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Celebs and 3am burgers – life as a super yacht chef

Making a chocolate cake for a Victoria Secrets model is the stuff of many a young man’s dreams.

But when that beautiful blonde is the girlfriend of A-list celeb Leonardo DiCaprio, you get an idea of the circles in which a private super yacht chef mixes.

Such is the life of Ross McGibbon, 30, from Hartlepool, who says he still can’t quite believe his working life, particularly as he came ‘from nowt’.

But with a large tax-free salary, such a life can turn a young man’s head. And it did for a while, but more of that later.

Ross has worked with Michelin celebrity chef Aiden Byrne, Gareth Ward, Oli Martin, who was runner-up in last year’s TV series Master Chef, and at the famous Gilpin Lodge in the Lake District – “where I really learned how to cook.”

But he was introduced to the world of super yacht cheffing five years ago and remembers well his first step on deck of the magnificent vessel owned by a multi-millionaire Italian family who had employed him.

“We had to take off our shoes and I remember feeling the wood of the deck beneath my feet. I was tip-toeing around thinking I would damage the polished finish. There was a helicopter on the back and the yacht was huge, like something you’d see in Monaco, owned by a celebrity. I couldn’t believe my luck.”

The family he worked for were good to him and easy going. He had to pass safety qualifications before he was allowed on board and also sign the inevitable “non-disclosure agreement”. Private chefs, need to be just that, private and discreet.

The yacht was also available for private charter and Ross has cooked for lots of celebrities including Orlando Bloom, DiCaprio – who wanted a burger at 3am after clubbing – and Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas, who never actually ate on board.

He’s travelled to 30 countries in five years and his favourite location was Ireland, where he bought a freshly-caught monkfish from a passing fisherman. He was helicoptered in to a local restaurant to find out how they made their fish chowder, so he could reproduce it for the boss.

He also helped rescue a Canadian couple whose vessel was damaged in a storm just off Cape Verde. Their boat was so small it couldn’t be seen on the yacht’s radar as it was tossed about by the waves, but they’d been radioed a may day appeal. The mast of their vessel had been snapped and they were stranded in choppy waters.

“We had to go into full-on safety and rescue mode,” says Ross. “We were the nearest to help these people and we had to send them jerry cans of fuel on a line for them to haul in. We also sent food, cigarettes and a bottle of wine. They didn’t want to come aboard, but preferred to ride the storm until they could get into Cape Verde. It was crazy.”

Being a private chef is both inspiring and fulfilling for Ross. But life on board can get lonely and three years ago he was forced to face his demons. During his career, he’d always had chef role models to support and mentor him.

“I’ve worked with some amazing chefs who guided me through my career and nurtured me, but without them I started to doubt myself.”

Being a young man with a lot of money to spend, Ross started to party hard – alcohol, cocaine, many a chef’s go-to prop. He was working hard and playing even harder – “I could go through 5,000 euros very quickly and find myself overdrawn” – and ultimately paid the price when he had a nervous breakdown.

He called his mum who made a bed up for him and told him to come home to Hartlepool.

“I’d been holding in a lot of emotion from my childhood and the drink, drugs and lifestyle brought it all out. I couldn’t cope. I was living this materialistic, empty life, and the pain and anxiety I felt inside was getting worse and worse. Something had to give and it did. I contemplated my death, but not suicide, imagining how I’d prefer to die in a plane crash on the way home. I was desperate for a reality check and going home provided that. It took me six months of help to make me realise what was really going on with me and sharing my experience really helps with that.”

It took a year before he started feeling normal again. He saw counsellors, did voluntary work teaching kids how to cook, enjoyed Reiki sessions, took up kick-boxing and started running again. He re-built himself physically and mentally. He’s not drunk or done drugs for a long time.

“I’ll be starting work again next year when lockdown is over,” says Ross. “I’m staying on the super yachts because I’m going back as a changed man. I’ve faced my demons. I’ve overcome them and I’m the strongest I’ve ever been.

“Too often men are afraid to speak out about their problems and fears. I was masking my trauma with drink and drugs. But now I’ve faced it, I can move on with confidence and gratitude to all those amazing chefs who supported me along the way.”

Diane Cooke
Diane Cooke is a three times award-winning journalist who has worked for UK national/regional newspapers, magazines and websites.

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