You may already be familiar with Sole Chef Meg Kern on Instagram under the name @culinary_interlude. Her new blogging platform just released their first interview, featuring Chef Matt Burns from Bravo’s Below Deck. If you haven’t already read it, pop over to Culinary Interlude after you have read this interview and check it out.
Meg has an interesting academic background, as you will see… can you guess what it might be?
What is your formal chef background?
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I grew up in the kitchen with a mother that was a personal chef. It’s the place that I feel the most comfortable and at home. I’ve worked in professional and commercial kitchens since I was a teenager. Which means I have spent over 15 years working in the restaurant industry. At times, even working as sous for my brother Danny – who is also a chef.
So my mother and brother were largely the biggest influences on developing my skills as a chef.
What inspired you to make the jump into yachting?
My background started first by earning a Bachelor’s in Literature & Writing with a focus in Journalism and Linguistics from Flagler College in Saint Augustine.
While full time in school, I worked 30-40 hour weeks in restaurants. After I graduated and moved to Colorado, the economy was hard hit and I couldn’t find work in writing or even an internship working for free.
For this reason, I kept doing what I knew best which was cooking… and again was working in two restaurants as a sauté cook just to pay my bills. Any downtime I had was spent rock climbing or trail running.
In 2009, I moved back to my hometown in Pennsylvania to work as sous chef at 1201 Kitchen, a restaurant run and owned by my brother. While working with him, I jump-started a local Edible Schoolgarden that included a half-acre garden and outdoor classroom to be used within an inter-disciplinary curriculum as a school-wide Wellness Initiative with campus grown produce designed to supplement freshly-made cafeteria meals.
Sustainability, science and food all go hand-in-hand, so I eventually felt compelled to go back to school and earned a Master’s Degree from Edinboro University in the Biological Sciences with focuses in Marine Biology and Secondary Education. While completing my thesis, I studied abroad in Peru as an Amazonian botanical researcher and sharpened my culinary knowledge and skills of Peruvian and Nikkei cuisine.
From there, I spread my wings and moved on to contribute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida as a science educator for South Broward High School’s Marine & Maritime Magnet Program. This was a program that exposes young people to career choices in the maritime industry while encouraging environmental stewardship.
I fully believe that educating our youth is the key to creating a sustainable future for this planet and will always continue to contribute as an educator when and where I can.
From there, I taught courses in Honors Marine Biology, Invertebrate Anatomy, Evolutionary Biology, and Oceanography. I also contributed as a science curriculum writer for Project S.T.E.A.R. under Pennsylvania Sea Grant. During my time, I was also a maritime education specialist on a floating environmental lab, research vessel, Environaut.
I’ve been blessed to work in conjunction with such programs as NOVA Southeastern University, University of Miami- Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, and coral reef restoration with MOTE Marine Laboratory & Aquarium.
What are you working on right now?
Currently, I am a Rotational Primary Sole Chef on a 48 meter private Motoryacht.
This allows me space and time to broaden my skills and work on other projects, namely my most recent endeavour with my Kiwi boyfriend, Aaron~ a food and travel blog called- “Culinary Interlude“.
It’s a cross-continental journey of chefs collaborating, highlighting current and unique culinary artists in their chosen locales. Each Culinary Interlude focuses on a specific Chef in a unique location. It includes an “impromptu” collaborative event or dish and a focus on outdoor entertaining.
This is a behind the scenes look and goes deeper than the traditional chef interviews where we want to look more at philosophical and artistic drives and get up close and personal. I wanted it to be a true artistic blog for chefs by chefs.
Our first Interlude on the blog is with my friend, Chef Matt Burns, previous yacht chef from Bravo’s Below Deck. Check us out and get in touch if you’d like to collaborate! https://www.yourculinaryinterlude.com/
Do you have any great timesaving tips that you implement in the galley?
Check out a blog post I wrote on- “How-to Daily Minimize Time & Worry Spent on Feeding Yourself” it covers how to shop smarter and meal prep.
What does a normal day look like for you on charter?
Wake up around 5:30. If possible I have a quick workout on land or on the bow (if no guests are awake yet). I turn the oven on and then grab a quick shower.
Usually, I meal plan the night prior so that when I wake up I already know for the most part what my day is going to look like.
The galley programme always starts with freshly baked goods for breakfast with a fruit platter and then anything to order that the primary or guests would like as they wake up.
When possible, I cook a hot breakfast for the crew.
Throughout guest breakfast service, I begin prepping for crew and guest lunch.
The crew typically eat at Noon and guests anytime between 1-3:30, depending on the activities planned for the day.
If I’m lucky, I’ll get an hour or so break sometime between 2-4 pm to nap, read, sunbathe, or else I’m doing inventory and/or deep cleaning the galley.
I am always on call for any food that may be requested, so if anyone is awake onboard, I am not far. Crew dinner goes out typically at 5 pm with guests on, and guest dinner could be plated and coursed or family-style and could be anytime between 6 pm-10 pm or later.
