Being a chef on an A-list charter yacht such as the 184-foot (56.2-meter) Oceanco The Wellesley—recently lengthened and refit—takes talent. Bradley Van Rooyen, at age 23, has it. His love of food stems back to age 5, when his grandmother was shaping his culinary interests in his native Zimbabwe. He can still remember baking with her and hand-cranking an old-fashioned, salt-packed ice cream maker.
At 16, he landed an internship at the upscale Leopard Rock Hotel in Zimbabwe. “I could have spent three months hanging with friends and getting drunk, but I opted to look for a job that might lead to a career,” he says. “I learned so much from the South African chef there. To this day, we still message each other.”
His next meaningful work experience was a four-month stint at a lion sanctuary in the bush. “Being in the wild, you have to use the provisions at hand and make do,” he says. “I think that is where I learned to be inventive.”
Van Rooyen then attended Tante Marie Culinary Academy in the United Kingdom, finishing when he was 19 with training in classic French cuisine. He cooked at a beach club on a Greek island, worked as a chef at a ski chalet and spent time in Tokyo learning Japanese cuisine. “I enjoy using cookbooks as guidelines,” he says, “but never follow a recipe, except when it comes to baking where you have to be more precise.”
He became a yacht chef by chance. David Westwood, a principal at Thompson, Westwood & White Yachts, was on a cruise up the Zambezi River in Africa and struck up a conversation with another guest. Westwood mentioned that he was looking for a yacht chef. The other guest was Van Rooyen’s best friend’s father. He told Westwood he knew just the person, an inspired young man who was the best baker in southern Africa. Van Rooyen landed a week’s tryout with the yacht’s owner.
After two days, the owner told Westwood, “Van Rooyen is not allowed to leave.”
Van Rooyen started on the owner’s smaller boat in 2014 and moved to The Wellesley after the refit. He is now the owner’s longest-standing crewmember, and while he is pretty busy, he spends his spare time skeet shooting and fishing.
“I have fun fishing with the owner when time allows,” he says, “and I enjoy baking with the owners’ children when they are on board.”
With youth and talent on his side, Van Rooyen seems to have all the ingredients in a great recipe for success.
Chef Van Rooyen's Tasting Menu
For charter information: Thompson, Westwood & White Yachts, twwyachts.com