Nina Wilson, AKA @thecrewchef to her 176K YouTube followers and 30.2K on Instagram, is a freelance yacht chef who travels the world and records her culinary adventures. She did her Assessment in Marine Cookery at Leiths School of Food and Wine last year, in order to achieve The Ships’ Cook Certificate, a mandatory requirement for chefs working on commercially registered vessels with ten or more crew operating more than 60 miles offshore. Any question you have about life on the open seas, she can answer, having first started working on boats at 15 as a photographer before training as a chef. Here she explains why the Assessment in Marine Cookery is a must to get ahead.
What do you do?
“I’m essentially a private chef on vessels that go to sea. I’ve worked on a variety of different vessels everything from privately owned gin cruises up to larger commercial ships which take up to 60 people. I’ve been in the superyacht industry since 2013 [working as deckhand and stewardess] and cooking for the last five years.”
Do you enjoy your job?
“Love it! Absolutely love it. I’ve been very lucky; I’ve gone everywhere from Southeast Asia to Scotland to Alaska to the Caribbean. From a cheffing perspective, the produce and seemingly unlimited resources you have is pretty amazing; there’s no cost watching. Then there’s the travel aspect; you’re looking out of your window onto the beautiful Bahamian blue waters or out to Portofino. The third thing is the buzz, because it’s a very high profile, high stakes, and exclusive, cooking for celebrities and royalty. You get that sort of tingle.”
What prompted you to do your Assessment in Marine Cookery at Leiths?
“Because vessels are getting bigger and bigger, and the general trend is that people are getting richer and building much bigger ships, if you want a job on these vessels you need to have the Ships’ Cook Certificate [for which you need to have passed the Assessment in Marine Cookery]. It’s a business decision, a common-sense decision; if you want these jobs, you need to have this certificate. I had Cayman Islands recognition before which only works on Cayman-flagged vessels so you’re really limiting your options there.”
How was your experience?
“It was over two and a half days. The first day you do the theory part which is a written exam on UK and International Maritime Law, dietary requirements, budgeting skills, kitchen management and health and safety. For yacht chefs, budgeting is a moot point because we’re used to working with no budget but it is a reality check for when I work on a commercial vessel.
Then you’re given the recipes for the next two days cooking, so you can look through them and do your prep list. If you’re a confident, competent chef, it’s quite an enjoyable experience. It’s in a less stressed environment than on board a vessel; you can actually kind of relax into it. I really enjoyed the camaraderie of it. We were all there to achieve the same thing so there was a sense we were helping each other. Another thing I loved was that there’s no washing up! On a standard sized yacht, you’re cooking and cleaning as you go. It’s amazing to hand your dishes to a very competent Leiths KP [kitchen porter]!
There’s a misconception that it’s a taught course, but it’s an assessment, a test of can you cook this dish safely, can you cook it well can you show us your processes behind the dish? It’s about confirming that you’re a jack of all trades because that what you need to be on a vessel.
One thing I would stress is that doing the assessment does not mean you have your Ships’ Cook Certificate. Once you’ve done the assessment, you then have to send your certificate to the MCA [Maritime and Coastguard Agency] who then give you your Ships’ Cook Certificate of Competency.”
Do you recommend chefs take their Marine Assessment?
“One hundred percent, I recommend it for people who actually want to take this industry seriously. When you look at someone’s C.V. and they have their Ship’s Cook Certificate, you know they’re in it for the long run.”
Check out Nina’s experience on the Leiths Assessment in Marine Cookery on our Instagram here.
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