‘Below Deck’ Producers Thought the Early Series Could Be Chef Ben’s Cooking Show (Exclusive)

Below Deck executive producer Mark Cronin admitted that he wasn’t exactly sure what the series would look like when they embarked upon the first season. He knew that the show would be on Bravo and Top Chef was a headlining featured series. So he wondered if perhaps the series could end up focusing on how the first Below Deck chef, Ben Robinson handled cooking Michelin star food on the high seas.

Why did ‘Below Deck’ producers think the show could be about Chef Ben?

Cronin said producers went into the first season with open eyes, ready to go where the story took them. “Well, honestly, we didn’t know what the show was when we started,” he told Showbiz Cheat Sheet. “We knew we had these elements. We knew we had guests who were paying. And they’re really paying their own money for this vacation. And we knew we had servants.”

Below Deck's Jennice Ontiveros helps chef Ben Robinson in the kitchen
Below Deck‘s Jennice Ontiveros helps chef Ben Robinson in the kitchen | Virginia Sherwood/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank

Also, “We knew we had a chef who was going to be doing Michelin star food,” he added. “And we didn’t know, like we thought, well, how much is this a cooking show, honestly? Like, the chef in the early days [of Below Deck] was Ben [Robinson]. It was then we had him telling us his whole menu and what procedures he was using to sear the tuna. Because we were like on the same channel as Top Chef. So we thought maybe there’s a lot here with the cooking show of one guy trying to pull off restaurant quality food in a teeny tiny closet of a galley. Maybe that’s one of the most interesting things about the show. So we would shoot that.”

But then ‘Below Deck’ producers moved beyond Chef Ben and got into guests and crew

But then the guests and crew became a consideration. “And then for the guests, we’re like, well, how much is it about their experience and their story?” he wondered. “Like, if it’s a wedding anniversary, is the show about, you know, how their marriage has been to this point? This is a big turning point at this anniversary. And so we would interview the guests and we would even do pre-interviews before they got on the boat with them and say, you know, what are you hoping to get out of this vacation? What is the experience going to mean to you and what kind of service are you expecting?”

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“And then, of course, we knew we had a show about the servants in the boat,” Cronin reflected. “But we didn’t know what the ratio of those things was. We had no idea what the mix was. So we just had to kind of shoot everything.”

What did Mark Cronin suspect ‘Below Deck’ would end up being?

And while Cronin wondered if they were making a cooking show, he knew in his gut the show would likely lean on the crew drama. “I mean, I had a suspicion that the show was the service. Because in my head they were the permanent cast,” he said. “They’re the ones are there every week, every episode.”

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“Theoretically, new charter guests were supposed to get on,” he added. “It turns out it’s not like that. We get multiple episodes out of one group of charter guests. But when we pitched it, we said every episode new charter guests get on and by the end, they get off and tip the cast. So I knew the structure was kind of like the challenge.”

“And it’s up to this team to overcome the challenge, whatever it is,” he said. “Whether it’s their dietary restrictions or they crash the jet ski or you can’t make drinks fast enough for them. Whatever their challenge is. I knew that that was kind of what our structure was, but I didn’t know what ratio, like whether they’re interpersonal conflict or issues would become part of our show or not.” He estimates that about 80% of the show follows the crew (which includes the yacht chef), 10% is on the guests and the rest focuses on the food and menu.