An Interview With 2023 Superyacht Chef Competition Winner Marco Tognon

We had the immense pleasure of interviewing Marco Tognon, the 29-year-old father of two from Padua and the talented winner of this year’s chef competition, held in partnership with the Monaco Yacht Club. He shared stories of his past, his experience in the chef competition and advice for aspiring chefs looking to enter the yachting world.

By Sam Jurgensen • 04 April 2023

From Catering School to Awarded Superyacht Chef

I come from a humble upbringing with many hardships in my early years, which I now credit to my success later in life. From an early age, I realised that following the traditional school system wasn’t for me. Therefore, in an effort to enter the workplace at a young age, I decided to enrol in a ’scuola alberghiera’ - a catering/ hospitality training school - and started working at 17 years old.

From there, I moved around northern Italy and southern France, working in Piedmont with chef Stefano Borra and Turin as a chef de partie, honing my skills and gaining experience. Then, at 21 years old, I moved to France, more specifically Mandelieu, where I worked at a 5-star resort. In fact, it wasn’t until 2017 that I entered the yachting world. It hasn’t always been rainbows and butterflies, though. I had a very bad accident in 2015 where I was hit by a car whilst cycling to work in Mandelieu. I had extensive spinal surgery and rehabilitation and, as a result, suffered severe nerve damage in my hand. I was told my career in the kitchen was over and that I should look at a new path. It was a moment when I reevaluated my life and decided that despite it all, I was going to come back stronger. Since joining the yachting industry, I’ve given 100% to every experience along the way, and I feel privileged to make a living doing what I love.

Why Yachting? What Attracted You?

Working in restaurants allowed me to make connections and experiment with many different cuisines throughout my travels. I was living in Southern France when I learned about yachting and the money I could make with my skillset. I was young and willing to take the risk - entering this industry comes with a price, though. When I think back now to the money I spent on training courses, which are essential to safety and food hygiene, I think... "wow, that’s a big personal investment to make without the guarantee of finding a job after", but I did it, and I’m glad I did! I’ve learned over the years that believing in yourself is 99% of the challenge, and the rest comes after.

How Did You Hear About the Superyacht Chef Competition? How Was Your Experience?

I have been following the Chef Competition since I entered the industry and attended for the first time in 2019 when my predecessor on Planet Nine, Stephanie, won. In 2022, I was so blown away by Nicolas Petit’s skill and passion for cooking that I decided to apply the following year. 

This year’s Chef Competition blew all my expectations out of the park. I was amazed by the level of professionalism from all sides. From the star-studded jury members to the event’s organisation and the passion shown by my fellow competitors, I couldn’t have asked for more. 

This year was at such a high level. The quality ingredients and superb plates prepared by the chefs were something I had never seen. Then, to present our dishes to some of the most qualified members of our community was a true delight. It added another layer of precision and dedication to the competition. Even during the lulls of the competition, there were interviews, audience participation and interaction with the jury - it was truly collaborative.

Is There a Message You’d Like To Share With Aspiring Chefs and Yachties?

Many things come to mind. First and foremost, if you do what you love, you will get there. Maybe not tomorrow or two weeks from now, but with determination and motivation, you can achieve your goals. In Italian, we often say "Non mollare mai", which means “never give up”, and this has been a motto I have lived by. I have failed many times in my life and have learned so much from these failures that have catapulted me to where I am today. Ultimately, we are all human, and mistakes are a normal part of our journey.

Lastly, I would never have achieved this without my family’s support and love, specifically my beautiful and talented wife, Mel Sinclair. She has always pushed me hard to try new ingredients, make new plates and put myself out there. She is my source of inspiration, and I have grown so much because of her.