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Why Jillea traded economics for the yacht chef life

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Did you enjoy our podcast last week with Ron Holland? Just in case you missed it, you can access it through this link here. This week I am excited to head back into the galley with Kiwi luxury yacht chef, Jillea Hewitt. Following a massive career change, she ditched the finance world to become a luxury chef at sea.

young female chef Jillea plates up dishes in a yacht galley
When did you become a yacht chef?

I joined the yachting industry in 2016 after completing a degree in Finance and Economics at the University of Otago in New Zealand, mainly as a way to travel for a year before heading back to complete my masters. I joined my first boat as a junior stewardess (where I met my fiancé!) and had an amazing season travelling the Mediterranean. At the end of the season I was asked if I would like to cook for crew while the chef was away and I jumped at the opportunity, as by this time, I had realised my future was not in the Stewardessing department. I have always loved cooking although never thought I was ever particularly good at it. As soon as I was in the galley I found my creative side and I absolutely loved it. With great feedback from the crew I started searching for a galley/stew role which opened the gateway into the galley world. I began on a 55m yacht and was very fortunate to be guided by several different head chefs at the time where I watched and learned all I possibly could. We spent a busy season in the Caribbean and after receiving a particularly generous tip I signed up for a ‘Professional Cookery Certificate’ at the Ashburton Chefs Academy in the UK. A fantastic school which I can highly recommend to anyone looking to further their culinary skills! Following this course I headed to Antibes in search of my next job, where I took on a couple of temporary Sole Chef gigs before landing a Crew/Sous Chef Position on a 65m Feadship. After two seasons as Sous Chef I was fortunate to be asked to take over the Head chef Position where I have just completed a very successful first season and am preparing for the next as well as cooking privately in a Chalet in Courcheval for my guests. During the last 3 years I have taken numerous courses with ‘The Galley Gang’, and ‘Mymuybueno’, have spent time at the local Butchers in Antibes, completed a stage at Rick Steins ‘The Seafood’, have a stage lined up next week at a Michelin Starred restaurant in London and of course have been guided and mentored by some incredible chefs who I am forever grateful towards.

Have you had any struggles securing items onboard whilst at sea?

I have had a few interesting experiences provisioning, particularly in the Caribbean where typical supplies easily available in the Med are no where to be found, and relying on one fresh produce delivery a week arriving to the local supermarkets. I found stocking up as much as possible in the Med was the most efficient way of avoiding stressful situations!

Do you have a favourite go-to dish for guests that you know will wow everyone and anyone?

I don’t have a particular ‘wow’ dish as I am continually experimenting and trying out new dishes. Although fresh seafood grilled, salt baked, fresh oysters, seared scallops on a delicious puree, Asian inspired mussel dishes etc are generally a great crowd pleaser! I like to plate up with vibrant colours, aromas and garnish to keep the guests visually in tune to the food although my most important focus is of course how the dish tastes.

close up shot of fresh seafood dish

Do you have a favourite corner of the globe for the foodies out there looking for amazing/unique culinary experiences?

My next port of call for a foodie adventure is definitely Asia, I am yet to go beyond the Philippines which I loved but I would like to visit Japan, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam and India to experience the true incredible Asian flavours.

If you weren’t working as a yacht chef, what else do you think you’d be doing for a career? 

If I wasn’t fortunate enough to fall into this culinary path I would likely be sitting behind a computer back in New Zealand working in the finance sector! But I am forever grateful to be where I am today and in a career I am so passionate about and continually learning, surrounded by incredible people!

Check out Jillea on Instagram for some seriously drool-worthy photos!

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