Strawberries By Plane, Rum Emergencies and Other Food Demands at Sea

Julia Bainbridge
Food Editor
June 12, 2014

A view of Arianna from above. Photo credit: Courtesy Owner Dovi Frances

According to a recent article in GQ, the demand for butlers has risen since 2010 when Downton Abbey premiered. “Thirty-five years ago, there were only a few hundred butlers left in Britain; today there are roughly 10,000, plus thousands more abroad,” writes David Katz. The butlers earn starting salaries of $40,000 to $60,000 for duties such as providing formal table service, securing any entertainment his boss might require, managing the household staff, and hiding hookers on mega-yachts. (You’ll have to read the GQ piece for the rest of that story.)

Katz details the kind of training required of butlers these days. So what’s required of yacht stewards, who are essentially butlers at sea?

Her bio on motor yacht Arianna’s website states that chief stewardess Katie Hearn (above, second from right) “is responsible for maintaining the interior of Arianna and attending to guests.” She told us that in yachting, at least, learning how best to do those things is more about hands-on work and less about formal training. “I started out on the bottom, learning from the chief stew,” she said. One captain—captains are usually in charge of hiring staff, not owners—along the way did require some courseship, so Hearn enrolled in a class at the American Yacht Institute in Fort Lauderdale: “We went over the basics of how to set a formal table, the basics about cleaning different surfaces, a little about flower arranging.” While that mandatory training is on the rise, says Hearn, she sticks by her claim that working is the best training.

“Attention to detail is the main aspect of being a butler or a chief stew,” she said. “We charter, and every guest wants something different. If someone likes his coffee with two sugars, we learn that quickly; we don’t even have to ask how he wants it the second day.”

As far as food requests go, “If they want it, they want it, and we will fly it in if we need to.” Here are some of the more difficult tasks Hearn has, very gracefully, completed.

* “We were in the Bahamas for a charter. They were Russian guests, and they liked to see lots of food all presented on the table—like 6 to 10 full platters. And so we ran out [of food]. Halfway through the trip, we had stuff sea-planed in. We were in the middle of nowhere, and had to be reached.”

* “We had a dinner party for 18 people when we can only fit 12, and we only have enough settings for 12. We had to mix and match cutlery and linens, bring in another small table, and squeeze as best we could. Meanwhile, in the galley, the chef and a second chef he had helping for the night were cooking up a storm. Because it was raining, they had to use the grill inside, which ended up turning into a small kitchen fire that required fire blankets and hydrants [to put out]. The guests on the other side of the door were none the wiser, and four courses were still delivered promptly and without flaw.”

* “On another boat [not Arianna] the chef once had to fly in 4 kilos of English strawberries to Sardinia. He then had to make 2 liters of strawberry consommé to turn into a jelly base for an English trifle for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.”

* “I had one group of guests that all they drank was Captain Morgan Rum. Despite being well stocked when the trip began, they had consumed it all halfway through the trip. We were anchored out in St. Barths for New Years, but there was no Captain Morgan on the island (we checked the provisioners, groceries, even bars). St. Barths is the place to be for New Years, we were one of the nearly 70 super yachts anchored out. Luckily I knew a few other stewardesses on boats anchored out as well. Through a few radio calls and tender runs I was able to obtain enough bottles of Captain Morgan to get us by until we could get a delivery by ferry from the neighboring island, St. Maarten.”

All in a day’s work, eh?