How to Become a Chef on a Cruise Ship

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Cruise ship lines look for chefs who have culinary degrees, practical experience and the flexibility to spend weeks or months away from home. Although each line has its own hiring process for chefs, several common factors play a role in the hiring process.

Culinary Education

Cruise lines set high standards for chefs and usually require a degree from an accredited culinary school. Cruise ship managers look for candidates who have a comprehensive education that includes everything from knife skills to whipping up sauces to creating pastries. In addition to basic kitchen skills, a culinary arts program that includes coursework in kitchen management, accounting practices and inventory management provide skills that can be helpful when working in a ship’s galley. Your school’s placement office can help prepare you for your interview, and placement staff may even learn about cooking opportunities on cruise ships before they’re announced to the public. Services are usually offered to current students and graduates.

Typical Positions

Cruise ships offer numerous dining rooms, buffets, and fast food and specialty restaurants, and they need a large number of chefs and cooks to adequately staff these facilities. Typical positions include executive chefs; executive sous chefs; sous chefs; first, second and third cooks; crew cooks; bakers, pastry chefs and trainees. The Franco Lania website notes that ship galleys are similar to hotel kitchens and feature hot and cold sections. If you accept a job in the hot section, you will cook grilled foods, fish, soups, pastas, vegetables, meats and side dishes. Chefs who work on the cold side of the galley are in charge of baking and pastries, salads, ice carvings and cold food items. They also prepare foods for buffets.

Practical Experience and Personal Considerations

Experience in a restaurant -- preferably a high-volume facility -- is required for chef positions. This requirement varies depending on the job, although three to five years of experience is generally preferred. In addition to cooking experience, the position may require previous experience supervising staff or computer skills. Chefs must be in good physical condition and must pass a physical examination and drug test before being hired. If you have trouble maintaining your balance, have a health condition that requires constant monitoring or are prone to seasickness, working on a moving cruise ship might not be a good idea.

How to Find a Job

You can apply for restaurant positions on each cruise line's website. Check websites frequently, as needs can change quickly. Although cruise lines recruit directly, Franco Lania notes that you might have better luck if you work with an agency that recruits chefs for cruise lines; they also advise that reputable agencies never charge applicants for recruiting services. During an interview, explain how your education and experience qualify you for a job on a cruise ship. For example, if you’ve worked in the kitchen of a hotel that hosted banquets or conferences, mention that you have experience creating menus and cooking for large groups.