24 July 2007

Antarctic meals

Australia maintains four permanent research stations in Antarctica which are staffed year round. I've always wondered what it be would like to live there. Casey station seems to be very comfortable. From AAD website -
Living at Casey is very comfortable and has often been compared to ski lodges, with the odd exceptions. The local 'supermarket' is substituted by a walk in cupboard called "Woolies", where all expeditioners can browse the shelves for soap, linen etc. in a cashless society.

When blizzard days inhibit fieldwork, the main living area (The Red Shed) has indoor climbing, a home theatre, a gym, a photographic dark room, a library and many communal sitting areas for expeditioners to pass the time.

Casey living is very communal and all expeditioners contribute to the day-to-day running of the station. Rosters are set up for Saturday duties that may include vacuuming the living area, shovelling snow, cleaning the cold porches etc. Expeditioners are rostered on to help the chef out in the kitchen ("Slushy duty") to help feed the station. Expeditioners have private bedrooms and share a bathroom between three people. Before the summer melt, water is scarce and therefore all expeditioners are limited to two-minute showers every second day.

Casey aerial

Casey is located in the Windmill Islands - just outside the Antarctic Circle - and is the third Australian station to occupy a site on Vincennes Bay.

They also seem to have a very well equipped kitchen

Final dinner
Celebratory dinners are held to mark various occasions

Two female expeditioners in the kitchen at Casey station
Kim Yong and Sham in the kitchen

And from The Age, a great article about the station chef at Casey and what the staff eat -

Frank Harkin: Antarctica

The temperature is 20 degrees below zero, and the Antarctic ice is lit with an eerie pinkish glow. But inside the main hut at Casey Station, conditions are more conducive to human habitation and chef Frank Harkin is in his kitchen to produce a feast to celebrate midwinter.

"It's been a tradition down here since the stations were established," he says. "From now the days will be getting longer, which is something to celebrate in a place where it's only light for a few hours every day."

Australia has four permanent research stations in Antarctica, of which Casey is one. Station chef Harkin must provide meals for 19 men, including tradesmen, technicians, meteorological observers, a doctor and the station leader.

"Food-wise it's a matter of treading that line down the middle," he says.

"Some people like it spicy, others like it plainer. You're providing real food to real people. It's not like they're going to want to eat restaurant-style food three meals a day."

Which is not to say that Harkin isn't capable of cooking food entirely suitable for a top-line restaurant. In fact, with almost 20 years' experience in cooking, ranging from five-star venues to super-yachts on the Mediterranean, Harkin's broad skills made him the perfect candidate for the job.

Harkin constructs his menus from stores that were stocked in January and will not be resupplied until next March. Casey also has a hydroponic growing system that provides small quantities of fresh vegetables and herbs - from chillies to parsley and snow peas.

"The other day the guys brought in a big ice-cream bucket full of fresh basil," says Harkin. "Nothing grows outside down here, so to just see that vivid green was amazing. And that earthy basil smell was unbelievable."

Harkin's menu for the Winter Solstice feast included a champagne breakfast of eggs benedict, Bloody Mary oyster shooters, Middle Eastern fruit compote, canapes of lobster tartlets and prawn spring rolls.

The "main event" included Thai-style crispy fish salad, Persian spiced quail, roast turkey and beef cheeks. And dessert featured macadamia-nut torte, chocolate and Kahlua mousse and homemade ice-cream. A line-up somewhat different to the husky meat and molten ice consumed by Douglas Mawson and his fellow expeditioners 100 years ago.

I wonder if the oysters were frozen.

I had a haircut today at lunchtime. I was trying to grow my hair a bit longer but it was too difficult to manage.

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