Cooking is Robin Besnard’s passion, and he’s sure of at least one reason why. “Naturally, I am passionate. After all, I am French,” says the 38-year-old head chef aboard the 197-foot (60-meter) Benetti Formosa. Besnard says his cooking is entwined with his personality. His dishes are informed by his moods.
“If I wake up with lots of energy on a beautiful, sunny day, I will immediately go for Italian food. Ravioli and other pastas trigger happiness for me,” he says. “If I am in a bad or bitter mood, I will make something that is spicy such as Indian or Thai food. And, if I am in love, I will make a cake or sweets.”
All of those skills help him to succeed as a professional chef aboard a charter yacht, where it’s important to be adaptable and make anything that is required.
“We are here to please,” he says. “We get our preference sheets from charter management, and we know what provisions we have to have on hand should there be dietary requirements or special requests.”
Growing up in Grenoble, France, Besnard developed his fascination with food from his dad.
“My mom was a terrible cook,” he says with a laugh. “My dad was a great cook, and when I was a kid, I learned a lot by helping him with meal preparation.”
At age 16, Besnard went to culinary school. At 18, he left home to hone his skills and work in Nice.
“I started from scratch with the basics,” he says, “washing dishes, cleaning vegetables and peeling potatoes.”
In a few years, he became a sous chef, and after five years, he achieved his first head chef position. At age 25, he was seeking adventure, so he traveled to Marrakesh, Morocco, and opened his own restaurant. Restless still, he ventured from Morocco to Tallinn, Estonia, where he worked at a French restaurant.
In Estonia, he discovered that there were good jobs on the cruise ships that traveled between Estonia and Finland. He acquired the necessary certificates to work aboard big vessels, and did a stint before returning to France. Still seeking an alternative to the norm, he applied for work as a yacht chef at various crew agencies.
What began as temporary work on Formosa has turned into a gratifying, six-year job. Formosa is a charter yacht that cruises off the beaten path, which is one of the reasons Besnard has been content to remain in his position for so long.
“I would be bored with simply going back and forth from the Mediterranean in the summer to the Caribbean in the winter,” he says.
Last spring, the yacht was on the Pacific coast of Mexico and Costa Rica, and then it went to the South Pacific. “Because the Formosa’s program is to travel to more unusual places, we tend to get cool guests who are into hiking and watersports, and not the jet setters who only care about all-night clubbing,” he adds.
Cooking on board varies according to the clientele. Besnard says that when Formosa’s owner is on board, he tends to want to eat family-style. When the yacht is on charter, the crew are more likely to served plated meals.
“We just have to be ready to do whatever,” Besnard says. “Antoine Levasseur, my sous chef, is terrific. We are a team and are in sync with each other. There are 15 crewmembers, and many of us have worked together for several years. We treat each other like a bona fide caring family.”
Q&A WITH CHEF BESNARD
What is your favorite part of the day in the galley?
Right before service, when the prep dishes are done and the galley is all cleaned up and I can focus on plating the food with my finishing touches.
Is there an item you always have on hand in any galley?
I always need fresh herbs. I get different ones depending on which country we are in, but fresh rosemary, thyme, basil and mint make all the difference. And as with most chefs, I always have my personal knives with me. Our knives are a prolongation of our hands. They can be our best friends and our worst enemies. We need to take care of them and respect them.
What is the strangest food request you have had?
Someone requested a pasta dish with raw garlic and honey. I still can’t get my head around that.
Besides dreaming about what you’ll cook next, what are your other passions?
I like diving, both underwater diving and skydiving. Actually, I enjoy all things related to an adrenaline rush.
What do you do to relax in your spare time?
I like to work out, and I enjoy playing my guitar.
If you were to invite good friends over for a special meal, what would you make?
I would make black ink calamari risotto.
What kind of music do you listen to while cooking?
I like every kind of music. My moods dictate what we listen to in the galley. If I am sad or melancholy, I listen to sad or old tunes. If I am happy, I like good pop music, deep house or rock ’n’ roll. If I am feeling chill, then I’ll listen to Bob Marley. My sous chef and I tend to work in the galley to classical music or maybe opera. It is a bit of a cliché, but it helps us focus on what we are doing.
If you were not a chef, what would you be?
I’d be a surgeon. When you cut a piece of meat or fillet a fish, it is very technical. You need to have the precision of a surgeon. I feel quite akin to the medical profession.
For more information: fraseryachts.com or any charter broker
This article was originally published in the Winter 2022 issue.