A recipe for adventure
After his high school career plans were foiled, Sam Bygott found himself at a fork in the road that saw him uncover a passion for cookery which led him around the world on the adventure of a lifetime.
At just 23 years of age, Sam’s career as a chef has given him life-changing opportunities and unforgettable experiences — from hitting the ski fields of Canada, to sailing across the Mediterranean with the world’s rich and famous. But it all could have turned out very differently for Sam, had it not been for what he thought at the time was a stroke of bad luck.
While Sam has always had big dreams of travelling the world, he initially sought to do that as a member of the Australian Defence Force. But when Sam went to apply to join the army in high school, a medical condition stopped him in his tracks.
“I felt so down in the dumps and lost when I hadn’t been accepted. I didn’t like school and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I started looking at apprenticeships,” Sam said.
At the time, Sam had an after-school job as a kitchenhand at Sunshine Coast restaurant Milan’s and had been tossing up the idea of getting into carpentry instead, when a conversation with his head chef changed his course.
“I broke the bad news to my head chef that I had not been accepted into the army and my head chef said to me, ‘Well Samuel, things happen for a reason. When one door closes and another door opens’.”
“He said, ‘Why don't you become a chef? It's the best job in the world if you want to travel – you can find work easily and anywhere’, and he offered me a first year apprenticeship then and there," Sam said.
“It wasn't something that I ever saw myself doing, but that was down to the fact that I 'd never properly considered it until that moment. And when he told me all these crazy stories about how he travelled overseas with nothing but his backpack and his knives, just buying one way tickets, I just fell in love with the idea.”
While he'd worked in the kitchen washing dishes since he was 15 and already knew a little about the hospitality industry, Sam was excited to learn. He began watching the food channel, taking inspiration from celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Anthony Bourdain.
“I was fascinated by these chefs cooking and eating incredible food while travelling to the most beautiful destinations on the planet. I wanted to be like the guys on TV,” he said.
“But when I first started at TAFE I was a little nervous because I didn't know what to expect — I thought that it would be like Gordon Ramsay with all the yelling, but it was far from that,” he laughed.
Sam started out doing a school-based apprenticeship and completed his training under the experienced chefs at TAFE Queensland’s Mooloolaba campus. It’s a time he looks back on fondly, crediting his trainers with shaping his approach to cooking.
“Paul (Breheny) was my number one teacher — he’s so calm and I really liked his style of cooking. He showed all the apprentices that if you have good communication and you’re always prepared, then everything goes smoothly, you all get along, and the service is better. And he taught us that if you make a mistake, you can always fix it as long as you keep a level head,” Sam said.
“My head chef was reluctant to send me to TAFE [instead of training in-house], but I thought it was good to work with different chefs. I think all apprentices should be made to do their training at TAFE, simply because it gives you variety. Some of the people that I finished with did a lot of their training on-site and they only really knew the cuisine from their restaurant – like, if they learned in an Asian restaurant, their French cooking wasn’t up to scratch – and that definitely makes it harder to transition between jobs.”
After completing his apprenticeship (Certificate III in Commercial Cookery - SIT30816) in 2017, Sam moved to Brisbane and honed his skills at Asian fine dining restaurant Madame Wu, before backpacking across Europe for four months. Upon his return, Sam worked at Sakana Sushi Bar for a year, learning new techniques and an appreciation for Japanese cuisine. But it wasn’t long until the travel bug returned, with Sam using his skills to gain work at a small French fine dining restaurant in the ski fields of British Colombia, Canada.
“We did a seven-course degustation every night, paired with the local fine wines, and because of the cold climate, there wasn’t much produce to work with so it forced us to get creative,” Sam said.
“I looked up to my head chef and I still do – being able to create a new menu every day out of limited seasonal produce was like magic.”
While Sam had well and truly fallen in love with cooking by this point, it was here that Sam first realised how much his change in career plans had paid off.
“Canada was a winter wonderland. To get to work, I would put my knives in my backpack, jump on the chair lift and snowboard to the restaurant,” Sam said.
“Often I had to pinch myself to believe this was real life. What other job in the world could give you the opportunities I had been given?”
As the snow began to melt, Sam was looking for ideas of what to do for the summer when a suggestion from his head chef piqued his interest.
“I didn't even know what a superyacht was until I typed it into google, but my head chef explained how you can travel on someone else's money, work as a chef and make amazing tips. It ticked all the boxes for me.”
Sam set off to Antibes, a port town on the French Riviera that is home to one of the largest superyacht marinas in Europe, and after completing a basic water safety course he set out to find work.
“The money that's in the Mediterranean on these yachts is insane. I never knew there were so many millionaires in the world,” he said.
“The superyachts on average cost a group of guests 500,000 euros per week to charter. Once you land a job on a yacht, all meals and accommodation are provided at the expense of the chartering guest, so it’s definitely appealing.”
It was a highly competitive environment and Sam travelled along the coast of France regularly handing out resumes to anyone looking for crew. Sam undertook day work on some of the docked boats during this time, relieving chefs when they took leave and cooking for crew as they prepared their yachts for guests. That was until he landed a job as one of three chefs on board an 85 metre yacht during the two weeks of the Cannes Film Festival.
“During the festival, all these guests and celebrities are going to and from each yacht, and we were on call 24/7 to cook whatever the guest may require,” Sam said.
“One day we had Bradley Cooper and the head honchos of Sony and Netflix on our yacht, so that was pretty cool – let’s hope they enjoyed my canapes!”
Following the Cannes Film Festival, Sam was offered the sous chef position aboard a luxury explorer yacht sailing from Germany to Norway, up to Svalbard, across to Greenland and through the northwest passage and into Canada. He of course jumped at the chance.
“I got to see polar bears, seals, birds, foxes and other Arctic wildlife I never thought I would get the chance to see. I even received a call from the captain early one morning, telling me to come up to the top deck with the guests because the Northern Lights had appeared. It was a dream come true.”
Sam returned to Australia at the end of 2019 with $13,000 AUD in tips, which he used to put a deposit on an apartment by the beach. And while the pandemic may have put a halt to his travel plans and impacted the hospitality industry, Sam has found other ways of putting his skills to use, running his own private cooking classes and doing mass meal preparation for an organisation in the disability sector.
“I’m keen to get back into the hospitality industry now that everything is clearing up, but I think you’re never truly out of work as a chef. It is an amazing skill to have and it’s one I think is never wasted — I cook at least three times a day and I will for the rest of my life,” Sam said.
“There isn't one thing I regret since starting my career as a chef. Taking on a school-based apprenticeship was the best thing I ever did and I would highly recommend it to any young person that's looking to start their career in commercial cookery.
“I think the hospitality industry can be painted negatively at times, but there are so many amazing jobs are out there – you just have to look for them. I never would have done the things I've been able to do if I didn't have a qualification in commercial cookery.”
According to the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, employment opportunities in food and beverage services are projected to increase by 15.9 per cent nationally over the next five years, with a 19.4 per cent growth in demand for chefs providing plenty of opportunities for those passionate about food.