Like most chefs, Jamall Petty worked his way through major hotel kitchens, then the pandemic hit, shuttering industries and forcing him to step outside the box. Petty took his skills to the high seas and the world of yacht chef and has not looked back. He describes the world of yacht chef life that he has stepped into as “amazing”.
Now that he has infiltrated what he describes as “the biggest culinary secret” that he’s encountered in his life, he has no plans on giving it up any time soon. The chef said he’s finding it too rewarding.
“People in the industry are tightlipped about the world of chef yachting because it represents such an amazing alternative for either entrepreneurship or what’s been normalized for people in the industry. We’ve been conditioned into thinking you come out of college and you try to climb a corporate ladder in a hotel, but this is one of the opportunities for your skillset to kind of build a brand that’s also a luxury brand.
It is also financially rewarding.
When Petty first “flirted” with the chef yacht life more than a decade ago, he said he “almost got kidnapped.”
“I went on a boat to cook for one day. They took me for a week and went up around the Exuma Cays. The owner of the boat was so impressed by my food he decided that he wanted to keep me.”
The chef said he had to insist that he wanted to go home because he had a job to get back to.
“He offered to double my money. He tripled it. I said it’s not about the money and that I had responsibilities and couldn’t just pick up and go.”
At that point in his life, Petty said the world of a yacht chef wasn’t attractive to him.
“I liked where I was working, and I had a food fight competition coming up, which I had planned for; and the founder and creator of the competition couldn’t not be there.”
After that introduction, he said he occasionally picked up random yacht jobs when he was on break. His focus was on advancing in the hotel kitchens. That was until COVID.
“During COVID, I realized the yacht life was one of the opportunities to continue to work as that life seemed somehow unaffected by what was going on. Wealthy people were still traveling normally and taking their vacations; that industry was operating normally so I just went back into it.”
He was more ready for the lifestyle.
“I had already made a name for myself in culinary where I built a recognizable brand or style when it comes to food. It wasn’t difficult getting back in. It was just a matter of people finding out that I wanted to work.”
His first trip back out on the boat was a two-and-a-half-week job. The yacht was docked in a marina in New Providence with the owners vacationing in place.
“The way I got on that boat was ironic. The owners brought in a chef from New York to work on this 100-foot plus yacht. The billionaire couple wanted Michelin-starred quality food and service, white gloves … the whole nine yards. After the first three days, the guests didn’t feel the chef was up to the standard that they expected or were accustomed to. They let him go. They wanted artsy and delicious. The captain asked around and someone at that resort gave the captain my number; he contacted me. He was like, it didn’t matter how much I charged, I just needed to produce and they needed me to start immediately. I said game on. That was my first job in COVID.”
Petty has been in the yacht chef industry ever since. People have recommended him from one boat to the next, which has allowed him to work consistently.
“I realize that this is kind of like a small community. Once you get in and do a great job and you exceed expectations, that is good as gold.”
He has also worked so many trips that he can’t remember them all.
“I’ve been doing freelance from boat to boat to boat. Every other week I was on a different boat up until early this year. One of the boats told me that they wanted me to stay on full time.”
He turns down everyone that ask him to stay on. The chef said he likes the freedom and flexibility being a freelancer affords him.
“If I don’t feel like going – I don’t have to. If I want to take a week or two off, I can do so without having to ask anybody. And freelancing pays very well. You’re coming in like a super hero, relieving someone who either got hurt or who may be going on vacation – and some boats have high net worth guests that they want to impress, so they roll out the red carpet to make your life easy to do what you need to do because the boat benefits.”
The yacht chef life has also allowed Petty to be reintroduced to a segment of The Bahamas he would not have been privy too. He said he is consistently blown away.
“Each captain has their own little secret or secret experiences that they want to give their guests. So, every time I go out, it’s like I’m being reintroduced to The Bahamas. What I’ve found, especially with the private cays, is that people somehow created paradise in some of these islands that we went to.”
While the job of a yacht chef has many perks, Petty said there are cons as with any business. One of the major cons he said is for a person to make progress in the yacht chef field, literally means abandoning everything else they have going on, which he said is the major reason he never committed to it full time.
“The financial success you get from yachting, comes with a price. If you have a lot going on personally, if you have a family … ties that require you to go home at night, it’s not going to work. You have to sacrifice something for the reward you will get from this industry. It will require you to give up something. Once I’m on the boat I’m on.”
