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Interview: Chef Mentor Tim MacDonald

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Chef Tim MacDonald is one of the mentors involved in the new Penum Yacht Chef Mentor Program, which was set up to support and develop aspiring chefs on board. Speaking to Ellie Barker, he talks about his career as a chef and why he wanted to get involved.

Where did you train as a Chef?

1)  Apprenticeship in Cookery, Box Hill College, Melbourne, Australia

2)  Onions and The Willows restaurants, Melbourne, Australia

Which Yachts have you worked on?

M/Y Le Grand Bleu

M/Y Sequel P

M/Y Amevi

M/Y Huntress

M/Y Charisma

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How did you get into the yachting industry?

Ten years ago Melbourne, Australia had no connection at all with motor yachts.

I had two chef friends who were working in a seaside town many years ago who were approached by the irrepressible Andrew Blake to see if either one of them wanted to work a job on a private island in Greece. One of them took the punt and before he knew it he was working in a villa/yacht situation.

Many years later as we watched him pay off his house in less than 5 years we followed him over to Antibes. The rest was history.

We all have Andrew Blake to thank for not only his contribution to Mod Oz cuisine but also the opportunity for the original chef, Simon Oss to take the original odyssey over to Greece, which in turn was the catalyst for myself, entering yachts.

What do you love most about your job?

I get to do what I love, travel and cook.

Where is your favourite restaurant in the world, what’s your favourite dish there?

My favourite restaurant and dish in the world is Louis XV in Monte Carlo. There is no particular dish but the entire service that is provided is the quintessential reason why it has three stars.

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Is there a secret to being a successful yacht Head Chef?

I think that essentially you have to have great skillset initially and then you must learn how to be a good crewmember. After that you have to work out how to WOW the guests with ‘pop’ i.e. ice sculptures.

Most importantly you must be able to sell yourself at the table to the guests and if you can learn this skill you can control things to an extent.

What ingredients can you never be without in a galley?

The greatest ingredient I cannot do without is my provisioner, ALLSERVICES (Vivien). To me yacht cooking is all about provisioning and the relationship you have with your provisioner.

Apart from that without fresh coriander my wheels fall off!

What is your top tip when provisioning for a guest trip?

Always allow an extra day to re-group if the first order is missing a particular item.

Which Chef do you admire the most, and why?

Marco Pierre White. The presence, the stature and the godlike aura that he imposes is still relevant today!

If you weren’t working on boats, what would you be doing?

I think I would be a private Chef in Europe, possibly London.

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What’s your favourite port? Favourite place to dine there?

I would say Monte Carlo and Louis XV.

What was your greatest experience on a boat?

I think last year on Sequel P retiring on a 100k tip ( 12 crew) from an American guest and then entering the private big boat class.

What was your worst experience on a boat?

I think unfortunately on a yacht, where five years on, despite winning the Antigua yacht show and 18 months service for them I still have not managed to attain a reliable reference.

It’s very sad but that’s yachting.

What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen or heard on a yacht?

I think the Engineer on a yacht getting sacked for throwing eggs at another boat…

Which nationalities tend to be the best bosses?

American

The best charter guests?

American

Any advice you would give to someone wanting to become a yacht chef?

Recently I have become acutely aware that the Ships Cook Certificate is essential today for chefs who want to work on yachts. Not only does it access your cooking skills but it proves to any owner that you can run a cost effective HACCAP standard galley as well as being aware of current MARPOL and OHS laws. The days of yacht chefs who are self taught with a Captains reference versus restaurant chefs with apprenticeship papers are over.

The future for chefs on yachts now revolves around a good reference and the ships cook certificate.

I recently ran into a character on an 115m yacht that had a friend place him as a temp. He wanted the second chefs job with less than six months experinece on yachts and dubious skillset and questionable kitchen hygiene.

Any chef wanting to enter the industry is wise to aim for a 30-40m yacht with the SCC course under their belt.

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What is the greatest challenge facing yacht chefs today?

I think the greatest challenge for any yacht chef is accepting that skillset is only part of the bigger picture on yachts.

Being a crewmember in good standing with the crew is vital.

I am currently lucky enough to be working with the best Captain (Richard Hutchinson) and Head Stew Lauren ‘lozza’ Burke in ten years since making the transistion.

But it was a long road with many challenges…

Apart from the new challenges faced with the new MLC 2006 implications (SCC) any chef must learn how to become a ‘good crew member’.

Its my opinion that if any chef cannot master how to become a good crew member it comes back to bite them reference wise.

So learning how to become a good crewmember that encompases everything required to keep the crew, owners and accountants happy is the greatest challenge.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

I love spending time with my sweetheart, Tetiana.

Why did you agree to be a Yacht Chef Mentor?

I think things have changed a lot over the last ten years and we are in a stage where there are a lot of changes taking place to try and clean up the industry and make it more professional.

It`s my goal to try and assist my mentee in any way I can so he can avoid the long road I endured.

What is your motto?

‘All will be good’

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What is your favourite dish to wow your charter guests?

I think that my favourite dish to wow the charter guests revolves more around the ‘pop’ factor.

Recently on AMEVI we unleashed the kissing swans to celebrate the daughter's anniversary.

It was a smash and bought more points than any dish.

It’s not to say that any particular dish I send out is less important but I have just learnt that ‘big’ hair extravagances always win on the night.

Apart from that the Thai lobster salad with avocado and mango always impresses, as it’s a whole lobster.

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