Joanna Debanks

My Spirit

My cooking career started way back in 1991 when I was travelling in Israel. Funny story actually… I met my now husband, Martin there and we were offered a job as Cook and Deckhand on a Dive Liveaboard. The Captain asked me if I could cook and I said MMMmm well MMmmmm, got a big kick from Martin under the table and the rest is history.

Not having a clue how much to order I filled the yacht up with enough food for about 1 month at sea! Spread through the main Saloon, Aft deck and some of it spilling out onto the dock. I got the job done, food put away (somehow), and had happy well fed guests. This experience early on in my career has taught me that you can achieve absolutely anything , if you put your mind to it.

Twenty nine years later, majority of these years on yachts, my skills have of course improved dramatically. I have since been to culinary school which helped build my confidence, knowledge and skills, and I have always been very fortunate to work with some exceptional chefs (even celebrity ones) along the way. In my mind there is nothing like learning hands on in a busy kitchen/Galley.

My cooking career has allowed me to live and work abroad and has taken me round the world twice. We have very adventurous owners, taking us to areas so remote that thinking ahead and planning is absolutely paramount. If you didn’t have it when you left port, then it was time to get creative, which I can honestly say is one of my best attributes. Never knowing when the next opportunity to be able to stock up, makes you very diligent with your provisions.

In certain areas we travel to, I have to organize provisions to be flown in, which can be a logistical nightmare, but with good communication and careful planning always comes together, sometimes at the last minute! Waiting for that sea plane to land in Alaska was an event we all greatly anticipated when we were way up north and keeping my fingers crossed that the Customs Officials in the South Pacific Islands are in a good mood and let my shipment through.

In saying that I like to pride myself in sourcing local produce when travelling, in my mind a definite “perk” of the job is be able to leave the confines of the galley and get out to the local markets and get in amongst it, sipping on a cold fresh coconut while procuring delicious organic produce. Not only are we supporting the locals, I can honestly hand on heart tell my guests that they are eating local food not just local cuisine. Integrating with our guests is something I love to do, I will go out with our Stewardess on every service explain what I have prepared and answer any questions they may have. Everyone is interested in food nowadays it is great to be able to impart knowledge.

Being based in Australia on the East Coast gives me access to amazing fresh produce, my style of cooking is definitely about letting the food sing. We take up to 12 guests and they often catch fish on their outings and I love to prepare this for them. Whether it is fresh Sashimi or Ceviche or cooked how they have requested, definitely another bonus to being based here.

Being a yacht chef is like no other Chef job. We have to be able to do everything from baking fresh breads and pastries to guest preferences, dietary requirements and adapt to last minute requests. Keeping my 8 crew happy and fed is a very important job, as they are your family and will have your back and provide much welcomed laughs and entertainment in just the right moments should the occasion arise.

I have always been a solo Chef and keep a very clean and well organized Galley, and work very well under pressure. What chef successful doesn’t!