Interview with a Cruise Ship Senior Sous Chef

Name: Henry Scoble
Nationality: South African
Cruise Line worked for: Crystal Cruises / ICMA
Cruise ships worked on: Crystal Serenity, Crystal Symphony
Length of service: I have worked on cruise ships for the past 12 years
Position Title: Senior Sous Chef
Past Employer(s) in the Industry or Similar: Radisson Seven Seas (1999), Residensea (The World) 2008, Royal Caribbean (1 Month in 2009)
Pre-Cruise Ship Background: I have worked as a chef at the Cape Sun Inter-Continental (1993-1997) and Hotel Hermitage in Monte Carlo (1998)
See: Part II of this interview.

Personal Background

Tell me a little bit about yourself?

I am born and bred in Muizenberg, Cape Town, and started my apprenticeship at the Cape Sun Inter-Continental in 1993. After I graduated, I became a Chef de Partie in the Banqueting Kitchen. In 1998 I left the Cape Sun and moved to Monte Carlo for a year where I worked for the SBM hotel group at the Hotel de Paris and the Hotel Hermitage.

What made you want to work in the cruise industry?

While in Monte Carlo I saw my first cruise ship and thought it would be nice to do it for a year or two.

What related experience did you have prior to being hired?

I had my diploma and 6 years experience in 5 star hotels. That was enough to get me in at a commis chef position and I worked my way up from there.

Your Job

Which cruise line do you work for and which ship do you work on?

At the moment I am taking a hiatus for a few months, but I worked for Crystal Cruises and on the Symphony and Serenity with the Serenity being my most recent.

What’s your job title?

I had a relief position of Chef de Cuisine and I am currently employed as a Senior Sous Chef.

Where did you first hear about this job?

A friend of mine back in 1999 was working on the Crystal Harmony and he said I should join him there.

Did you apply for this job specifically or for several different opportunities all at once?

I applied to work in the galley, and at the time I applied to all the cruise companies that I could find. Two got back to me – Disney said I did not have enough experience and Radisson wanted me to start the following week.

What were the job requirements set forth by the employer?

At the time when I joined my first ship, all I needed was 2 years work experience in a 5 star hotel or resort, or previous cruise experience, but things have changed a lot in the past 12 years.

Did you receive any special training or preparation for this job? If so, how long did it take and what specifically did that involve?

With Crystal all the training is done on the job, but when it comes to the safety aspect, for your first 2-3 weeks you are constantly learning how to use the safety equipment and what your duties are in an emergency. Once you come back from your vacation time off you also get a refresher course and once a year you have to do your survival at sea certificate.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

Dealing with the different cultures from around the world, but once you get passed that everybody wants to help each other and be part of the “family”.

Describe your work schedule?

My usual day at sea is as follows:

  • 7am – Check in
  • I make sure that the breakfast servers are ready for the main dining room breakfast that starts at 7:30am. We usually do between 150 and 300 servings in the dining room. The breakfast on the lido deck is very popular and they do the bulk of the breakfast and lunch business.
  • From 8am the rest of the galley starts, and I will make sure they have all that they require for the day’s work.
  • Breakfast finishes at 9:30am – I will usually take a walk down to Provisions to make sure we have everything for the upcoming menus, and if not we can change the menus or get the Provision Master to order the items for collection at the next port.
  • At 10am I will take a 20-30 minute break, at 10:30 I will check that the rest of the “stations” are on track for lunch and dinner service.
  • Lunch is from 12pm – 1:30pm.
  • 2pm – Break Time.
  • We are back at 4:30pm where we put the finishing touches on the dinner service which is 2 seatings.
  • The 1st seating is from 6pm until 7:30pm and the 2nd seating is from 8:30pm until 10pm.
  • I usually leave the galley at 10:30pm at the latest.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

I am one of 3 Senior Sous Chefs in the Hot Galley, so I am responsible for the breakfast team, as well as the Saucier Station and the soup cook.

What are the terms of your employment?

I work on a 4 month contract and 2 month vacation, only paid while on board. Flights to and from the vessel to my home airport are paid for.

When your contract is up how do you line up more work?

When I am at home I don’t do anything except be on vacation, because when I leave the ship I already have a return date, and after working 7 days a week for 4 months, sometimes longer, you need the time off.

Do you have a career path that can be followed?

Yes in the galley you can. I started as a commis chef and worked in all the sections and positions of the galley, and you can do that in other departments if you want to do this for a significant period of time. Unfortunately in the cruise industry a lot of people usually do 1 or 2 contracts and then go back to shore side and continue their career there.

Would you mind giving us a good idea of the typical pay you can expect to earn in this position? Is it a basic salary plus commission/tips?

For Crystal Cruises entry level in the galley is $3200 for a Chef de Partie. As a Senior Sous Chef I earn $4575. With Crystal Cruises, after 24 months of being employed (time on the vessel), you get Merit Pay of $100 a month, which increases every 12 months by $50.

Is it possible to land this type of job without any direct experience?

No, in the galley you need experience in large 5 star hotels or top restaurants.

Besides actual ‘on the job’ experience, are there any personal qualities you would need in order to get into this department?

You need to be a hard worker and not afraid of long hours. If you are sailing around the U.S. be ready to do general cleaning all the time as USPH (United States Public Health Department) can come on board at any time. They are not as strict in the EU yet, but in the next 2 years will be on par with the U.S. in terms of hygiene.

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