Whenever dinner service is finished, I clean the galley, set-up for the next day, sit down in the crew mess and meal-plan for the next day and print menus if necessary.
Then I have another shower and my head hits the pillow, I’m out. It is not uncommon for me to work 18 hour days.
How have you incorporated the flavours and tastes of your travels in your cooking?
Travel is the best way to find inspiration as a chef, which is a blessing that you can travel so much as a yacht chef.
I find that I am often daydreaming of things that I have eaten and want to recreate even a resemblance of that flavour. Once you’ve been to many countries, your brain starts cataloguing flavours and how, for example, butter or cheese tastes in one place vs. another. You eventually get to the point where you can confidently create new dishes just by combining flavours mentally and pulling from food memories.
After spending a good amount of time in NZ, I am constantly craving slow-roasted lamb.
Even though I’ve more recently been in tropical areas where guests don’t want heavy foods. Recently, I made lamb tacos with Moroccan spices, fresh goat’s feta, an herbed goat yogurt, and loads of fresh cilantro on top freshly made cassava tortillas with fragrant cumin seeds. They were divine.
I was very inspired by the NZ cafes and the amount of gluten-free baked goods that they produce; all amazing. I’ve definitely been up’ing my GF and raw dessert game this past year.
What are your favourite markets to wander through when you pull into a port?
Chelsea Market and all markets in NYC are amazing, Mercado de Surquillo in Miraflores, Lima or Mercado de San Pedro in Cusco come to mind.
It truly it doesn’t need to be a huge market to be phenomenal… tiny local fishmongers like Dory Mate’s Seafood in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia was incredibly memorable; the freshest catch and the nicest locals
Where would you suggest other yachts chefs visit in their next leave?
Peru- not only because their capital city, Lima, is arguably the new food capital of the world but all regions have specific styles, influence, and use of agricultural terraces creating micro-climates to grow various products. They use ancient Andean farming methods that still blow agronomists away today.
What would you say is the most exciting thing about being a chef in the superyachting industry?
Travelling and being able to create dishes with an essentially unlimited budget.
I don’t spend frivolously, but to be able to buy whatever is the best product and not have to worry about how you will balance an expensive item on your menu with something of lesser value, takes an element of stress away and allows me to be more playful with ideas.
Do you have a favourite memory of yacht life so far?
Waking up earlier than anyone else in the Exumas. Swimming to a private island less than 100 yards from the boat with curious reef sharks underneath me. Then going skimboarding and watching the sunrise by myself and greet the day with a smile.
What has been the most challenging thing you have overcome in your yachting career?
Finding a balance to maintain mental health and personal relationships.
How is life on board a yacht different from your previous restaurant based work?
Different in so many ways.
Imagine running a restaurant that serves every meal of the day plus impromptu parties and hors d’oeuvres. You have no sous chef or line cooks or even a dishwasher, just yourself.
You don’t get to go home after a long workday. Instead, you go to sleep 20 paces from where you cook and you don’t get to sleep in a room by yourself, you share… and you share a bathroom and a closet that’s the size of a suitcase.
Then, you do all of this while the ground beneath you is moving and shifting… you may easily get seasick and have to take medications to keep you from non-stop vomiting.
You can’t just go lay down because you are responsible for feeding everyone onboard every meal of every day. If that sounds like it’s pretty stressful, that’s because it is… but there are clear perks to the job, hence the reason anyone agrees to do it. Namely- exotic travel, adventure, financial stability, and creative freedom.
What advice do you have for new chefs coming into the industry?
Find your sea legs ASAP.
Be willing to put your head down and work very long hours on your feet with little to no help, and know that you are the person most responsible for making guests and crew happy.
If you always have a smile on your face and put out delicious food, you will make everyone’s life exponentially better.
What are your favourite dishes to make?
Any open fire cooking with nature-centred dining… Around the fire, under the stars, preparing anything you’ve had a hand in procuring, is my favourite dish to make.
Where do you get your inspiration for dishes, ingredients or plating?
From anything and everything~ from colour palettes that I see outdoors, from lines, shapes, and light in nature, from the farmers and growers that produce high-quality and craft products to outdoor tablescapes and the vibe of a crowd.
Eating is a necessity to sustain life, it’s an experience and one that we have multiple times a day. I feel that food is a representation of life and life is good… life is beautiful!
I believe the finest way to appreciate life and this planet is through your choice of eating and those you share it with.
How do you deal with crew dietary requirements on board?
I’ve worked jobs where both crew and guests all have particular allergies, dislikes, and strict dietary restrictions.
When you’re cooking solo for ~20+ people every day, every meal – and having to cook an entirely separate menu for the crew that is quick but still offers them a varied selection- it can get very tricky to please everyone.
Preparation is key. This is not just in provisioning, but in really taking the time to thoroughly go through all guest preferences and know your crew well.
