A Chef at the South Pole

Two years ago, Michèle Gentille did a Google search for “Antarctic jobs cooking,” and found herself on the snowy road to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Gentille is now sous-chef at this U.S. science and research station perched at the southernmost continually inhabited place on the planet.

Although she only gets intermittent Internet service, as she told Andrea Strong of the Strong Buzz, Gentille will be keeping a blog detailing her experiences. On Saturday, she posted about a standard day, which means getting woken up at 4:30 a.m. by “an evil alarm clock,” pulling on several layers of clothing including a “superduper Pole jacket,” and hustling to the galley to produce breakfast and lunch for 250 calorie-starved people:

A typical work day here starts with a good 9 hours, and can easily turn into 12. It’s still early in the summer, more like early spring, so temperatures are not at hat-shedding levels yet, and many of these folks spend their days in 40 to 90 degrees below zero, engaged in physical labor of some sort. After only one week of arduous outdoor work, the carpenters, cargo haulers, and mechanical geniuses that keep things working bought up all the superglue—there is a tiny shop here, open an hour a day—to patch up their cracking fingers.

The food Gentille has to work with is not Alice Waters–approved. Of necessity, it’s nonlocal, nonseasonal, mostly nonorganic, and mostly, of course, frozen. “Summer” in the Antarctic runs from the end of October through February, but even though the sun never sets, that season is a bit of a misnomer: Temperatures will reach a high of zero degrees Fahrenheit.

As far as green goes, South Pole station crew haven’t seen a fresh vegetable, piece of fruit, or real egg all winter. Weather is just now getting warm enough that planes can arrive with this type of supply—and people and construction materials are the first priority.

It promises to be a fascinating journey, especially for a chef who graduated from France’s La Varenne culinary school and did the recipe testing for Laurent Tourondel’s upcoming cookbook. There may even be some love interest: As Gentille tells Strong, “I’m surrounded by really cute, capable, interesting, wandering menfolk. Three of ’em to every woman. I feel like an Amazon.”

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