On Monday’s episode of Below Deck Mediterranean, stewardess Anastasia Surmava finally decided to step down as temporary chef, leaving Captain Sandy Yawn to hire a replacement.
Previews had fans guessing who it could be, but PEOPLE can exclusively announce Yawn’s pick: fan-favorite cast member Ben Robinson!
The British culinary expert, 39, will return to the Bravo reality TV series beginning next week. It’ll be his first time back on the show since he helped launch its first season in 2016. Prior to that, Robinson was a founding cast member on the original Below Deck series that debuted in 2013, leaving after its fourth season.
“I was blown away that I actually got to have a real chef,” Yawn told PEOPLE. “The passion that Ben has and what he does is the passion that I have and what I do. And when you have passionate people together, that makes the most amazing experience for the guests. That’s what my industry sometimes lacks, that passion for your job. And Ben loves food. He’s a real chef. He rules the galley. He’s amazing.”
While Robinson won’t appear until next Monday’s episode, he chatted with PEOPLE over the phone to discuss what brought him to the Mediterranean again, what he’s been up to since leaving, and whether he’ll be back again.
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PEOPLE: Welcome back! Where you been?
Robinson: “Thanks, I’m excited to be back! You know, I took a couple of years off and really built a career for myself on land, specifically a private catering business for private events. I fly around and do exclusive parties, both corporate and private, all over America. I’ve been running that successful company on land for many years now, so I’ve really been sinking my teeth into that business.”
Did it feel different to be back in that galley this time around?
“The whole experience was more surreal than anything, actually, because I wasn’t inundated in it season after season. I sort of saw it through fresh eyes. Plus, I’m a little more mature now, a little more level-headed, and obviously older. But it wasn’t easier, I can tell you that. It’s a tough program being trapped in a galley and given an incredibly tough workload. It’s no joke! You’re working 19, 20 hours a day.”
Is that why you walked away from it originally? Because of the workload?
“Yes, kind of. But it’s not just the workload, it’s the compromise. I’ve got 8 or more crew members to cook for plus 8 guests who need breakfast, lunch, dinner, hors d’oeuvre, snacks, and anything else they want in the meantime. So I’m not obviously making the food that I would love to make, which I call ‘intelligent food’ or ‘art food.’ You just don’t have time to do it. So there comes a point in a chef’s life where… what direction do you want to go in? I thought yachting was good for my 20s and early 30s, but now I’m really trying to push the envelope and make world-class food. I wasn’t really getting that opportunity on yachts. I’ll do one dinner for my own company — I’ll go to a city and do one really beautiful dinner — and I’ll have three or four days to prepare. That is a luxury. Beautiful food takes time.”
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Captain Sandy really praised you to PEOPLE. This was your first time working together, how did that go?
“She’s a lovely lady. I was really blessed with Sandy. She’s a wonderful soul. She really gets it… she gets me. We recognize each other and appreciate each other. To be an artist, you have to take your work seriously and you get inspired by others who act the same way. Sandy is an artist. She’s an amazing boat captain and she’s just really on top of her game. So it’s nice to be in her company and have her respect like that.”
You’ve watched the show since it’s been airing. What did you think of Surmava’s cooking?
“I think Anastasia has a lion’s heart. I’ve hired many sous chef’s over the years, and it’s never the ability of the sous chef that makes them great, it’s how smart they are and how quick they are to get methods and concepts. Anastasia has that. She’s a real go-getter and very intelligent. Unfortunately, she was just running out of tricks. It obviously wasn’t coming as easily to her as it would be to a trained chef. It was almost a little bit of a time bomb.”
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Posers @BenRobinsonChef pic.twitter.com/8hWBfUHqoc
— Emily W A (@EMMSEWA) April 20, 2018
The last time you left Below Deck, it was with a girl on your side — stewardess Emily Warburton-Adams. You said in October 2017 that the two of you had gone your separate ways, but we’ve also seen the two of you spent time together on Instagram since then, as recently as April. Where does your relationship stand these days?
“We’re friends. Our romance ended, and on good terms. Emily is a London girl and very close to her mother. I lived in London for quite a few years and that was a chapter that I was quite happy to close in my life. I have a lovely condo that I own in Fort Lauderdale and it wouldn’t make sense for me to go rent an apartment in London at great expense. I guess we just reached a Russian standoff. We’ve maintained a great friendship, though. She does fly out to see me and I saw her in London a few months ago — actually, on the tail end of my Below Deck Mediterranean trip.
Does that mean there’s another lady in your life?
“No. There’s a few girls, but I’ve reached that age where I’m really trying to settle down now in terms of grounding myself with a land-based business. And in turn, I want to find a viable partner who I can maybe marry and have a kid and everything.”
What about former cast members like Hannah Ferrier (Below Deck Mediterranean) and Kate Chastain (Below Deck). Do you guys still talk?
“I created brotherhoods and sisterhoods with everyone I ever worked with on the show. We’re all part of a family really, aren’t we? We’ve gone through something quite exceptional in our lives that a lot of people will not experience. It’s almost like going through a battle with someone. We’re blood brothers. We have remained in contact and they’ll always be special people in my life.”
In the past couple of years, the Below Deck franchises have really taken off. There’s even a third on the way. What do you make of their success?
“They have an amazing concept and when there’s an amazing concept, success is going follow. It’s this exposé of this world that a lot of people would not be privileged to be part of, and it allows them in by letting them watch it on their TV set. I feel very proud it’s done so well. It’s been great to see them gaining momentum every season and going up in the ratings.”
Does that make you wish you hadn’t walked away?
“No. I try to live life with no regret, but more progressively, I believe that I have done amazing things for myself. I’ve really tried to find myself as a chef outside of yachts. A chef should be working towards his own abilities and try to reach for the stars with his own food. I needed time for that. I was privileged to be able to go back and boost my prowess, which was dwindling. And hopefully, good things will come from that.”
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A post shared by Chef Ben Robinson (@benstogram) on Jun 16, 2019 at 6:38pm PDT
Would you come back again for another season after this one?
“That’s the million-dollar question. Ultimately, I’m approaching 40 now. I got into the industry when I was 22, I was a young buck. You can do anything when you’re 22. Below Deck and Below Deck Mediterranean carried me through into my mid-30s. I don’t know how Roger Federer does it, to be honest!”
How about another Bravo show, Top Chef?
“I would definitely consider that! The door is definitely open. Tell whomever is in charge of that door, it is not closed. I try not to close any doors and remain open-minded.”
Below Deck Mediterranean airs Mondays (9 p.m. ET) on Bravo.