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Friday, December 12, 2014

Thanksgiving in Antarctica



November 2014



By:  Sean Overpeck (CFE)
Executive Chef, McMurdo Station, Antarctica 2014-15
The Galley Crew, cooks and DA's next to the McMurdo sign on Ross Island, Antarctica
 
A Little Story:
Thanksgiving; a term very familiar to the United States, or anyone in the world that is friends with an American. If you don’t know about the holiday, you have at least heard of it, or you have most likely been invited to a Thanksgiving dinner if you again know an American. Since 1621 when the English Pilgrims first traveled to North America, Thanksgiving has been a mainstay, of coming together as family or with friends to feast and to give thanks. In Antarctica there are several stations where Scientists from around the world and the support staff contracted to help them live for 6 months or one year on the ice. At McMurdo Station on Ross Island, the largest of the stations on the continent also has the largest grouping of Americans, so Thanksgiving is a big day for everyone here.


Scroll down to read the main review

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Thanksgiving is always a large affair no matter what part of the world you’re in, and it’s an even longer affair if you’re cooking it for over 1000 people. Add on to that if you’re cooking on the coldest place on Earth. In prior years when I was in Afghanistan the chefs and I prepared many large holiday meals from Christmas, Marine Corps Birthday, and of course Thanksgiving, ranging from 300 to 4000 people depending on the facility, so being in Antarctica was a real treat. With 7 billion people on this Earth, I can say that I’m one of the 100,000 in all time to be in Antarctica, and one of the even fewer, less than 300 that has prepared a special holiday meal for those that work or visit here.
Prep for the meal, volunteers that helped, Justin prepping, Chris & Betsy, baking, Lisa taking a nap, me making Foie Gras
Prep, and the Turkey Trot run (turduckin), Victoria carving garnish, Amanda having fun in pots, Claire & Justin cooking
The Facility and Station:
 
Cooking on Thanksgiving
 Rick prepping the crepes, Kate cooks the stuffing, DA's having some fun, Victoria preps Brie en Croûte , Kristen preps vegetarian items

McMurdo Station is Antarctica's largest community. It is built on the bare volcanic rock of Hut Point Peninsula on Ross Island, the farthest south solid ground that is accessible by ship. Hut Point is named after Scott, the first explorer to set foot on Antarctica, and built a hut that still stands to this day, and is now in trusted to the Antarctic Heritage Trust. McMurdo was established in 1956, and has grown from an outpost of a few buildings to a complex logistics staging facility of more than 100 structures including a harbor, an outlying airport (Williams Field) with landing strips on sea ice and shelf ice, and a helicopter pad. There are above-ground water, sewer, telephone, and power lines linking the buildings. NASA has a Long Range Balloon Facility or LDB research site used for scientific experiments, as well as Scott Base, the New Zealand Research site. McMurdo during the summer months houses over 1000 people who either are involved directly with science working at the Crary Laboratory or the support staff of workers which include the food service staff.  Outside of McMurdo there are over thirty small camps run by foreign countries that are also here to conduct science. Scott Base is the closest to McMurdo only two miles away.



The Crew:



Working in the food service field for nearly twenty years all over the United States, Afghanistan, and my various military posts from Korea, Egypt, to Haiti, have to say without a doubt that the crew here in Antarctica is one of the best crews I have ever worked with, which made this Thanksgiving even better than any other thanksgiving from the past. “The Galley” as it is known from when it used to be run by the United States Navy, is a medium sized kitchen with a cafeteria style serving area with grills run by Rick Schioldager, pizza station controlled by the pizza god Jeremy Landreth, serving lines that include a vegetarian line ran by a variety of very talented folks and a menu created by Sous chef Karen Duey. The dining room holds about 280 people, and the kitchen itself has close to 30 cooks running the bakery, assorted shifts, salad room, offices, and warehouse. The Sous Chef’s that make up this dream team are Karen whom I mentioned earlier, James Lund the rock star morning Chef from Pennsylvania, Lisa Minelli-Endlich also from PA, in charge of the lunch meals, with over twenty years’ experience in multiple foreign countries, and a graduate of the CIA, so massive talent from her end. Erin Grimes who runs dinner with Karen, Betsy Rosengarden the Lead Pastry Chef, Sarah Swan who is the Chef in charge of the salad, deli, and catering, and not to forget Brandon McDearis, the Chef who runs the night shift. Our Boss Todd Eanes not only is the Culinary Manager for McMurdo, but also has to run the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, and Palmer station on the opposite sides of the continent. Under the Sous Chefs are their very talented crews of young up and coming individuals who will be the future leaders of the food industry and I can see them making very positive changes wherever they end up after they leave Antarctica. Some are prior military like Justin Nedrow and myself, others have been in the industry for as little as a few years like Katelyn Christensen, or up to twenty, as well as former restaurant owners like Sam Mengel, and all of them bring to the table a great diversity of ideas which adds to the facts said earlier about this crew being the best I’ve ever worked with. Put all these facts together, and we help to create not only a fabulous Thanksgiving, but a fantastic daily menu for the people here at McMurdo. All of this came together with the help of the DA staff or Stewards as some of them prefer to be addressed. If it were not for them, the daily meals could not happen. They are the ones that run the Dining Rooms, dish and pot washes, and helping with food deliveries. Dana Carlson runs a great crew.
Sous Chef's Lisa & James, Sous Erin Grimes and Karen Duey prepping, Max Miller sets the line, the dining room, and Charmain deliveries tray of party food to the Air Force
Todd Eanes preps the carving station
The Meal:


