Crew Compass had a chance to chat with South African native, Chef George von Waltsleben about his experience in yachting. George dishes about the hardest and most rewarding parts of being a yacht chef, his favorite meal to prepare for guests, how he got his start, and some funny guest stories. Check out the interview below and view more drool-worthy food pics on Instagram @von_chef :
Crew Compass: What is your position? Describe what you do.
George: I am the chef on a 43m Private/Charter Motor Yacht. I am responsible for provisioning and cooking for 12 guests and 8 crew for anywhere from 3 day trips to 6 week trips. The guests will fill out a preference sheet that tells me about their likes, dislikes, allergies and dietary restrictions. It is my job to cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner (3-5 courses for dinner) while wowing them with every course. On a typical charter, I will cook about 140 finished dishes a day.
Crew Compass: Why did you become a chef?
George: Food has always been a quintessential part of my life. Coming from a restaurant family, my love for food and cuisine has been simmering from a young age. However, my choice to become a chef came naturally but not without thought or hesitation. Ultimately, my choice to become a chef was because I decided I wanted to pursue a career in something I absolutely love, something that comes naturally to me, and something I want to continue to develop and achieve goals in. I have never looked back or regretted this choice.
Crew Compass: What did you do before yachting, and where are you from?
George: I am originally from South Africa, shocking, but I’ve lived in Florida since 2005. Before yachting, I worked as a head chef in restaurants and my last land based job I was the executive chef in an institutional setting, which I hated.
Crew Compass: What made you want to start a career in yachting?
George: When I got married I said to my wife ‘Let’s go do something exciting for a few years, go travel and really experience the world.’ It took a lot of convincing on my end, especially when I told her she couldn’t own 50 pairs of shoes anymore.
Crew Compass: How long have you been a chef on yachts? What size yachts have you worked on?
George: I have been a chef on board yachts for almost 5 years. I have worked on yachts ranging from 72ft- 160ft.
Crew Compass: How did you get your first job and how much has changed since then and now?
George: I got my first job on a job board for a freelance chef and stew position with my wife on a 72ft boat. I think the industry has changed a lot it keeps growing and evolving. More boats are going to places where yachts didn’t go before. Each year there are new courses and requirements you need.
Crew Compass: What is the hardest part of your job?
George: The hardest part of my job is provisioning. My meat and seafood I get flown in, that’s no problem, but provisioning for produce and dry goods are more challenging. If the boat travels to a place where I have not been before, I don’t know what’s available at the grocery store. If you’re getting produce, let’s say in Grenada, you need to know when the stores get their produce delivered so you can get it as fresh as possible.
Crew Compass: What is your favorite part of your job?
George: There are too many to choose from. I love the fact that I can challenge my skills and creativity every day because I don’t have a budget for food so I can work with some of the best ingredients from all over the world. I love seeing new places doing cool things. One week we might have a day off in Turks and Caicos, I will go kiteboarding; a few weeks down the line I might be swimming with turtles or go spearfishing in St.Thomas.
Crew Compass: What’s your favorite meal you’ve made for a guest?
George: We had a charter last year and I prepared grilled Mediterranean octopus with a puree of slow roasted San Marzano tomatoes, crispy Iberico pork lardons, and sliced poached potatoes. It’s one of those dishes where you close your eyes when you eat it.
Crew Compass: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to work as a chef?
George: Stay up to date with culinary trends, read a lot of cookbooks, and keep pushing yourself to try things you wouldn’t usually cook. You have all the tools you need to expand your repertoire and become a great chef so push yourself and don’t cook the same dishes you have been for the past however many ever years. Also, take care of your crew and feed them well.
Crew Compass: Where are you off to next with your boat?
George: After a busy season in the lower Caribbean we are picking up our last charter tomorrow in Harbour Island, Bahamas and then straight back to Fort Lauderdale.
Crew Compass: Where is your favorite place you’ve been so far on your yacht?
George: Alaska, for sure! I spent one summer in South East Alaska working on a charter boat. I was very fortunate to have a captain who grew up there and knew all the good spots and was able to give the guests as well as crew the opportunity to experience the beauty Alaska had to offer. We swam in hot springs right next to a roaring river of freezing water, smelled whale breath, watched humpback whales bubble-net feeding, listened to whales through a hydrophone, did a ton of fishing, watched as a pod of Orca’s swam in our wake–just to name a few. It was life changing.
Crew Compass: Charter or private – and why?
George: Charter! I like to change it up–if the boss likes to eat simple then you get to be more creative on charter. Plus, if you don’t like the guests you most probably won’t have to see them again.
Crew Compass: They say in yachting there are 3 elements – owner, program, and crew — but it’s impossible to have all 3 be amazing (if you’ve found the unicorn, do tell!). If you could only pick 2, which 2 and why?
George: Program and crew- I have never had all 3. Well, you spend most of your time with your crew so it helps when you gel with them and enjoy all the cool places you’ll be going together.
Crew Compass: If you weren’t working on yachts, what would you be doing?
George: I don’t even want to picture that thought.
Crew Compass: Tell us a true story that happened to you —The craziest, funniest, or scariest moment so far.
George: The owner of a boat I worked on loved coming into the galley 15 minutes before hors d’oeuvres and pick at my prep. One day I had crispy kimchee roasted pork belly resting on a wire rack, beautiful crackling absolutely perfect and he walks in takes a pair of tongs and bashes it to try and break a piece off. The next day I was making chicken satays as one of the snacks and he comes through the galley as usual. I had par cooked satays on a sheet pan on the counter, still very raw. I knew he was going to reach for it, so just before he did I turned my back and heard him scarf down 2 or 3 skewers, turned around pretended to be surprised/concerned and told him they were raw. He looked disgusted and told me ‘that will teach me not to do that.’ Yep.
Thanks George for supporting Crew Compass and being an ambassador. We wish you the best of luck in the future. For all the aspiring or current yacht chefs looking for work, check out Crew Compass JOBS for new chef job postings.