permanently on call chef to satisfy their cravings.

"I might have one guest who is vegetarian, one who is gluten-intolerant, one who is kosher. So you might be doing three or four different menus each day," Kelly said.

"You can be the best chef in the world. But without that organization you're going to crash and burn."

Read: Made-in-China superyacht reflects changing tide of economy

The superyacht kitchen, called a galley, is specially designed for the high seas with barriers around the hob and latches on cupboards to prevent food from spilling around in rough weather.

Often wealthy owners will go to the extent of installing specialist equipment to suit their tastes, such as dim sum steamers or pasta boilers.

"Preparation space is extremely limited," said Efrem Leigh, director of recruitment agency Yachtchefs.com.

"In a normal kitchen you might have a pastry section or a fish section. But on a superyacht you've basically got to do everything in one confined area."

The standards are incredibly high. If you're just a cook, you're not going cut it
Efrem Leigh, director of Yachtchefs.com

Despite the challenges, expectations remain huge, with Kelly creating such luxury dishes as crab salad with grainy mustard vinaigrette on green apple gelee or a delicate chocolate sponge with Grand Marnier.

"In the industry there are a lot of head chefs from some of the best restaurants in the world," Leigh said.

"The standards are incredibly high. You've got to be trained to at least a sous chef level to know enough about food and run a galley. If you're just a cook, you're not going cut it."

Read: A cruise for everyone: 7 themed sailings

With around-the-clock demands, Kelly admits he doesn't always get a chance to fully explore the fabulous places he gets to visit.

But he said the odd chance to wander through local markets, sampling exotic ingredients, has hugely expanded his culinary repertoire

From vegetable markets in the Galapagos Islands to fishmongers off French Polynesia, Kelly is able to experiment with fresh, seasonal produce -- much to the delight of guests keen to sample the local cuisine wherever they are in the world.

Along with the unique chance to travel the globe, a huge attraction to the job is the high salaries, says Leigh.

A chef working on an average size superyacht -- around 50 meters long -- can expect around €5,000 ($6,500) a month, while those on larger boats -- above 80 meters long -- will earn closer to €10,000 ($13,000) a month.

It's only a drop in the ocean when you compare it to the earnings of a wealthy superyacht owner. But for a chef able to sail the high seas and experiment with exotic foods from across the globe, it presents a taste of the high life few in their position are ever afforded.

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