The menu had been hashed out and planned several weeks in advance of the main meal, as well as placement of where everything would go. We began preparations four days before with the help of volunteers from the community that helped us peel potatoes, cut carrots, celery, onions, and a slew of other items. Now remember folks this is Antarctica were talking about here. You can’t just go to the local grocery store and buy some fresh produce. All the “Freshy’s” as they are called here, are flown in by C-17 from Christchurch, New Zealand on a weekly basis for a period of two maybe three months for the entire year. That is it, after were out, they were out, and you miss out. The frozen meats, vegetables, and all dried canned goods or flour for baking are brought in once per year by a vessel that loads up in Southern California, then follows the “Polar Star” a Coast Guard Icebreaker ship into the Ross Sea and McMurdo Sound, because the ocean it buried under six to eight feet of ice. The ship docks, and then the off load begins, followed by the reloading of all the trash and waste from the entire year since the last ship left. This is another amazing thing about this place. 90% of everything is saved or recycled, then brought back on the ship, leaving the land free of our waste. I was never a big recycling supporter, because I thought it was BS, but seeing it and having to do it here, I know that it works, and it is amazing what we can do to reuse versus waste. Now I’ve not turned into a peace-loving hippy bead, stoner Liberal, but hell if something works I’ll acknowledge that it works. Once the ship gets back to California with the recycled and regular trash, who knows if it continues down the recycle path, or just ends up in another landfill. All I know is, we do our part here to preserve this beautiful land, and from there its up to other folks to take care of it.
Thanksgiving Salads
The Pastry Table
The menu consisted of normal Thanksgiving fare, the main item of course being turkey, to which the warehouse supervisor Jamie Lyon’s pulled to thaw 600 pounds of whole, netted, and cooked turkey’s, and 200 pounds of Country Ham to be carved. Other typical Thanksgiving fare included macaroni and cheese, potatoes, stuffing, giblet gravy, and so forth. This assignment also afforded for the first time for me to work with more Vegetarian foods then I had worked with in previous jobs, as roughly 15% of the McMurdo population is Vegetarian or Vegan. On a daily basis for lunch and dinner, the Vegetarian menu would consist of a main entrée, bean, vegetable, and soup, so for Thanksgiving we wanted to be on an even grander scale. Not only did we cater to the Vegetarian, we wanted to cater to those who were watching what they ate by making the vegetables with little amounts of sodium and fat as possible, plus this meal catered to the Gluten Free, Vegan crowd on top of it. The earlier rendition of the menu before we decided what to make, jokingly had the title of “gluten free, fat free, vegan, tasteless, and flavorless Thanksgiving Entrée.”
Sweet Potato, Assorted Cranberries, Vegetarian lie, Turkey, Foie Gras &
Brie en Croûte, and Crepes
Of course we made it into something much better than how that sounded, but it gave all the Sous Chef’s a nice laugh, considering that in the past few months we had put information out to the community to ask or address their concerns with food, and we got back some of the strangest answers known to man, but catered to them anyway. I never ran into more people in my life that claimed that they were allergic to something or another beyond the common things like gluten and shellfish.  Here we have people who are or claim to be allergic to soy, onion, garlic, ginger, but even funnier people who would tell us they were deathly allergic to alcohol, (I can’t make this stuff up folks). Funnier even more would be if they didn’t recognize the dish, or just didn’t like that particular cuisine, they would say it was processed, or they were allergic, especially the “meat and potato” only crowd.  Sorry but LMAO. All in all, we did what we could to cater to their “special needs.” But then again, a famous saying that goes around here when we ask or need things is a simple answer, and it is a great response to give back to all of the people, and that is, “Antarctica…It is a harsh continent.” Or my personal favorite from a fellow chef is, “This isn’t the Four Season’s.”
Jason pours the wine, Kelley helps, and Jan eats

What is a good meal without desserts? Betsy and her crew knocked it out of the ballpark with assorted pies, cakes, and breads that were the best seen all season. See the full menu below:

Original menu rough draft before editing and final publication, (see the vegetarian)
Line setup rough draft