He recently did his longest charter, which he said was a full month. The charter was supposed to remain in New Providence but the charter guest got up one day and decided he wanted to island hop. Petty had to go with it.
“That’s the nature of it,” he said. “I would be available to them for the duration of the time that they would be on island and some of them would be of the mindset that they want a giraffe and you have to find them a giraffe. With people with that kind of mentality, they can get up and decide to do something and once they contract you, you just have to move. It’s a trade-off. You may sacrifice things for a period of time, but I can make the amount of money it would take me two years in the industry to make, in a few months on the boat.”
He has plans to give the yacht life another two years, maximum.
As a yacht chef, he is responsible for all guest and crew meals, provisioning, and complete management of the galley during charter. Petty has someone to wash dishes, but he does everything else himself.
The industry also offers day charter jobs for chefs, but Petty said that is not his speed.
He also likes introducing upscaled preparation of Bahamian ingredients and cuisine to charter guests and has prepared things like the scandalous coo coo soup.
“They call me chef love when I’m on charter because I market The Bahamas as a place for lovers. I give them the spiel about what coco coo soup is – one of those mythical Bahamian love potions that is a soup so good that it will make anyone fall in love. I don’t shy away from things that are uniquely Bahamian. They get excited for things like this. So they would take that same little piece of information and crack jokes during the charter, especially the guests with a good sense of humor. And I love seeing them go up to Bahamians to ask where to get coo coo soup, just to see people’s expressions. But it’s all in good fun and love. But I don’t do it if it’s a single person with children.”
And he has seen it all.
“I’ve had the crazy guests. I did a group that was like the people on Duck Dynasty who were pulling pranks all the time. I’ve had the extremely reserved people who have afternoon tea like a British couple, and I’ve seen people who want to dress in pirate clothes.”
And he said the yacht chef life is everything you see on the popular shows on television with a little drama incorporated for theatrics.
As he continues with the yacht life, Petty is also completing a cook book project that has been years in the making, which he said is essentially a lover’s guide to seducing somebody with food. He said people can expect step-by-step tips on dating activities and food-related dating activities.
“I’m trying to get couples into eating and to celebrate the intimacy that food can create. Each chapter in the book talks about date ideas like picnics, to movie night, to cuddling season when it gets cold, and doing at home date night.”
Petty shared his version of Coo Coo Soup for readers of The Nassau Guardian to try at home.
CHEF JAMAL PETTY’S COO COO SOUP
Li’l bit a conch, approximately 2 large (tenderized cooked and cut into strips)
Li’l seafood (scrimps aka shrimps, clams and or fish cut in cubes- approximately 4 each)
Some conch and under garment stock or 1 (12-ounce) carton chicken broth fish “aka” drawers broth.
1 ole tomato
Couple slices of salty sausage, (mild Italian or andouille can substitute)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Li’l dash of all-purpose flour
1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1/4 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 spring thyme
1 bay leaf
Li’l Scotch Bonnet pepper, to taste
Li’l chopped fresh parsley
Li’l salt or seasoned salt to taste
Peel and devein shrimp, placing shrimp shells in a large pot with conch. Use selected garment (cheesecloth) to hold the onion and celery halves and thyme together securely and add to the pot with the conch. Then add stock and simmer for 15 minutes or until shrimp shells are pink. Remove from heat and keep warm until needed. Refrigerate shrimp until needed.
In a medium Dutch oven or pot, cook sausage until browned. Remove sausage with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add oil and cook okra over medium heat until slightly caramelized, then add remaining vegetables and cook until wilted.
Dust vegetables with li’l flour and stir with wooden spoon until the relationship with the flour and vegetables is like good quality lotion to dry skin.
Remove garment and pour stock through a fine-meshed sieve into Dutch oven. (You may add 2 to 3 garments for extra “trapping” potency to expedite relationship goals.)
Add seasoning, thyme, and bay leaves, plus the reserved sausage. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for a few minutes. Add parsley and shrimp. When shrimp are pink, remove from heat and add li’l pepper to taste
Serve to your potential bae (hopeful significant other) to ensure you will be taking family pajama photos this upcoming holiday season.
Please note well: this may be sufficient for two or more portions but discard remaining soup to avoid confusion.