• The Yacht Crew Coach

Exceptional Yacht Crew: Stefan Schenk

I speak to Stefan Schenk, Head Chef on S/Y Perseus 3 about his career as a chef onboard yachts.

Sandra


I found you specifically through your website, and more and more, I am finding that social media is playing a really big role in not only yachts presenting themselves for charter but also in crew members and assisting them getting hired. Why do you have a website? What do you feel that it brings to your role or representing you?

Stefan


When I started in yachting nine years ago, I got jobs through word of mouth. And then at some point, I was fed up with a job, and started looking for my dream job, so to say. I was sitting in the crew house, I didn't have much to do because chefs don't really dockwalk, so I thought why not set up a website while I'm here waiting to get calls? So I set up this website. It took me a week to do that, and after that, the job offers, they rolled in. I found a really good job and stayed with them for two years. So the website really, really helped me to get to where I wanted to be. Also, social media and Instagram is playing a big, big role. Have you seen my Instagram page?

Sandra


I don't think I've actually seen your Instagram. I've been on your website. What is your handle?

Stefan


It's @chefan_schenk

Sandra


Oh, there we go. Oh wow. Yeah. Okay, so you've got nearly 20,000 followers, so that's definitely…

Stefan


Yeah, so [laughter], it's really working for me. I get a lot of offers to collaborate with brands. I haven't really done it yet because I don't really find the offers really pay enough, and brands are not really what I want to represent. But it's getting there.

Sandra


Okay. Sure. And just in terms of your role to getting onboard, why the jump to yachts? Why did you decide to leave land and go work on

Stefan


When I was younger, I was traveling a lot. I was planning to do a working holiday in Australia.

Sandra


Because you’re Dutch.

Stefan


Yeah. Yeah. And I was in Thailand at the time, but it was difficult to get a visa-- to arrange it in Bangkok to get a working visa. I ran out of money, and by chance, I found this job on a smaller sailing yacht, 35 meters (112 foot). And I thought this is a nice way to keep traveling and earn some money while I'm doing it. And I decided to make a career out of it.

Sandra


Right. Nine years later, you're still doing it. And you seem to really like your sailing yachts, especially your Perini Navi.

Stefan


Yeah. The Perini, it's a small family, and it's easy to jump from Perini to Perini. And I do prefer the sailing yachts over motor yachts. I think the life is a little bit better. I miss the galleys in the motor yachts, but crew life is better on the sailing yachts in general.

Sandra


What do you find is different? I've actually never worked on a sailing yacht. I only ever work on motor yachts for my career.

Stefan


I did a 74-meter, 91-meter, and it's a lot of crew, lots of crew politics. It's more regimented like more military style. The hierarchy is different. And I find, in general, sailing crew are here to really sail and they just love sailing. I find on the motor yachts, a lot of crew are there just to get into the adventure, do it for a year or two and then probably go back home. So it's a bit different.

Sandra


I think also the types of people who own sailing yachts also really love it because of the sailing. So for them, it's not-- they're not trying to show off. What I did find also, for a lot of my yachts is that it's kind of the bigger the better. Everyone's just trying to outdo each other. And the kind of people that come on board are really less than desirable. They can sometimes be not as nice to work for when they're so image conscious.

Stefan


Exactly. Most sailing yacht owners, they do love sailing. They love their boats, and it's not so much for showing off to their friends or to their business associates.

Sandra


In terms of just giving information to new chefs coming into the industry, the 7-day menu to them is quite a new concept. A lot of them ask what has to be on there? What should they focus on? And one of my chef friends just said, "Just try and make it as fancy as possible." I always try and steer people towards the Instagram accounts of chefs in the industry that I know. Sometimes they (new chefs) don't have the photos to go with it if they've been working in restaurants.

Stefan


I think if I would do it again - because I haven't done the 7 day menu for ages, but I would advise to show your skills with a lot of variety. Try to show that you know multiple cuisines. Some dietary, vegan-style, gluten-free stuff inside, let them see that you have a range.

Sandra


And how prevalent is the whole dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, fun-free--

Stefan


The last couple of years, every charter, there's one or two people, who have some kind of allergy or diet. It's getting more and more important, when I joined this industry, I had no idea. Or I had some idea, but in the restaurant, when I was in the restaurants, it wasn't really a big thing. And there was always something on the menu that you could serve.

Stefan


And now you specifically have to cook for people who have a lactose diet or a gluten-free diet. And they're there for seven days or two weeks and you have to do every day something else. So it's very important, I buy a lot of books, sometimes I even go out and tell them that I'm dairy-free or gluten-free and just eat whatever the chef makes for me, if I need inspiration.

Sandra


Right. Just looking at the boat that you're on at the moment, I looked at your profile and it said that you'd just come back from doing a course. You went to some sushi training in Tokyo.

Stefan


Yes, yes. We are allowed to do one course a year. And being a chef, I have all my papers, so there's not really a lot of push for me to do, and I always wanted to do a sushi course. And I'm born in Korea, I've got the Asian looks, so most of the time when guests come on board they ask me, "Can you do sushi?" So I did some sushi, but I just picked up a book and followed. I thought, "Why not ask the captain if they pay for a course to go to Tokyo and do an extensive sushi course there?" So that was amazing. It was a 30-day course, the boat arranged accommodation, flights, and everything. And just to be in Tokyo, eat and live sushi for 30 days, it was amazing.

Sandra


Oh, that's so awesome when you hear stories like that. I know a lot of yachts, and especially a lot of yachts I've worked on, they really prioritise the deck training over any of the other ones. I know I had some of the interior girls who wanted to go and do a really good whiskey course and the captain said no. And it's like, well, you're providing the guests, and they really enjoy whiskey. So I thought that was interesting. I'm really glad when boats do up-skill crew, because it's really one of ways in which you keep crew happy.