Generally, I take time before any trip to create a whole list of potential meal plans, menus, tasting menus, and crew menus.
I provision for this list and then refer back to it amidst the busyness when I menu plan for each day. Sure, many other chefs may disagree but I’d actually prefer crew that have some restrictions over crew that just never care what food is put out and never request.
Of course, I thrive on the feedback and pleasing others, so challenges are mainly welcome.
Do you have a great Charter save story?
The one that comes to mind has to do with planning on using my pressure cooker for the main dish.
However, when I went to prep, I could not find the open/close valve for the life of me! I even had the engineer dismantle the dishwasher in case it was stuck in the system!
I continued prepping, but we still could not find it. In the end I had to switch gears and change the dish, as I would not have had time to braise the meat using a traditional method.
Things always come together in the end~
What is your ‘show-stopper’ charter dishes?
Mains- Crispy red snapper with Peruvian leche de Tigre, Aji Amarillo, and tsuyu-white crab foam—
Truffled Mac’N’Cheese with creamy smoked goat cheese béchamel, lobster sous vide with Meyer lemon and oregano—
or my Rose Harisa-Shakshuka with lentils and New Zealand grass-fed lamb— It combines Thai, Moroccan, North African and Indian flavour profiles all into one dish. It was a random dish when first created, but it really works and everyone seems to love it.
Desserts- I’d say my Dark Chocolate & Guava Creme brûlée with sage goat’s milk sorbet and preserved olive crumble-
or Whiskey-kuri squash gelato with grilled citrus and gingered caramel.
The crew love my short rib tacos, beef Stroganoff and Basque cheesecake!
How would you describe your style of cooking?
Personal, Rustic and Refined; clean dishes that enhance and compliment seasonal flavours.
To be immersed in nature and create food experiences that slow you down and connect you back with your senses. You must start with exceptional ingredients that have been farmed, raised, fished and foraged with care. I feel my responsibility as a chef is to then treat them with respect by preparing thoughtful, well-conceived cuisine.
Since working on yachts, my style has evolved to be able to produce any style of cuisine that is requested, while maintaining some resemblance of my own style, whether that be in plating or in preparation.
I also place emphasis on sourcing sustainable products, minimizing waste, and avoiding frivolous indulgences or extreme expenses such as flying in excessive amounts of food from far away. Being excessive and wasteful does not impress me.
What are your ingredients/cuisines of the moment that you are loving working with?
Rose Harissa, pomegranates, grass-fed lamb, Moroccan-Turkish fusion, and GF low-sugar desserts.
What restaurant chefs are you inspired by?
Every single one that I’ve met along my journeys… each has their own drive, creative expression, and passion for food and fine cuisine.
My aim at creating “Culinary Interlude” was to share their stories and to continue to collaborate and make connections with amazing people. To the chefs reading this— Please, reach out! I want to hear from YOU!
What are your favourite Instagram accounts to follow for inspiration?
@1201kitchen (my bro and his first restaurant & our old collaborative battlegrounds)
@Jfulton970 (a chef friend who does amazing work)
@playadelosartistas (a hidden gem in Costa Rica)
@gheemiami (amazing Indian spot in Miami)
What are your plans for your next rotation?
Colorado and West Coast U.S.A. in our recently converted Promaster Van, dubbed the “Van Damme” to travel, ski, board, trail run, eat, and collaborate with other chefs!
Protein to work with? Lamb or Fish
Vegetable to work with? Cucumber or kumara
Cuisine to cook? Nikkei (Peruvian-Japanese fusion), New Zealand, Turkish/Med
Service style? plated/buffet? Plated
Meat free Mondays, yay or nay? Whatever floats your boat
Crocs or Birks? Neither- Oofos (like walking on clouds I tell you!)
Med or Caribbean? Both
Charter or private? Both have their perks
Under 50m or over? Right around 50 is the sweet spot. Sole Chef at its best~
Port to be based in? North Cove in Manhattan is amazing
Crew member? Just kidding, we know that is just opening a can of worms haha 😉
The Chief Stew and Chef need to be like Batman & Robin. If you find an amazing chief stew that you can room with, work with, that helps elevate your food through the presentation, AND you get along great as friends… do not let them go!
If you could have a table at any restaurant in the world for a dinner tonight, where would you go, and who is your date?
Central in Lima with my brother OR Hiša Franko in Slovenia with my boyfriend, Aaron
What is your favourite piece of equipment in the galley and why?
My knives of course, cast iron pans, and Pressure Cooker
If you were to gift someone one cookbook, what would it be…?
Culinary Artistry (90s edition) by Dornenburg and Page or
Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America by Maricel Presilla
If you could convince the captain to drive the boat anywhere in the world, where would you go?
New Zealand> I could spend the rest of my life there wandering and discovering the hidden gems.
What would be your “last request” dish?
Oh this is hard. MAYBE shepherds pie with NZ lamb and kumara and just really good quality salted dark chocolate with a glass of dry red wine, maybe from Paso Robles.