Q: Ben, Chef 33:
“My galley seems to have become the new favourite space for everyone to hang out and chat. If it’s not the stews gossiping in the pantry, it’s the deckies or Captain coming in for a chat and asking what’s for dinner. Sometimes crew start congregating about half an hour before dinnertime, just hanging around like a bunch of vultures waiting for food to appear and nicking stuff off my platters as I start putting the food up. It’s bad enough when we’re off charter, but when I’m trying to do guest food and there’s random crew wandering in and out, I start to lose it a bit. And then of course I hear ‘you’re in a bad mood today’. I don’t want to be the angry chef, but I’m starting to feel like if I don’t get angry about it, then they’ll just keep on bloody talking in my galley all day! I don’t mind the occasional visit – but how do I stop it from getting out of hand? How do other chefs get respect for their galleys as a professional workspace?”
A: The Crew Coach:
Oh, I feel for you! I was a crew chef for the latter part of my yachting career, and I definitely struggled at first to find a balance between being friendly with the crew and my need to be alone in a quiet space to concentrate on my cooking! I think your question is a good one, as a lot of yacht chefs struggle with this. Because we live onboard, and in a living space you normally have a bedroom, living room AND a kitchen, I think crew often regard the galley as an extension of ‘their space’ onboard, even though it isn’t really, because they are usually not allowed to use it as such.
This means chefs often have to assert their boundaries of this area, most often by getting angry and ordering everyone out, which makes everyone feel a bit uncomfortable (chef included!). Of course, the situation is complicated further when you share a galley with the stew’s pantry, for that is their workspace too, and often they’ll be chatting amongst themselves when you’re plating up, or when they’re doing the guest dishes.
It’s even worse for chefs on smaller yachts and sailing boats, where the crew mess and galley are often connected in the same space. In this situation, chefs are forced to deal with people chatting, watching loud TV and generally getting in their way while they’re trying to work. It’s immensely distracting and once your brain has started getting frustrated by it, it’s even harder to zone it out. So, how do you reclaim your galley?
I find when I come onboard and work with teams that a lot of crew conflict and misunderstandings arise from low understanding or awareness of the pressures of each other’s roles. Perhaps you could pick a time between meals when you have a few minutes to have a friendly chat with the Captain and the other key perpetrators and explain that as much as you like the odd visit, you’re finding it hard to concentrate when people are chatting. Perhaps tactfully point out that you’d never try to talk to the Captain about irrelevant things while he’s docking, or walk into the engine room to chat to the Engineer while he’s working on a complicated piece of machinery. You’d certainly not go and hang out at the skylounge bar for a chat with the stew while she’s making mojitos for the thirsty guests – and these are all direct equivalents of what is happening when people are distracting you at crucial plating up times.
Explain to the stews (or Chief) that while it’s perfectly fine for them to be talking quietly when you’re prepping, that when guest service is on you need as much quiet as possible. Of course you realise they need to be able to communicate about the order of service and guest requests, but that chatting should be kept to a minimum. After all, you’re both working towards the same goal: happy guests, and they’ll have plenty of time for chatting after service is finished.
If the Captain is one of those who likes to drop in for a chat, he’s probably unintentionally signalling to all the other crew that it’s ok. Make sure you get him onside about respecting the galley boundaries, and everyone else will generally follow suit. As for crew gathering like vultures come mealtimes, make a rule that the only people allowed into the galley at this time are those who are on crew mess duty and that they are there only to pick up the food and take it to the crew mess. You can definitely instigate a total ban on people pinching food off your platters as you’re plating up because it’s not only rude, it’s unhygienic.
You will probably have to be consistent for a while for them to understand you mean business, so stick to your guns and calmly assert your boundaries again when they come into the galley for a chat, or the stews get a bit noisy. Don’t just let things slide or you’ll find yourself getting frustrated again, and then if you’re like most people you’ll overreact over one little incident and get tarnished with the ‘angry chef’ brush. Just state your request kindly and firmly and say you’ll be happy to chat over lunch or tea break, so they begin to understand there are good times to talk to you and it’s not that you are just closing them out altogether.
Speaking of frustration, the best thing of all to do once you’ve set your boundaries with the crew, is also to work on your own coping mechanisms on dealing with distractions. On land, restaurant kitchens can be noisy places as I’m sure you know, but because you expect them to be and you don’t feel that people are insulting you by washing dishes or yelling out orders, you don’t get upset by the noise and just zone it out. Try some breathing techniques and learn to zone out the noise of the stews washing dishes or having a chat. You’ll soon find that their noise just blends into the background and you’ll recover your focus for the task at hand.
Good luck and let me know how it goes. Operation reclaim galley has begun!