Inspirational Story: Former Cruise Ship Cook Becomes Celebrity Chef

Jul 31, 2019

Most of us when we board our first cruise ship all we can think about is to have some fun, see the world, meet amazing people, and make some money along the way. After several months on board, we may start thinking about how many hours we work versus how little time we have to rest and have the fun we wanted to. But then hits the hard question after several contracts when we’re at a family function such as a wedding and a family member asks us what is it that we do on the cruise ship. We may look at our feet for a brief moment and say “I’m a waitress” or “I’m a cook” etc. And our family member looks disappointed because they imagined that we do some amazing work that we cannot do back in our homeland and drops the big one “Oh, just a cook.” And there goes our confidence and self esteem in that one sentence as we ponder over what the heck are we doing with our life and the question of “Am I JUST a cook? Is this a dead-end job? Is this all there is for me?” 

Now I need you to STOP with that questioning completely and rephrase it to “I’m a cook who sees the world and is gaining precious experience on the road to success.” I can already see you laughing and saying “yeah right.” But if you don’t believe me just comb through the internet to find the many people who had their start on the road to success aboard a cruise ship. And trust me, none of them ever thought they will be where they’re today, but each and every one of them have taken the cruise ship experience as a driving force and starting point to work higher than their own wildest dreams. We stumbled across one such person recently and had the pleasure to discuss this briefly with him. And believe it or not, at one point in his life he was that cook that you are today.

Growing up Kalesh Kamal had dreams as any other boy. But as most of us who end up on cruise ships, his abilities were limited in fulfilling those dreams into reality. Little did he know that he will not only fulfill his dreams, but exceed them with starting as a cook onboard a Carnival cruise ship. Now don’t get me wrong, Kalesh was an experienced cook prior to boarding his first-ever ship. He worked in 5-Star restaurants in Mumbai where he obtains his educational knowledge in the art and creativity of the culinary industry. His fundamentals were impeccable and mind always curious not only to make a dish, but formulate a tasty creation. After a while he finds himself boarding his first ship and speaks on the similarities and differences with such positive and cheerful attitude and outlook you could barely pick up on the negatives related to any of his onboard or landside experiences. He explains that while the restaurants on land gave him the fundamentals, the cruise experience gave him the ability to work wonderfully with precision under extreme pressure. He notes that at one point two people were making fish for 5000 people in one night. Until this day I am still barely cooking for one, so I cannot even comprehend the speed and precision it takes to not only make good food that always looked so presentable, but also to make it in such astronomical quantities. I was on the other side picking up the food and sometimes making faces at the cook and giving him my sassy attitude when there wasn’t enough on the line. Sorry guys wish I knew then what I know now! Live and learn...but that’s why it’s important to break those barriers and share our experiences whilst learning from each other. Kalesh further makes the distinction between land and cruisers beautifully with:

“As you work more and more years then you realize it is all the same. You are not part of the ideation or creation process. This is where the difference between the land and ships. You will be precise and fast. Everything is structured including your breaks and sleep times etc.  Where in the real world you have to face the day to day challenges and bring on your passion and creativity.”

Kalesh also reminiscent on the intensity of the work and the overwhelming feeling when initially started working on cruise ships. We have all been there wondering “how will I work this many hours,” “how will I manage this much work in such a short period of time,” etc. and all in all without ANY days off!

“Cruises when you get in, you will be amazed by the sheer volume of the food cooked, lavish extravagant spreads, the logistics and how it all comes down to each guest is mind-boggling. But as you work your way around and begin to understand things you realize it can be done and start achieving what you thought once impossible. It gives you the confidence to face any challenges head on. It is a truly microcosm of world with different cultures, nationalities, and mindsets. It is a slice of globe itself.”

Couldn’t have said it better if I tried, so why even try it...let’s leave it as perfect as it is! 

Now the question is, why are we even writing about Kalesh? Well, after 4 years working for Carnival Cruise Lines as a cook, Kalesh traded the ship life for the land life upscale style in New Zealand and Australia as a celebrity chef with some of his dinner guests being the President of India, Justin Bieber, Roger Federer, etc. And while thinking back on the experience of cooking for the President of India with his security asking him questions such as the ingredients he is adding to the dish and the origin of it for safety purposes of the President, he looks fondly back on his experience working on a cruise ship where he learned how to work very well, organized, and precise under such pressure. I wonder if Kalesh had an impatient and sassy waitress on the other end just as my poor cook did with me. Maybe after all, it’s all part of the experience of added pressure, isn’t it?!? But needless to say, such experiences shape us and grow us as not only as people, but professionals as well with the burning desire to aim higher, do better and achieve more. This is true for Kalesh as well as others who made their fame, fortune and career post ship life built upon those experiences. 

However, the most important question of all is what is his key to success that he can pass onto new or existing cooks on cruise ships as his tested road map to his success on land and ship. 

“Believe in yourself and stay positive. Others have done it, so can you. Go out and meet new people, learn about them and how the world works. Don’t waste your money in the casinos. Be smart. Most importantly be safe. Learn the basics. Listen to your sous chefs - they know the business. There are recipes for everything. Learn them, follow instructions, exercise and keep healthy. Enjoy the cruise work - it's a wonderful place to work.”

With this response of his words of wisdom which is knowledge worthy to read and hear about, you will sense the consistency in his positive and cheerful attitude and outlook that one may beg the question if that is the actual secret ingredient in the recipe of delicious success. I would say so, what do you think?