For a little bit of context, roughly 2 years before I ended up flipping flap jacks at the bottom of the world, I was working a summer job as a line cook at a little lodge in Cooper Landing, Alaska. I was online, trying to book my next adventure at a ski resort or country club and saw an ad for "Jobs in Antarctica" naturally I applied. After a brief interview, in which I touted the merits of pot roast cooked in soda pop, I got the job and arrived at the Naval Polar Exchange on November 2nd, 2011.
Some of the challenges of cooking at Pole stem from its unique location and climate. At 10,000 ft. above sea level (the station sits on about 2 miles of ice) water boils at 195 degrees. It was super difficult to cook things like dry beans because the water never got hot enough. All baking recipes with leaveners like baking soda or powder had to be adjusted for the decreased air pressure. The relative humidity averaged 2%, which dried out popcorn to the point that it wouldn't pop and dried baked goods, like cookies, out in a matter of hours.
Many of the difficulties came about because of our extreme isolation (900 miles from the nearest American base, McMurdo) and how expensive and troublesome it was getting fresh ingredients to us. During the austral summer (Nov-Feb) when the station population was around 250, we got shipments of fresh fruits and veggies every week or two, but after the winter season started we didn't receive "freshies" for 9 months. Going without bananas, strawberries and oranges was bad enough but I even missed fresh eggs (all we had was frozen egg product, which we called square eggs) fresh potatoes (instead of tots) or fresh milk (instead of powdered.) All of the food we had on hand is kept frozen, outdoors and some of it was older than I was. Whole cases of bacon got covered by a snow berm in 93 and didn't get uncovered for 20 years, and we were lucky enough to have to find clever ways to disguise the flavor of rancid pork fat in almost every dish, just to get rid of it. We ran out of our favorite products early in the season and went for months without green beans, cream cheese, kosher salt and fryer grease (I'm probably still chipping away at the plaque in my arteries from almost a year of eating foods fried in shortening.)
When you're 9000 miles away from home, it's negative -100 degrees Fahrenheit outside and you're stuck with 50 semi-reclusive scientists and support crew for months on end, you really learn to enjoy the little things. Like meals. We went all out in the kitchen for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas to take the sting out of the homesickness. On Sunset and Sunrise (which happen only once a year) we did our best to make the population happy with fine dining quality food and some real, soulful comfort food. I even got the opportunity to grill some bison steaks and sear some salmon for the Prime Minister of Norway when he visited the station to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Roald Amundsen's arrival at the South Pole. I should also mention that we participants of the United States Antarctica Program can party... We had Halloween parties, whooped it up at New Years and even had a party dedicated to the awesomeness of Jorts (Google it, and while you're at it, Google "the 300 club")
Spending a year at one of the most remote and dangerous places on earth and supporting amazing, cutting edge science by cooking up the best food I could with limited means was the most rewarding experience of my life so far. I love sharing my story and you can find more pictures of my adventures at www.flickr.com/jasegrimm Look for more recipes from Athena and I by subscribing to our YouTube Channelhttp://m.youtube.com/user/TheCuriousCook