Stefan


Yes, yes.

Sandra


You give up so much of your life to work onboard, and when they give you things back in terms of being able to pay for training, not only do they benefit, but you benefit and it's a win-win situation, really.

Stefan


And for me, I'm the sole chef here on board, so there's no sous chef, there's nobody to get inspired with, to bounce off ideas, so I need input sometimes, and so this course was perfect for me, this whole thing to Japan and a whole different culture. And the food in Japan is just insane. It's so good.

Sandra


Oh, I'm dying to go.

Stefan


So yeah, this part, they are very good with group courses, even the chief engineer, who helps me out in the galley during busy times. He went to the Cordon Bleu program in Paris last summer.

Sandra


Wow [laughter].

Stefan


So eventually, he got some basic skills now, so helps me out whenever we are busy.

Sandra


Oh, that's so much fun!

Stefan


He’s got his rotation, so he had all his papers for his engineering stuff, and he had this course for this year, so he went to Paris.

Sandra


Wow. That's awesome. And actually, you raise a very interesting point. I also am a very big advocate of there's no such thing as “it's not my job”. So when I hear of engineers helping out-- because I know generally engineers are a lot busier during shipyard periods or when they're doing their planned maintenance after the trips. So I know that unless there are things going wrong on board during the trip, a lot of the time, they do actually have a little bit more free time. I always do try and encourage the deckhands who are on night watch to come and wash a dish or two, especially if you are sole chef on board. It's very important. How many crew do you have on board at the moment?

Stefan


We run with 11 crew.

Sandra


Wow.

Stefan


And during charter we have a tender driver. And we have two engineers. So the chief engineer, he comes and helps me when I'm really busy and he has the time, and it's exactly what you say. During shipyard periods, he's more busy than charter time. And our second engineer, he becomes a deckhand during charters.

Sandra


Oh, wow. Okay.

Stefan


So everybody is helping out. And I like the training on the smaller crews instead of 40, 50 people. Everybody's a small family. Everybody tries to help everybody, so yeah, it's good.

Sandra


I mean, because at the end of the day, I think on larger boats, people forget that the whole reason that they're there is to make sure the guests have the best possible time. So if that means freeing up some time for a stewardess to go and actually be out there serving cocktails or making drinks or helping the chef so that they are able to create more food or better quality food because they're not rushed and the plating is better, it's still a better guest experience at the end of the day.

Same thing on deck, if there's more people to help out with water sports and ensure that the guests are having fun, it just benefits everybody. So when people say, "Oh, I'm not unpacking the dishwasher. It's not my job," or, "Oh, I'm not going to roll up that towel on deck. It's not my job. That's a deck hand's job--" it's everybody job to make sure that things are being done. So, that does make me happy.

With regards to managing your time-- and you're kind of at the very high end of the sole chef range because I think, really, when it gets a little bit bigger, then you do get a sous chef. In terms of forward planning and being proactive, are there things that you always make ahead of time or help you prep that really just streamlines your time when you are actually on charter or have guests on board?

Stefan


I do all my ice cream. So I do it once a season. I have a Pacojet. I do 24, 25 different types of ice cream, vac-pack it, freeze it flat. So that's what I do ahead of the season. For during and before charters, I try to bake breads, weigh the recipes because when we're sailing, it's very difficult to use a scale.

Sandra


Yes, it is [laughter].

Stefan


So I have bags for 20 different breads ready to go, I only have to add water. And the sourdough, the levain-- so all those little, small things, that does really help me during charter. I try to have a lot of crew food ready, already vac-packed in the freezer so I only have to make the salads or some rice or whatever, cut up some fruits. For crew lunch, I try to have all these finishing touches, so sugar work, little, fine cookies for dessert. I try to have that ready, and sauces.

Sandra


Yeah. The cookies thing, I had also a sole chef on a yacht that I worked on, and he used to make all his cookies and freeze the cookie dough. And every day, he'd just bring it out, make a new batch of cookies after lunch for the guests, and they absolutely loved it. It was such an easy thing to do, and that smell of fresh cookies, [laughter]-- everybody loves it.

Stefan


I do the same, and batters for brownies, I do have them there. And whenever they want it, you got it.

Sandra


And tips for reducing food waste onboard? Do you have things that you recycle? So rice, you make into arancini or soups?

Stefan


Yes, exactly. Steamed rice becomes fried rice. For guests, importantly what I do now is, I send them the menu based on their preferences. And then I'll ask them for feedback, and so I can just cook to order, and I don't waste a lot of food. And what they don't eat, I feed the crew.

Sandra


Right. Actually, I had one owner who didn't like to have the crew eat the leftover guest food. She would keep all the steak and we were not allowed to eat it [laughter]. So it was very funny.

Stefan


Oh yeah. Oh yeah, no. We are blessed! Yeah.

Sandra


We did eat it [laughter]. We just didn't tell her.

What would you say has been the absolute highlight of your career working onboard yachts? What have you been able to do that you would never have been able to do living on land?

Stefan


I've been introduced to freedom and the money and the traveling, I love to travel. Without the travel, I wouldn't be here. We work hard, but I have four-month on two-months off. So I'm off four months out of the year. I go home for a month, travel three months, and that's more than what I'd be able to do working on land, and the tips are really good. A few years back, I set up a restaurant with a friend of mine, and we didn't-- he can't come even close to the salary I make now. Yachting just gives you the financial freedom, and I guess it sets you up for life.

Sandra


Perfect. Well, thank you so much for your time.

Stefan


You're welcome.


Visit Stefan's website www.stefanschenk.com or follow him on Instagram @chefan_schenk.


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