Freelance yacht chef Grace Dvornik

Freelance yacht chef work is the way forward for many yacht crew now. It gives more flexibility over your time and location than permanent jobs, and many yacht chefs like being able to manage their own time this way.

Grace Dvornik is a freelance yacht chef who is continually using her downtime to upskill and learn new chef techniques. She gave us such a great in-depth interview, I’m sure after you have read this you will feel as if you know her as a friend!

Can you tell us more about how you got into being a freelance yacht chef?

I graduated university with a bachelor’s degree in theatre and painting, but spontaneously took a job as a deckhand/chef’s assistant on a 101ft. wooden schooner in Maine for the summer. There was always a love of the ocean, but that job made me fall in love with sailing. I went down to the Florida Keys for the winter to work on a catamaran (and as a baker in a local sweetshop), before returning to Maine the next summer.

After my third season on deck, I wanted to transition into yachting and had a dream of becoming a chef. I completed all my yachting certifications at Bluewater Crew Training and with my cooking experience on my first boat and in the bakery, I thought I had a decent shot as a crew cook or galley hand on a yacht. Once I had this new goal in mind, I began researching culinary programs and looking for yacht jobs.

I’ve been working on boats for 4 years total now . As a chef on private and charter yachts for 2 years. Plus the 2 years before that, where I worked as a deckhand.

Chef school scholarship

How easy was it for you to land your first gig?

When I started applying for work, it happened pretty fast. I got 3 calls for phone interviews all in the same day from different yachts wanting to hire me as their chef.

I was totally blown away that I was being considered for chef positions right from the start with so little professional cooking experience but I think my sailing experience set my CV apart.

My first gig was a chef position on a small sailing yacht. During my first week on the job, I won the Signature Cocktail Competition at the Newport Charter Yacht Show as a last minute entry. It was a pretty surreal way to begin my yacht chef career.

Do you feel your degree in theatre and arts has impacted your career as a yacht chef?

Definitely. I try to incorporate elements of art and design when plating my meals. I feel like I’m able to use my prior experience as a photographer/artist to craft meals in a way that will photograph well.

If I hand a well-garnished cocktail to a guest and they pull out their phone for a picture or tell me it’s going on their Instagram stories, I consider that mission accomplished.

My experience in theatre has also been an interesting skill on yachts in aspects of communication and performance. There is definitely a theatrical element to cooking. Especially in an open galley where guests can observe what I’m doing.

I have a lot of fun at charter yacht shows because I’m able to memorize information about the yacht and make personal connections with brokers or potential clients. I use a light-hearted approach rather than just handing someone a brochure.

My background of acting/singing has allowed me to strike up conversations with guests who also love the performing arts. I had one boss who was in a band and brought them to the yacht for a weekend before a show in town. The whole crew went to the show and the boss pulled me up onstage to sing with him and the band!

What culinary qualifications do you have now?

I landed my first job without having taken any culinary courses!

But because I was working as a sole chef, I felt there was only so much I could teach myself and I had a real desire to learn. After my first gig, I attended a 4 week intensive program at the Ashburton Chefs Academy in England and obtained some professional certifications.

However, I still felt like I had more to learn and wanted to study classical technique and theory. I worked really hard freelancing for the summer season so I could move to Canada to pursue an 8 month culinary program at George Brown in Toronto, ON . It is a top-ranked school in North America. It was a fantastic program and I’m highly pleased with the skills I was able to learn.

My professional culinary certifications are:

Why do you love working as a freelance yacht chef?

I really like that it gives me the flexibility to spend time with family and choose when I work. When I pick up a freelance yacht chef gig, it’s nice to have the end date in mind.

I jokingly view it as sprinting a marathon. If I sign on for 2 weeks, I have the mindset that I’m there to work and I’m there to work hard. I will go above and beyond for those 14 days, then can go back home to rest and relax when the job is completed. My first day or two home is mostly just catching up on sleep!

What does a normal day look like for you off charter?

My off charter days are spent at home in Florida with my grandparents. A typical day consists of lots of sleeping, making smoothies, yoga & meditation, and running errands before my next work trip. I have 2 close friends at home who pick out a new or interesting restaurant to take me to when I’m in town.

It’s a super fun way to catch up with them and provides a lot of inspiration for improving my menus or plating. My grandparents and I have dinner together every night at 8pm. My grandfather and I make a plan on which one of us is cooking and/or doing the grocery shopping.

I learned how to cook from my grandparents. So it’s really fun to come back home and cook for them and it also gives me time to test out new recipes.

Almost every item I serve to my yacht guests are either recipes I learned from my grandparents or dishes inspired by my family. They all have the official stamp of approval from them. My Grandparents are always thrilled to taste test my new dishes and they provide a lot of constructive feedback..

What does a normal day look like for you on charter?

