Chef Kieren Lam started as sous chef on Lucky Lady a few years ago and worked his way to head chef last summer.
With his Aussie twang, 31-year-old chef Kieren Lam says, “I really enjoy making people happy. It is just my nature.”
Lam’s culinary talents go a long way toward enhancing charters aboard the 205-foot (62.6-meter) Oceanco Lucky Lady. Guests and crew alike are welcome to peek in the galley anytime for a whiff of whatever he is creating. “The captain will often pop in just to see what we are cooking up,” he says. “I am not like those prickly chefs you see on TV. I am quite chill.”
Lam grew up on Australia’s Gold Coast, but his roots, especially those that inform his cooking, run deep and wide.
“I am half Chinese,” he says. “My father emigrated from Malaysia to Australia when he was 18 years old. He cultivated my love of food. He was the cook in our house. When I was old enough to stand on a chair, I was peeling garlic and helping form wontons for dumplings and filling spring rolls.”
While meals at home tended to lean toward Chinese, Lam’s mom could whip up a mean spaghetti Bolognese. Both his parents were nurses, and for a “minute,” Lam says, he considered a medical profession. But when he was 14, he got an after-school job in a roast chicken shop and discovered he had a knack for preparing food.
His aspirations to cook professionally took shape when he worked in a gastropub.
“Naturally, I started out as a dishwasher, but I quickly worked my way to kitchen hand and then to actual cooking when the chef was off,” he says.
Following high school graduation, and with medical school fading from his sightlines, Lam attended culinary school. Over four years, he had a series of apprenticeships, moving from restaurant to restaurant gaining a wide range of hands-on experience.
“My final training was at a new all-from-scratch Italian restaurant where I helped design, decorate and develop the menu,” he says. “I also learned the art of bread, pasta and pastry-making.” It was his mentor there who educated him about pursuing a career as a yacht chef.
An adventurer at heart, Lam found the concept of travel, sailing and cooking appealing. “Thirty-five and counting,” he says of the number of countries he has visited. “I believe food is a gateway to the culture. While traveling, I am always trying to sample local traditional food and drinks. I think this can give you insight to where you are and the history of the area. It also provides a different perspective of palate, techniques and food combinations you would not normally think of.”
Lam likes to combine all his passions with his profession. On an island in Thailand, he moonlighted as cook at night while working as a scuba instructor by day. In addition to diving and other water sports, Lam also loves snowboarding.
“While working as a chef in the Canadian Rockies, I’d head straight home after finishing work, get all my snowboarding gear prepared, wake up, meet my mates for a coffee and get the first chair to the top of the mountain for first tracks,” he says. “The restaurant was on the mountain, so I could snowboard straight into work.”
Lam moved to boats when he was about 27. He started as sous chef on Lucky Lady about four years ago. Summer 2022 was his first season as head chef. His breezy style works to his benefit. To keep life aboard copacetic with a crew of 15, it is important to have the cooperation and camaraderie of colleagues.
“As we are working and living on a boat away from our family and friends, we always try and make holidays as fun as we can,” he says. “One year during our all-out Christmas lunch/dinner spread, I decided to gift all the crew Nerf guns, which turned out to be the best-worst idea. In our small crew mess, we all immediately started a battle that kept going throughout the following week. I don’t think the captain was too impressed with that one.”
For more information: charterworld.com, or any charter broker
Q&A with Chef Lam
Which special ingredient do you always like to have on hand?
Garlic is a foundation for me; that and Tabasco sauce.
Is there any particularly strange food request you have had?
Well, the boss is gluten- and sugar-free, but that is not a problem. I have also had guests who are egg-free and gluten-free, which is a bit challenging on the dessert front. But for me, something that was not part of my normal repertoire was when guests requested corned beef hash and grits. But I learned something new.
If you were not a chef, what would you be?
Something in the hospitality/tourism industry, such as a diving instructor or snowboard instructor.
First thing in the morning, I like upbeat liquid drum and bass music. I really like listening to Dua Lipa in the galley.
So, can you now match up to your dad’s cooking?
No way. Every time I have a cook-off with my dad, he wins hands down.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2023 issue.