Cooking on a the Waves
Peter Ziegelmeier has what some people would call a dream job. As a private yacht chef, he is on call and ready to grab his knives for chartered voyages on the high seas. His clientele ranges from celebrities to titans of industry to media moguls—all of whom require his ingenuity, creativity, and ability to whip up a feast at a moments notice.
Peter started working in the hospitality industry at a young age. “My first job was at a Roy Rogers when I was 15 years old,” he says. “I loved making the coleslaw from scratch.” Coming from a large Italian-German family, Peter would often be found in the kitchen with his grandmas. “My German grandma taught be all about slow roasting and my Italian grandma taught me about using the freshest ingredients from the garden.”
Peter would go on to work at country clubs, hotels, corporations, and catering and event planning companies, gaining years of valuable front- and back-of-the-house experience. He was toying with the idea of writing a cookbook and wanted to go to culinary school when he saw an ad for a Culinary Institute of America admission information session. “I was so impressed with the people I met and the programs offered by the CIA,” says Peter. “I enrolled immediately, gathered up money from student loans, got some scholarships, and headed to Hyde Park.”
“I had to relearn some skills, including proper knife cuts, and how to correctly chop an onion,” Peter recalls, “but it was really fun. At the CIA it’s all about your attitude. Life is 10 percent situation and 90 percent attitude. I dove right into school and loved it the whole time.”
After graduation, Peter headed to Florida and applied for a job at the Boca Raton Resort & Club and the Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale. “I was told I was overqualified!” laughs Peter. “So I started working in the private yacht charter industry and my career took off.”
When Peter told his mentor, The Culinary Institute of America Heritage Professor Fritz Sonnenschmidt, about his work as a private chef, his professor was encouraging but also concerned, saying “Once you go private, you stop learning.” “But I never did,” Peter explained. “One of the best aspects of my job is the different port of calls. When we dock I make my way to the local market to pick up fresh fruit, produce, and seafood. That’s where my product identification class comes in handy.”
Traveling all over the world has its advantages, although Peter warns, “cooking on the seas is not easy. Sometimes you’re preparing a meal while being rocked by eight-foot waves. You need good balance, a strong stomach, and great organization. It’s just you in a small galley and you have to take into consideration guests with lactose intolerances, gluten issues, shellfish and nut allergies, vegetarian diets, or people who don’t eat seafood. All of this while creating three meals a day plus snacks for guests and the crew.”
Peter’s adventures inspired him to put pen to paper for his first cookbook, the recently published Dreams of a Yacht Chef: Food For Thought. “I really enjoyed the process and I’m planning on writing more cookbooks,” he says.
When back on land Peter is busy with his writing and his own catering company. And his advice to up-and-coming-culinarians? “If you’re interested in a culinary career, be secure that deep down it’s not only what you want to do but what you have to do. It’s all about the passion,” Peter advises. He should know. Peter followed his passion and is living his dream.