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Valrico native sails to stardom on Bravo's 'Below Deck'

VALRICO — Jimmy Buffett is a big fan of Adrienne Gang's chicken.

The 29-year-old from Valrico got to cook for the music legend a few years ago, when his tour landed him at the then Ford Amphitheater in Tampa, where she worked as a chef.

Now she cooks for patrons on yachts — and currently stars in the Bravo show Below Deck, about being on the crew of a chartered yacht.

After graduating from Durant High School in 2002, Gang bounced around Flagler, USF and HCC before breaking into the culinary industry.

She toured with Kenny Chesney, Aerosmith and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra as a chef. She worked as a banquet chef at the Hard Rock Casino.

As a Sea Scout, she learned to sail and scuba dive, and was on the dive team all four years of high school. So when a client asked Gang to cook for his yacht that docked at Jackson's on Harbour Island, the transition from land-based cooking to the sea seemed natural.

On Below Deck, billed as an "upstairs-downstairs" show, the worlds of the crew and guests collide aboard Honor, a 164-foot megayacht.

Gang, the chief steward, compared the show to Downton Abbey, because the wealthy guests' drama and servers' drama add to the plot lines and interactions.

Cyndi, Gang's mom, said it's "totally surreal" to see her daughter on TV. She checks her DVR every week to make sure it records the show, at 10 p.m. Mondays.

A description popped up once, she said. "It said, 'Below Deck: Starring Adrienne Gang' … And it was like, 'Oh, my God. That little kid of mine is on TV.' "

Gang, who lives in South Tampa, said she has been recognized in public for her role on the show. Most recently, at a Chicago airport, she said some fans of the show came up to her.

"Oh, my gosh, you're that ... really stern chick from that Bravo show," they said.

Most viewers would recognize Gang as the show's bad guy. But she embraces the perception she's uptight.

"To be honest with you, the standards of what we do are really high, and you don't want to disappoint these people who are spending all this money on this boat," she said. "And so perfection is necessary for what we do."

Gang's pursuit of perfection is exactly what makes her great at what she does, according to her mentor, Richard Hudson.

He met Gang around 2005 during a catered concert at the amphitheater. He liked her take-charge attitude and passion.

"Five words came out of her mouth and I thought, 'This person needs to be on my staff,' so I recruited her," he said.

Hudson, now executive chef at CineBistro at Grove 16 in Wesley Chapel, has worked as a big-time chef at the storied Saratoga Raceway, high-end hotels and the Hard Rock in a 27-year career span. He said Gang is the most talented protege he has had.

"Certainly Adrienne is the biggest and makes me the most proud," Hudson said. "It's really cool to turn on a TV and see Adrienne's face — the girl that we sent to the pastry shop."

Gang said her niche is cooking for dietary needs and health concerns like diabetes. The responsibility of helping a client stay healthy is part of the reason she obsesses over getting every detail right, she said.

"The very coolest part about working on yachts is, unlike five-star restaurants or unlike a high-end hotel, we have the ability to cater to these people's specific needs and not have to worry about anybody else," Gang said. "That gives us the ability to go above and beyond what their expectations may be."

Being around extravagance on yachts like the one on Below Deck has its perks, she said. In June, she worked on a boat with a submarine on it — the coolest thing she has seen on a yacht. But the shiny things like expensive artwork and sculptures on boats has worn off a little.

"Every now and again I'll see something that surprises me, but at the end of the day, they're all kind of the same after a while," she said.

Gang said a career that has led her to tour the world on luxury vessels hasn't been a shock to people who know her best because she's an adventurer.

But she still loves coming home to Tampa, a place she says she can relax on the beach with an umbrella drink.

"At the end of the day, I happen to work on yachts, which is pretty cool," she said. "I happen to have ended up on a TV show about it, but it doesn't change the fact that I love what I do, that I love my family.

"That doesn't change where I come from."

Kelly Price can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

Valrico native sails to stardom on Bravo's 'Below Deck' 07/31/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 6:26pm]
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