November 27, 2023
From the art of tablescaping, linen pressing, flower arranging and cocktail making to managing the operational side of how the interior of a yacht is run, the Chief Stewardess plays an integral role onboard for both guests and crew - often anticipating their guests’ wants and needs before they need to ask.
To tell you more about the inner workings on board along with some tips and tricks for budding yachties, we spoke to the wonderful and esteemed Gaelle Andries, Chief Stewardess onboard M/Y MIMI who shares what she loves about her career and her favourite New Zealand based suppliers.
1. How did you start your yachting career?
I accidentally ended up in yachting in 2012, when a friend of mine was working as a deckie on a 150ft Classic SY in the Caribbean. They needed a crew cook and I needed a fresh challenge in life. Two weeks later I was on a flight to Antigua… I have never looked back! Though I did end up going into stewardessing after my first season as that’s where my passion and interests lie.
2. Where has been your favourite place to travel onboard?
Antigua, no doubt. It feels like coming home. The locals remember you from seasons past and there’s always a familiar face in the crew bars and restaurants. You just always feel. welcome there.
3. Where do you find inspiration for table decoration and theme ideas?
For theme nights I try and find out what the owners or charter guests like before they begin their trip. Very often you can deduct this from past charter feedback forms and/or preference sheets.
Don’t hesitate to ask the charter broker about any (good and bad) past experiences they’ve had when chartering a yacht, as this will help you to create the settings and experiences for them.
Some ideas for sports fanatics - you can easily create a centrepiece around golf or rugby by using some artificial turf, white spray paint and some toy-sized balls/golf posts. Similarly, if you find out the guests are really into a certain brand of champagne, you can re-use some of the bottles towards the end of a trip and light them up with candles or fairy lights. If you want to go all out, I like the idea of adding a champagne quiz at the end of the meal. When doing quizzes, try to make it fairly easy (multiple choice answers) and active (I always do a round where they have to taste/smell/feel things). People are competitive by nature, so a quiz always brings out the interesting sides of people!
This being said, not every lunch or dinner has to be extravagant, so sometimes less is more. I like to let the chef’s menu guide my set-up. Fish for lunch? Bring out the nautical napkins and shells. Pistachio crumbed lamb for dinner? Those natural-toned decorative balls and napkins are where it’s at.
4. Travelling often, how do you find suppliers (florists, etc.), and what is your favourite thing about working with different suppliers?
Nowadays, I use Google a lot. There are some guides out there like the Superyacht Services Guide which are handy but I also like to support local and small companies when we travel.
We do a lot of our florals ourselves so often I just get loose flowers and don’t need a creative florist to assist. The fresh market is where you’ll find me.
For other bits like wines and spirits I like to use my trusted suppliers in the Med, most of them are known yachting suppliers, but they offer flexibility no local companies can– like sourcing rare vintages and flying them overnight to Sicily when necessary, for example!
I love good wines suppliers as they can assist me with making the best choices for our guests. I know a little about wines, but I won’t ever know as much as some of the in-house sommeliers, so it’s all about teamwork, right?
5. Can you share a career highlight?
Yachting has opened so many doors to so many adventures and unique experiences. Whether it’s getting a VIP tour at one of our previous owner’s safari parks, getting treated to aMichelin star meal at the end of the season, breathing in the atmosphere at theMonaco Grand Prix…there have been so many!
Mostly, I love getting to know superyacht owners and charterers and how they live their daily lives and what they did to get where they are – it’s absolutely fascinating.
6. Where are you looking forward to travelling in New Zealand whilst MIMI is based here?
I’ve heard Queenstown is the most adventurous town in NZ so I definitely want to make a pitstop there one day. I’m fairly new to this side of the world and lockdown hasn’t helped us explore much, so right now, anything would do really!
7. Where are some of your favourite places to shop for the boat in New Zealand?
I love getting creative and making my own decorations for events, so Spotlight and Look Sharp Store are great for materials.
There are lots of hospitality shops that have been really helpful as well (Southern Hospitality& Gilmac). We also got toiletries from San [Sceuticals] and diffusers from ECOYA – lovely Australasian brands with great customer service. And if I don’t mention Milly’s Kitchen Shop in Auckland our chef will get upset, so there you go: Milly’s.
8. How do you keep up with organisation onboard and what is your favourite trick?
I have a little redbook. Everything gets jotted down in the book, if not, I forget – the memory of a goldfish. Then every day I go through the book and make sure I work on those to-do lists and pass on items to the interior team or engineers.
We also have lots of checklists – weekly cleaning lists for the interior, the crew mess, the pantries… I love a good whiteboard too – great for informing the rest of the team about bits and bobs.
Above all, I try to remind everyone that everything has a home. Nothing should be laying around(except on my desk, which is always an absolute mess), and we all have to try and make sure everything is tidied away at all times.
9. Tell us more about mise en place onboard – how do you prepare for a special dinner?
We have a checklist and diagrams of table set-ups. This helps to make sure you don’t accidentally forget the salt and peppers or other random bits you could forget. After every meal is cleared, we start prepping for the next one. Baskets full of linen and cutlery are readied so you don’t have to stress about it last minute.
For a special dinner, you’d probably want to create a more special atmosphere which can easily be achieved by having a special playlist, more lighting (candles, candles and more candles), purpose-made menus,… the sky is the limit!
10. A piece of advice for budding stews?
Be pro-active. Don’t hesitate in doing a bit more than what is asked of you, show your Chief Stew that you’re keen and want to exceed their expectations. This is no 9-to-5 and the sooner you can show that you’ve understood that the quicker she will trust you, give you more responsibility and encourage you to be a better stew.