Michael Bradbury excitedly chats about his 25-year career – he’s clearly very passionate about the decades he spent at sea and the many exciting places that his dynamic career path has taken him to. “It’s been an incredible adventure,” he smiles, “from the shores of Malta to far-flung destinations like Bermuda. I definitely saw and experienced more than I could have ever imagined as a chef on land.”
So how did Michael end up leading a galley and living life on the high seas? “Well, it all started with a job interview back in the early 90s,” he reminisces, explaining that he got into cooking because he wasn’t very good at spelling – or any kind of academic schooling. “I was working as a healthcare chef when a colleague – who had left the company I was working with a few months earlier to take up a job on a cruise ship – called to see if I might be interested in doing the same. To be honest, I was quite fed up of my situation at the time and eagerly headed off to see if I could make the job mine.”
It turns out that he could because, within weeks, he’d gained the approval of his new boss Captain Jack Waters and he was jumping aboard the Eugenia Costa, an old cruise ship that has recently been renamed the Edinburgh Castle.
“When I joined it was being completely refitted,” Michael continues. “So the first few months were spent cooking for the crew of 280-or-so people. It was quite a challenge! I only had two hot plates and a baby Belling oven at my disposal but I had to ensure those men never went hungry. It was definitely a baptism of fire. We didn’t even have a lift on board, so we had to lower the lifeboats down several storeys just to get our food stocks up to the right deck. I look back on it as a ‘character-building experience’.”
The Edinburgh Castle – which had, by now, been completely refurbished – soon headed off to tour the world, taking Michael with it. “I spent three years as a chef on that ship, and I loved the lifestyle,” he says. “But we were made redundant at that point, so I had to think of Plan B. That’s when I found myself in New York, and a friend suggested that I travel to Miami to chef on a super yacht.”
The idea appealed to him, so he went from one side of the United States to the other in search of his next job. “I was down to the last eight dollars in my pocket with no job and no food,” he recalls. “It was definitely the scariest moment of my life and I had no idea what I was going to do – so I was lucky to have managed to get a job on a 40-metre motor yacht called ‘Inspiration’ later that same afternoon.
And so began his 20 years aboard super yachts. “I enjoyed almost everything about the lifestyle,” he says, explaining that he worked on around 30 yachts throughout his career – some for short week-long charters and others for longer. “The last yacht I worked on was called Samax, and I spent 10 years aboard cooking for the Russian owner. I must have loved it, as I wouldn’t have spent a decade doing it if I didn’t!”
Michael explains that cooking aboard a super yacht is very routine, with lots of responsibility when it comes to pleasing the owner, guests and crew on board. Every day would start at 6am when Michael and his sous-chef wife Maddy would get working on breakfast. After that he would usually head to shore to source ingredients – which could prove very challenging, especially in some of the more alternative destinations that they toured.
“The crew’s lunch would be served bang on the dot of 12, while our boss would want his three-course lunch at 1pm, followed by various snacks, crew dinner and the owner’s three-course dinner later in the day. Things would go on until around 9pm (on a good day!) and I would be in bed by 11pm so I could restart proceedings first thing the following morning,” he explains. “It was a gruelling schedule but one I grew accustomed to. I guess the most challenging aspect was coming up with the 800-or-so exciting and different-tasting dishes needed to fill each season’s menu,” he says.
Samax – a 20-year-old, 55-metre yacht that was bought for €60 million in the 90s – would spend two 120-day seasons at sea each year, with stints in Malta for maintenance. “That’s how I developed my relationship with Malta,” Michael continues. “When Maddy and I first came here we would stay in hotels. But we craved the normality of life on land, so we soon rented an apartment and, eventually, bought a home in Ta’ Xbiex. I have now been off the yachts for two-and-a-half years and have been enjoying ‘retirement’ – although I have also started a business, Bradbury CYS, which sources provisions for super yachts here in port.”
Now looking back on his 25-year ‘adventure’, Michael says that he wouldn’t change much about it – although he did miss out on much of the regularity of life, like weddings and christenings. “The best bit was getting to travel the world and seeing so many wonderful places. It is an exciting role, with lots of excess and some glamour that people might find hard to imagine – for instance we would often sail off with around €120,000 of produce in the kitchen, including €300-per-kilo cuts of beef. When you’re that rich you can have whatever you want at a moment’s notice!” he says.
He does miss the sea sometimes and he hasn’t completely given up on the idea of heading back out to chef on the water. “But I have to say that it would take something particularly special to bring me out of retirement,” he adds with a grin. “Like a round-the-world tour or a particularly hefty pay cheque!”
This interview originally appeared in the July edition of Business Agenda.