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Superyacht Chef Duncan Biggs on Why Knowledge is Power

Superyacht chef and co-founder of the crew training company Ocean Wave Monaco, Duncan Biggs is a busy man. Starting out as yacht crew and working his way up to head chef on iconic boats such as the 113-metre Luna, a passion for knowledge has defined every aspect of Biggs' career. Whether educating yacht chefs or consulting on new builds to create the ultimate galley, knowledge, Biggs emphatically believes, is power.

Opening its doors in 2015, today Ocean Wave Monaco regularly puts that belief to the test and, despite the pandemic, business is booming. "I have such a good business partner in Mark Cox," says Biggs. "We're in a very enviable position as we’re expanding and looking to employ further trainers, which in these times is pretty extraordinary."

Not his only day job, Biggs also runs two boats as a chef and consults on projects, putting his decades of knowledge to good use. "I run two boats as a consultant chef - I follow the boss around – and I'm currently consulting on a new 60-metre project. It's already in spec, and they have half-built it already, but it's my job to try and pick up on specific points to optimise the chef and owner experience, from the equipment needed to the galley layout."

"I've done this on quite a few boats now," Biggs continues. "There are so many things that make a chef's life a lot easier on board. The designer is designing the boat for the owner, and the galley is usually secondary to the view from the bridge window or the master suite. But it has such an impact on the food and the experience. More people are seeing that and owners are asking for experienced people to come into the construction process. That's how I ended up working for Sir Jim Ratcliffe, actually. I worked on his boat as a consultant and then ended up cooking for him."

This attention to detail is one of the things that makes him such a passionate advocate of quality yacht crew training - from one-off refresher courses to the Maritime Food Authority's (MFA) Manager in Charge for Luxury Yachts program. Here we speak to Biggs about his journey from sea to shore, and his advice to superyacht chefs and yacht captains on how best to invest in their careers.

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You started your career as a chef in the Royal Navy - tell us about the transition from military to luxury. 

My military background taught me discipline and to get on with the job in hand despite the external conditions. Working in the Royal Navy with 250+ crew members in confined conditions on a Leander class frigate teaches you how to get on with the people around you and develop good leadership skills, so moving from that environment to the luxury of yachting was relatively easy. I worked on sailing yachts and motor yachts over the years, and I ended up becoming a PADI Open Water Scuba Diving instructor as well. I have learnt through experience that when you master a skill, you feel confident. And I have found that I enjoy passing that confidence on to others - I had that passion for training from the very start.

Tell us more about working for high profile superyacht owners like Roman Abramovich on board Luna.

Luna was an extremely organised boat operating at an extremely high standard. Most of the crew came from the maritime industry, whether it was cruise ships or more commercial vessels, but with those kinds of boats, you have to set up your operating procedures to make sure that the boat is running properly. The other head chef and I wrote training manuals, and I specialised in the food safety side of things. I completed the crew trainer program, then went on to complete more advanced certificates such as the CDCW trainer award. While working on Luna, I developed so many skills, from writing galley manuals and becoming a qualified trainer to running a professional galley with three to four chefs and managing communications with interior and deck.

When Luna was sold, you decided to invest in your own crew training business. What led to the decision to return to shore?

It was the perfect opportunity to reevaluate what I was doing. I was asked by the PWA to be on the study group to create the Ship's Cook Certificate, and it all naturally led to training. We opened Ocean Wave Monaco in 2015. The beauty of training programs is that they take you further than just yachting. If you want to return to shore in the future, quality training programs can help you in any other business you want to do. I found out for myself on board Luna that with the skills I gained from yachting, I could open a new business. I didn't know that at the time; I thought I was just a chef. It's a bit corny, but you feel like you want to pass on what you've learned. If people can take that view of training as an investment in their future, you will get so much more back.

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In April this year The Maritime Food Authority launched a new program designed to raise food safety standards on board superyachts - what are your thoughts? 

The MFA is answering a need from a growing industry that is developing its management structure ad hoc as it goes along. Having the MFA as a professional body to aid in that growth can only be good for our industry. People are now reflecting on so many different issues because of Covid-19. The industry has been changed and it will continue to affect yachting for a long time into the future. Training and oversight are now needed more than ever, which is what the MFA is advocating for. It gives people confidence and the ability to do their job well. It's great that the MFA has got recognition from the MCA. I think it's needed.

What do you think the MFAs new program offers crew?

You always need someone to take control and lead the way for people who are still growing in their careers. You've got those people there already, the head stewardesses, the head chefs - you always have someone in charge. But there are parts of the MFA’s program that many senior crew members do not experience in their daily roles. Maybe they have not done a leadership program, or their food hygiene level 3. Most of the officers don't have those things because they are going from the deck world to officer to captain. The Manager in Charge for Luxury Yachts program provides the training to offer - as people say in yachting - the seven-star experience. It's having that person there to expedite, to oversee, to look after, to give confidence to other crew members but also to manage the changing needs and expectations of the guests.

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What is your advice to yacht chefs who are reluctant to invest in a new food safety certification?

As a growing industry, there are growing expectations for crew to develop new skills and demonstrate their understanding of the job. At times, that can make the crew feel unprepared and anxious, which develops into frustration or resentment towards new expectations. People also feel anxious if they don't understand something, and that's what happened with the Ship's Cook Certificate. It wasn't marketed correctly, and that led to a lot of confusion around what was expected and why.

A program like this needs to be marketed well. But with well-developed training programs and examinations, the anxious, unprepared crew member changes into a confident, well-prepared individual that can face the challenges our industry offers. Training is knowledge, and knowledge is power. Training is always the last thing on anybody's budget - that was true 30 years ago, and it's still true today. But in future, it's probably the first thing that people should be budgeting for.

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