Bravo viewers are accustomed to seeing chef Ben Robinson cook on the high seas in Below Deck, which follows the motley crew of the yacht Honor during charter season and its colorful set of often finicky guests. See the Englishman show off his culinary skills on land on Saturday at Esplanade Park in downtown Fort Lauderdale after the fifth annual Hospice Regatta. Everyone is invited to the block party to enjoy food trucks, live music, a silent auction, beer garden, raffle and, of course, good eats. Robinson will assist party specialists The Clambake Guys in whipping up seafood specialties after the race off Fort Lauderdale Beach from 4-9 p.m. We caught up with Robinson before the event.
How did you first get involved with “Below Deck”?
Back in 2013, I was on an online forum late one night, and I noticed an ad for a reality yacht chef. I had heard rumors of a show being cast, but this was the first I’d seen of it. I wrote them a funny, late-night letter and thought nothing of it. Two days later I received a call from a casting agent out of L.A. I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about so I jumped online and scrambled for my sent box. ‘Oh, yeah, that show.’ We kind of took it from there, and finally I did an online interview, which I imagine was well received. I was picked from over a thousand chefs and was told I had the largest résumé, having been in the industry for over eight years and the head chef on a 300-foot sailing vessel.
How would you describe the experience?
Overall, it has been an absolute roller coaster. I feel like I have discovered new strains of emotion — anxiety that you can only feel and not describe, a certain breed of self-consciousness that you never knew you had, and humiliation that leaves you absolutely powerless. One day, when it’s all over, it will be interesting to see if I am stronger having done it, if I am a better person.
What is it like to be a chef at sea for culinary and entertainment purposes?
It’s a great position. We have an unlimited budget. You are in charge of your own department. And generally it is a respected position. The only problem is if it all heads south, there is nobody to blame but you. It comes with great responsibility and often dangerous working conditions. The producer said it to us best: ‘We have two jobs. The first job is your actual job, and the second job is being a cast member.’ It’s taken me awhile to understand what that entails — about being good for the show, being a team player and compromising. Oh, and don’t take anything too personally.
How do you get along with your cast mates?
I’m too busy to have a problem with anyone. I find people who hold grudges or simply do not get with others to be lazy. Relationships require work and understanding. If you do happen to be this type, I don’t think you belong on a boat. It’s an extremely intense environment and not for the faint of heart.
How has public life changed for you?
Whenever you are part of reality TV, it is always going to bring a dysfunctional side to your life. I’ve had to learn to adapt, drop everything. Before taking on gigs I warn my clients ‘this could happen.’ They have been very understanding. People sometimes stop me in the street and want to talk with me. I actually like this; I’ve always been very social. It’s fun meeting new people.
Where do you live when you are on land?
I bought a place a couple of years back in Fort Lauderdale, which I am proud to call home. It has been a labor of love. I have a passion for design and construction, and I feel like I was able to express a truly unique space. Having spent a great deal of time as a nomadic yacht chef it was always a dream of mine to have a home. I would stand in the galley and try to picture my own kitchen or living room or bedroom one day.
What do you want readers to know about you?
After filming Season 1, I decided to become a Certified Health Consultant. Nutrition is an important part of being a chef. It is our duty to inform people of the value and benefits of food, plus the dangers, risks and effects. I invite people to my one-on-one, phone-based health coaching practice. It gives me great joy to see my clients reach their health goals with nutrition. Our bodies have an amazing way of correcting themselves when supplied the right nutrients. I also continue to run an upscale catering company in South Florida, creating dream events.
How would you describe your style of cooking?
This is a common question so I have it down, ‘Sophisticated Cuisine with Nutritional Awareness.’ A top pick would be my Bahamian conch salad, a very simple ceviche dish. I love the combination of the clean citrus flavor against the fresh cut spice of the chili pepper. Having spent time in New England I have always enjoyed a proper lobster clambake. Food for me is an amazing memory trigger; this dish takes me back to the Cape Cod shorelines, I am surrounded by family friends and laughter, campfires and cocktails. And have you ever met a Brit that didn’t favor a traditional Sunday roast? This is the most comforting dish I could imagine. A slow roasted beef rib roast with all the trimmings; Yorkshire pudding, roasted parsnips and potatoes, steamed Brussels sprouts, sliced garden beet accompanied with creamy horseradish, all served in a sumptuous pool of mushroom gravy.
You start shooting Season 3 in September. What can viewers expect from the next round?
Drama, drama, drama.
Tickets: VIP lobster/clambake, $50; landlubber meal (hot dog, burger, corn), $15. Call 561-494-6888 or visit http://www.hpbcf.org/regatta. All proceeds will benefit Hospice by the Sea’s and Hospice of Palm Beach County’s programs and services in Palm Beach and Broward counties.