For the three full days prior to the main event we didn’t just have to prep for this meal, we also had to do the regular breakfast, lunches, and dinners for a normal day, so we greatly appreciated all the volunteers that helped us along the way. The day started early with a continental breakfast for a few hours which included a dinner meal for the night shift since they were finishing up and getting ready for sleep as the day shift was waking up. James Lund and I started off early putting in the turkey’s, and getting some of the sides going, while also getting ready for a breakfast that would be set up after the continental breakfast. The main obstacle that we faced was lack of space and equipment to cook such a large meal, so timing was everything when you only had four working convection ovens and one combitherm oven, three working steam kettles that were 50 years old, and the one good thing, three new Electrolux tilting pressure skillets. All I can say is thank god for the combitherm & skillets as they saved us on this day. Nothing against the traditional convection ovens, but we didn’t have enough, and the rest of the equipment is ancient, so all in all, a miracle was accomplished with the perfect execution of the meal, along with the talented staff that executed it.
Speech and the toast before family meal
There were four seating’s for the Thanksgiving meal after the main breakfast had ended. Before the first seating at 3 PM would be the family meal where all the cooks and DA staff along with those that were invited would eat as a group before everyone else was let in. This family meal had about ninety people, and was designed for us, as not only a time for us to get together, but to also eat what we had created before everyone else did. Normally whatever we prepare, we eat after everyone else at the close of every meal. Today the cooks came first. A project manager had also purchased a glass of wine for every person eating that day, but of course wine was also brought in for those that wanted more. The two wines offered were Turning Leaf Chardonnay and Caliterra from Chili which is a partnership wine to Robert Mondovi which says it all right there, a bad wine lol ……… Now, because we were in Antarctica it is not easy to get a hold of some finer things, and wine fell into that category like Mondovi’s Caliterra listed above. There were a few good selections, but for the meal, the worst wines by taste were offered. I’m not complaining considering someone else bought them, so I’m glad the Ravenswood Zinfandel was brought in by someone for us to enjoy with the family meal. It is the only selection I have seen that is palatable to me, considering my wine selection back home consists of wines from vineyards like Jonata, Eagles Nest, Kamen Estate, Emmolo, and my all-time favorite Hoopes vineyard.

Scroll down below the main review to see cost of wines and tasting notes.

The Family meal, Sous chef Brandon, DA's toasting, Kate & her Sister Brit Ann, Dave and friends
Marc & Kristen, Sous James 7 me before main meal, Jeremy in Bakery, Sam and DA's
The main seating’s were at 3 PM where 270 people had confirmed a reservation, 5 PM where 300 had reserved, 7 PM where 330 were reserved, and the final seating at Midnight where 60 people had reserved. The fun part was logistics. Not only did the food, salads, vegetarian, and dessert platters have to be made for each seating, we all had to make sure that the food would be ready with the limited space. The DA’s had to breakdown the serving lines in between each seating so that the cooks could put out all new food, desserts, and salads. The carving stations had to be cleaned in between each, and the most difficult job was for the DA’s to breakdown the dining room and reset it, and all of this had to be done in less than thirty minutes, since the seating times were 90 minutes each.
The 3 PM Seating
The 5 PM Seating, Amanda with H.R., Anne & the other Doctors, Chaplain Jerry volunteers to wash dishes
The 7 PM Seating
The 7 PM Seating
All in all the day went very well, and the crew both cooks and DA’s out-shined themselves, and it was a pleasure to be around such talent on this day and all the others. For this day, the 3 PM crowd was our personnel favorite group. They were the only group of the four spate seating’s, 270 people of the 1000 served that day that got onto their feet and gave the cooks a standing ovation for the job that they had done. When they started clapping I was near the dining room with one other cook, and it took us by such a surprise that we both wet to the back to gather everyone up and bring them out. As soon as the cooks exited the kitchen to be seen by the crowd, roars and cheers exceeded the applause. This was the first time where the cooks really felt appreciated by the community for the jobs they do every day. The following day we also received several emails and personnel letters thanking us for the hard work and job well done. One of those letters is attached below, hand written, and my personnel favorite.  This one day now came to an end, and Christmas and New Years are next.
The night Crew: Doug & Marc, Cat and sous Chef Brandon, K.C. with DA's, and more pics of the Turdukin run
Relaxing after a long work day with crew and friends, with me and to the left: Susan, Kate, Betsy, Lisa, Justin, Claire, Sous Chef Ed Wilroy, Brittany, and Charmain behind me.

Letters from the Community:

To all the Chefs, Cooks and Crew of the Galley,



It’s hard to be away from home and loved ones at any given time, and one feels it most during the holiday season, but you have made it a lot less unbearable.



I sometimes take the galley for granted by complaining about the food and the service, never realizing until recently, the effort it really takes to do your job.



I wish to thank all of you for your hard work and pride, in making my thanksgiving dinner, one of the best I have had since coming to the Ice.



Stay warm



You’re humble Machinist

A nice hand written letter from a community member

Tasting Notes:
Wine & Grape:
Nose (Bouquet):
Palette Experience:
Medium-bodied; has aromas of tropical fruit, and butterscotch

Layered flavors of pineapple, peach with hints of oak.
Caliterra Winery




76% Zinfandel, 24% Petite Sirah, full-bodied aromas and flavors of raspberry, blackberry, warm spice, and vanilla. This vintage in particular low yields per acre led to high-quality,
Ultra-concentrated fruit.


Wine Regulatory:

 



by:
Chef Sean Overpeck (CFE)
















"Culinary perfection consists not in doing extraordinary things, but in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well."

ttfn


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