Meet Chef Brent Ryals, M/Y Rhino
By Andrew Parkinson
Shortly before dawn on Turquoise Bay in St. Thomas, the only light emanates from the galley window of 154-foot (46.9-meter) AdmiralRhino. Chef Brent Ryals is already on task, baking the day’s offering of fresh breads—a daily custom during a charter—which today happens to include his signature blueberry-cinnamon muffins. Sinful would normally be the word here, except they’re vegan and gluten-free, and Ryals’ modesty entirely contradicts the accolades they’ve been receiving from charter guests.
“It’s a pretty simple recipe, really. It derived from a charter a while back where the primary’s wife was a vegan,” Ryals said. “So I used gluten-free, vegan almond meal, and the guests loved [the muffins] so much I still use it.”
Born in Canada and raised in Alabama, Ryals’ path to head chef in yachting was anything but intentional, although his passion for cooking began in his mother’s kitchen, where family life revolved around food. “A lot of soul food: mac and cheese, fried chicken,” Ryals said. He later spent his teenage summers assisting in the family restaurant. After teaching high school English for several years, he left the institutional confines in favor of the service industry.
“I love pastries, so working in the restaurant, I’d always be watching the pastry chef,” Ryals said. “Soon I became the assistant pastry chef.” After completing an apprenticeship program, he moved on to restaurants at luxury beach and ski resorts before entering yachting.
“My lightbulb moment was at the Hook Up Bar in Los Sueños, Costa Rica, while vacationing with friends,” he said. “One of them pointed at a large yacht in the harbor and said, ‘You should be cooking on one of those.’ In October of that year, I had my first job in charter.”
It was an easy acclimation for Ryals, who grew up around boats—though admittedly nothing as big as the boat he works on now—and truly loves his current workplace. “My downtime is in places where most people never get to go. You just can’t beat that.”
Ryals’ culinary repertoire is wide, from modern American to fresh Mediterranean to occasional pan-Asian, and he executes it all with relative ease. “I don’t really have a preference; it’s all about what the guests are into,” Ryals said. “You find out what they like to eat, then you make it better than they’ve ever had it before.”
There’s no such thing as an odd request for Ryals, although he admits to having a good chuckle anytime a self-proclaimed vegetarian guest sneaks into the galley on the sly for a piece of bacon. “It happens more than you think,” he said.
Perfection without limits seems to be Ryals’ mantra. And it’s one that surely resonates well with adventurous guests staying on board Rhino.