McMurdo Station has a population of approximately 1,200 people in the austral summer. A base this size requires quite a network of support and infrastructure. In these past few days, I have had the opportunity to go behind the scenes to see how some very fundamental services are operated: food, water, and sewage. This blog will focus on food, and the process of feeding 1,200 hungry souls.
Executive Chef for the United States Antarctic Program, Sally Ayotte, gave us a tour of the food operations at McMurdo. Sally has been a chef in Antarctica for 12 years, 6 years at South Pole Station, and 6 years in McMurdo. She oversees a staff of 28 cooks, including sous chefs, production chefs, front chefs, and bakers, as well as 35 dining attendants. It is quite an operation to oversee! They produce 4 meals a day, including the Midnight Rations ("midrats") for McMurdo Residents and visitors who work on the night shift.
Sally is a registered dietition who attended culinary school in Colorado. She now resides in Colorado when she is not in Antarctica, and 6-7 months per year she plans menus, hires staff, and deals with all of the food ordering and planning for the future seasons in the three major U.S. bases in Antarctica: McMurdo, South Pole, and Palmer.
In McMurdo there are three buildings for storing food: the "Keep Frozen" building, the "Can Be Frozen" building, and the "Do Not Freeze" building. It seems ironic that McMurdo would need a building and refrigeration to keep food frozen, but the food needs to stay at a steady temperature - despite what outside temperatures are doing.
The Galley is where food is prepared, served, and eaten. Sally took some of the ARISE team on a tour of the Galley in a less-busy time, between breakfast and lunch. Chefs were busy everywhere: one was making guacamole, one was taking cookies out of the oven (Wednesday is cookie day here in McMurdo), one was putting the final touches on a big vat of soup. They work with great efficiency and cooperation - with supplies that are plentiful, but not always optimal.
"Freshies" - which are any type of fresh produce, come in on incoming cargo flights. Sometimes weeks go by with no "freshies" because either there are no flights at all, or there is no room for extra food cargo. So the chefs have to be quite creative and adaptable.
Almost all of the food for the year comes in on a re-supply ship the previous year. In February of this year, a ship will arrive with a year's supply of food for McMurdo and the South Pole. Some of the quantities are staggering: 70,000 pounds of beef, 50,000 pounds of poultry, 20,000 pounds of seafood.
In fact, for one recent meal (Thanksgiving) the amount of food served included: 1,200 pounds of turkey, 400 pounds of roast beef, 400 pounds of potatoes, 1,200 dinner rolls, 50 pounds of cherry tomatoes, 100 pumpkin pies, and more. Imagine being in charge of so much food!
Sally and her team do a phenomenol job of feeding all of us. I think the food truly is the way into a person's heart!