Stéphane Desormiere has grown used to being woken up at 4am by a crew member. That’s because it’s at that time that rowdy guests, exhausted from a night of partying at whichever port the yacht has docked at for the night, roll back on board ready for some late night sustenance.
For the French superyacht chef, who has Michelin-star experience both on land and at sea, it’s suddenly all hands on deck.
‘I have to be quick. There’s not a lot of notice so you have to move fast and you can’t be sleepy. I usually get the coffee out first which buys me some time to cook whatever they need.’
‘At that time of night, guests usually ask for a full English breakfast, although I have been asked for things like beef fillet then too. Whatever the request, so long as I have the ingredients, I will make it.’
If it’s an unusually accommodating attitude, it’s because it has to be.
Chef Stéphane, 42, is head chef of the Axioma (ancient Greek roughly meaning ‘to think worthy’), a 236ft yacht that sleeps 12 and has its own gym, steam and massage room.
There is even an elevator that whizzes you from the infinity pool on the main deck to the top deck Jacuzzi and bar, and everywhere in between. And if you grow weary of the passing landscape, there’s a 3D cinema.
To charter the Axioma for a week guests will need to find £390, 000 (€525,000/$600,000), which means Stéphane’s clients are a pretty exclusive bunch. Clientele ranges from oligarchs and celebrities to high level business owners and developers.
Luckily, chef Stéphane is not the kind of man to be intimidate. ‘For me, it’s about the challenge. Every day a guest might have a different request.
‘I can’t plan ahead as the menu is so tailored to the fresh ingredients that are available at each island. I might have a rough idea in my head what I’m going to make but you have to be flexible. I go shopping at local markets for fresh meat and fish every day if I can.’
That means he has to have a vast knowledge of food as the yacht can be chartered anywhere in the world from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean, Adriatic, Maldives and Asia.
On top of that Stéphane has to be ready to fulfill special requests from guests including everything from £1,100 (€1,500/$1,700) Beluga caviar, slabs of Wagyu beef (Japanese beef known for its deliciously marbled fat) and jamón ibérico (fine Spanish cured ham).
‘Ideally if they want something unusual they order it in advance of the trip so I can order things in time. That doesn’t always happen, in which case I get on the phone to a supplier and fly ingredients over, then courier them to the yacht.’
If he’s served any famous names, he’s not saying: discretion is paramount for all staff working on board and it’s more than his salary’s worth to let slip anything too salacious (about £66,000/$101,000 a year for a top chef, for those who are interested).
There are 22 crew on the Axioma, one of which is a sous chef who accompanies Stéphane in the kitchen. Midnight feasts aside, both wake up at about 6am to start breakfast; normally it’s a full English but often a continental breakfast is preferred. The galley kitchen is a fairly cramped affair but one that’s become second nature after 13 years cooking on the high seas.
‘I can spend up to 14 hours a day in the kitchen, prepping food, devising menus cooking and serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The long hours are probably the toughest part.’
Although travelling around the world and seeing myriad different countries, cultures and cuisines more than makes up for it, and is one of the biggest undeniable perks of the job. It also means that rather than store ingredients for days on end he can buy everything – within reason – fresh. Red snapper and sea bream are firm favourites on board.
‘I love to cook fresh fish, nothing is better to work with or has such a lovely texture. My specialities are salt-crusted sea bass and moules mariniere, which sounds simple but when they are that fresh they are exceptional.’
What can be homemade on board is, including everything from five type of foie gras to vanilla ice cream, so it takes a deft hand and calm countenance to see each week through.
‘Before working on yachts I spent 20 years cooking in restaurants. The technique is very different.
‘Here, space is far more restricted – the kitchen is only four metres long with a long counter running along each side – so I have to plan carefully. I fry what I can to leave space in the oven for only what’s necessary.’
He can organise a five-course meal on any stretch of beach large enough to swing a red snapper and is constantly amazed at the dishes guests request.
‘One family asked me to cook a cassoulet. It’s a simple enough French dish of wild beans and sausage but we were in almost 40 degree baking heat. That was pretty unusual but I was happy to do it for them. Usually people ask for light Mediterranean style dishes which impact the stomach a little less.’ They are in swimwear after all.
But, for Stéphane, the best moment comes at the end of every day.
‘When guests call you up from the kitchen to the front of the table to say thank you for such a delicious supper, it’s a wonderful feeling. It makes the long days more than worth it.’
‘The 72 metre (236.2 ft) AXIOMA is available for last minute winter charter in the Caribbean and for summer in the Mediterranean through Yachting Partners International (YPI) from EURO 525,000 per week. For more information please visit www.ypigroup.com or download the YPI SELECTION APP from Apple or Google Stores.