  • Wake up a few hours before guests (ranges from 5am-8am depending on the guests) to prep breakfast, make the coffee, and menu plan
  • Cook breakfast to order or lay out a breakfast spread
  • Clean up from breakfast, start prepping lunch
  • Lunch service, begin prepping for the evening, and galley clean up
  • Break time! I take a walk or do yoga if we are on a dock or go to my cabin to take a nap. Even if I just lay down for 20 minutes or walk up the dock to take the trash out and stretch my legs, I’ve found it’s really important for me to step out the galley in the afternoon so I can come back refocused for the evening.
  • Prep for cocktail hour & dinner, start on dessert, send out hors d’oeuvres
  • Finish mise en place and start on dinner
  • Dinner service, galley clean up, tend to guests as needed until dismissed
  • Shower and wind down from the day, write a gratitude list & set a goal for the next day
  • Sleep!!!

As a chef, what is one thing you can’t live without?

My omelette pan!! I’ve had this small, non-stick frying pan for almost 5 years and I take it with me absolutely everywhere. I have a friend who jokes that my frying pan has been to more countries than she has. I do a lot of eggs to order on charter and it’s the perfect size for an omelette or perfectly round fried eggs.

It’s 3pm, you’re starving, and you finally have a chance to eat something, what do you whip up in the galley to snack on?

3pm is about the time I start prepping for cocktail hour so I would make one of my star menu items for hot apps (and personal favorite snack) King’s Hawaiian mini-cubans.

They are very popular with guests so I make them on all my boats. They are also my absolute favorite and a big hit with the crew. My mom has made them every Christmas morning since I was a kid. I adapted my recipe from hers. Also, the original King’s Hawaiian bakery was very near where my dad grew up in Hawaii which provides a fun story for the guests.

Who are the yacht chefs that you look up to?

-Adam Glick (@chefadamglick) is known from Below Deck Med but he’s currently traveling the country in his van. He’s cooking anywhere from his van galley, over a fire at campsites, or at private events. He’s a super cool guy and I was able to meet him a couple times last summer. It’s interesting to see a yacht chef take his passion for cooking and traveling and totally switch up his approach.

Dean Harrison (@theyachtchef) is one of the first yacht chefs I came across on Instagram. He has the most amazing sailing yacht galley I’ve ever seen (so much storage space!!). I’m often inspired by his interesting flavor combinations. He’s a really talented photographer and videographer as well!

– I’m always stoked to check out Nina Wilson’s (@thecrewchef) food pictures! She’s a crew chef and it’s amazing to me the amount of thought and creativity she puts into her crew meals. It seems like she always puts out a diverse but cohesive spread to appeal to every crew member.

– Another inspiration is Peter Frost (@thegalleyman) he seems like such a nice guy and has a real passion and talent for what he does. He’s also won a couple awards/competitions recently!

If you were to gift someone one cookbook, what would it be…?

Definitely Cravings by Chrissy Teigan! The recipes are fantastic but what really makes the book are the funny stories that go with each recipe. A friend and fellow yacht chef loaned it to me when I was on charter last summer and my guests could hear me laughing down in the galley.

If you could have a table at any restaurant in the world for a dinner reservation tonight, which one would it be, and who would be your dinner date?

I’m a big fan of Dave Chang!

I listen to his podcast The Dave Chang Show every week. He brings on a variety of guests from chefs, employees at his restaurant, and food critics to artists, athletes, and entrepreneurs. Dave has a unique perspective and true passion for people and cooking.

I recently ate at Momofuko Noodle Bar in Toronto and absolutely loved it. The food and atmosphere were fantastic. It was really cool to experience it after listening to Dave talk about his inspirations for his restaurants and menus on the podcast. If I could dine anywhere, with anyone, I would choose to dine with Dave Chang at one of his restaurants. I think it would be awesome to be part of the family meal the staff partakes in before dinner service each night.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given on charter?

My favorite quote was from my grandmother. I called her during a particularly difficult charter and she said, “Function in disaster, finish in style!”

She told me when everything seems to be going wrong, just keep moving through it but make sure you give it your all and finish well. I think about this quote all the time both in regular life and in the galley and have shared it with many friends, too.

“Function in disaster, finish in style!”

What’s next for you?

After finishing my 8-month culinary program, I’m ready to get back to work and gearing up for what I hope is a busy summer season!

I’ll be based in Tampa, FL and in search of freelance yacht chef positions. I hope to pick up a job for the Newport Charter Yacht Show so I can give the Signature Cocktail Competition another go.

After the charter show, I’ll be searching for seasonal positions based in Newport and keeping an eye out for the perfect full-time opportunity.

Contact Chef Grace!

If you are needing a freelance yacht chef or if you have a perfect full time chef job for Grace, get in touch with her over at Instagram . Check out Grace’s amazing online portfolio of work HERE.

For more amazing female yacht chefs, check out our other interviews with Nina Wilson andTali Preuss

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