"It doesn't have to be all foam and jelly"
What Steven asked Stuart Lewis, private chef for some very important people
At this time of year, Steven wanted to get some top tips for prepping Christmas dinner. As a result, he spoke to Stuart Lewis, a private chef who works on super yachts about how he first went to sea, working for Donald Trump, and how to ask a butcher to prepare your turkey.
What brought you to the Medway Towns?
Family was here, so only seemed right to live with them and start my culinary journey here. We lived in High Halstow until I was about 10, when we moved to Lincolnshire and then moved back down when I was 18.
What jobs did your parents do growing up?
They were bakers and owned multiple companies abroad and in Yorkshire.
How did you find school?
Challenging. I found it hard to find a focus and found it within my passion of cooking.
Did you get to do cooking at school?
No, I was working in a restaurant alongside school in my later school years. I then went to college to pursue that career, where I studied catering and hospitality.
Did you attend university?
No. I did two years and got my diploma and VRQ (Vocationally Recognised Qualification) and moved back down to Kent. My brother Gavin was there, and I started working in a two-rosette hotel, Chilston Park.
What does two-rosette mean?
It’s an accolade, 5 stars equals 2 rosettes. You can go up to 3 rosettes and then you go up to Michelin star.
What was your first full-time job?
I worked in some hotels in Lincolnshire and some up-and-coming restaurants. It was my brother Craig who got me my first job. They needed a pot wash, clean some dishes, and it escalated from there. That was from the age of 14, and it taught me some discipline. I had lacked that in school, I was a bit of a naughty boy, I can admit that.
Is a pot wash role as literal as it sounds?
Yes and no. I was thrown into the deep end. Hospitality kitchens work on chain of command which you have to follow, otherwise you get a pan thrown at you. I was working five days a week whilst still at college, smashing out 70 hours a week.
What job were you doing at Chilston Park?
I was there two years. I worked my way up from demi chef de partie, to junior sous-chef. A demi chef is half a chef de partie. Chef de partie means you are able to run a partie station. Partie station is how Europe runs their kitchens. You can either be on starters, main courses, or desserts, or you can be on garnish, fish, or meat. In the states, it is done on a line system, where the plate gets put on the line and works its way down. Junior sous meant that I was in charge of seven other chefs.
What is your official occupation?
Private chef. I now work all over the world, I only arrived in the UK a week ago, and I am leaving to go back to Marseille tomorrow. This year, I have worked all over the Caribbean, the Mediterranean. I’ll probably go to 20 countries a year cooking for the rich and famous. I’m currently working on super yachts, which are chartered for anything up to 12 guests, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Everything is gold-plated. It’s ridiculous.
How much of the year would you say you spend in the UK on average?
This year I've spent two weeks in the UK. You've caught me on one of them.
What does the average day on the yacht entail?
It's quite challenging. I have to know where I'm going to be. Especially because of Brexit, everything has restricted import things. If I want to import something from another country, all the other countries have kind of jumped on the bandwagon and made it extremely difficult to import stuff to other places. For example, I was just in Turkey, and I needed to get five Wagyu beef, caviar, Alaskan crab, and I tend to use a provisioner based out of Paris. Because France is in the European Union and Turkey isn't, there are certain documents that come with it, so you really have to be on the ball. If I want to produce food for next week, I need to be looking at what I want to order now, just to make sure nothing is held up in customs and if there's any other import tax that I need to be aware of. I would be looking at the start of the day at what I would be needing or where I'm going to be in the next week, because when I'm in Turkey one day, but Croatia the next day, and then I might be in Greece. They've all got different laws and legislation.
I tend to start work at 5:00 in the morning and do the breakfast. It'll be a selection of fresh breads, pastries, à la carte breakfast, so you are not limiting the guests’ options, from bacon and eggs to Italian truffle on toast. Some of the things can be quite extreme and some of the guests can be quite demanding. American guests will be happy if you put edible glitter into a hollandaise and think it's amazing. Whereas I can get a Russian client and they literally want the best of the best and they don't care how much it costs. I could pay for a small package to come from the best markets in in Paris. I could pay €20,000 and get a small box and get a little bit caviar and a little nugget of truffle, and the client is happy to pay that. When you're dealing with clientele the sky isn't even the limit, you have to be prepared to cook and cater for every single requirement. It is a different world. That's breakfast. You'll do a lunch, do hors d'oeuvres and canapes and then a four or five-course tasting menu in the evening. You can have the same guests for anywhere from a week to a month.
How much time off do you get?
I've just completed a four-month season, and between charters, I probably get one day. It's very intense, but it's also quite rewarding financially. It's definitely an industry that's not well known. In a four-month period, it’s not uncommon for someone in my position to walk away with upwards of £120,000. Just no time to spend it.
Is it the sort of food that you enjoy eating yourself?
It is 100% the food I love eating. I've kind of developed my palette now. I struggle to go to regular restaurants. I just went to London a couple days ago, and for me, my favourite pastime is to go to a really nice restaurant. I'll be going to Novikov or Nobu, all of those kinds of places. It’s an expensive hobby.
Is there anywhere in Medway you'd actually go for a dinner?
That's a very difficult question actually because I don't really go out in Medway too often. I know that’s not what you are looking for. There is one place, and I can't speak highly enough of it, Lewis’ Fish and Grill.
That’s in Maidstone, so won’t make the final edit.
Did you once cook a meal for Donald Trump?
I worked for him. I was his private chef.
What was that like?